THE ONLY BANK IN PHILADELPHIA with the top grade for community reinvestment is minority owned.

Surveys have shown that minority banks earn the highest Community Reinvestment Act rating, on average, less frequently than other banks. But United Bank of Philadelphia earned an "outstanding" rating in its first exam and is likely to win the top mark the next time around.

That's because United's chief executive, Emma C. Chappell, is determined to pursue even more minority business by expanding into underbanked neighborhoods.

And so it has. The bank, just 18 months old, already has five offices and $82 million of assets. Besides her determination, Ms. Chappell has a Resolution Trust Corp. program for minority banks on her side.

The program is a system of preferences which, in certain circumstances, offers interim capital assistance and rent-free occupancy at the branches of failed thrifts.

"We've been trying to put the word out about the program," says Paul Ramey, vice president of the RTC's resolution department.

Nevertheless, Ms. Chappell says United has taken advantage of more preferences than any other minority bank. The RTC program enabled her to take possession of two offices of the failed Chase Federal Savings and Loan Association rent free for five years. United also bought $12 million in Chase deposits, with an exclusive option on $12 million in Chase assets. T on July 30. A month later, United picked up two branches of the failed Home Unity Federal Savings Bank, $100 million in deposit liabilities, and an option on $100 million in assets.

"We didn't need to grow that much, but PNC Bank signed a history-making agreement pledging to invest $750,000 in United preferred stock to shore up our capital if we fell below our 10% capital requirement," says M. Scott Lawyer, whose Memphis firm, Financial Consultants Inc., has been advising United.

Philadelphia's 17 other banks have been adequate, at best, in their Community Reinvestment Act performances. Fourteen have been rated "satisfactory" and the rest are ranked "needs to improve."

Ms. Chappell says the need to improve "is demonstrated by Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data which, in 1987, showed that six major banks in Philadelphia made $297 million in loans, but just $8 million of the total was made in the African-American community."

Frederick M. Manning, vice president of community affairs for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, thinks the difficulties are generally al new middle-market banks, where, "with everything else going on, CRA gets put on the back burner."

Ms. Chappell, who spent 26 years at Continental Bank before leaving to start United, is making traditional CRA "Outreach" efforts, is also teaching kids about banking by allowing them to open "Youth Savers" savings accounts.

"I want them to learn that banks aren't check cashing stores," says Ms. Chappell.

She credits Mellon Bank, CoreStates Financial Corp., Meridian Bancorp, First Fidelity Bancorp., PNC, and Continental for investing $1.7 million in United. However, Ms. Chappell personally raised the remaining $4.3 million required to start the bank -- from 3,000 individual investors.

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