In what would be its first bank acquisition since it converted from a credit union in 2006, ViewPoint Bank in Plano, Tex., has struck a deal to buy Highlands Bancshares Inc. in Jacksboro, Tex., for $71 million in stock.

The deal, announced last week, would strengthen Viewpoint's presence in North Texas, particularly in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. The privately held Highlands is the parent of First National Bank of Jacksboro, which has $508 million of assets and six branches in North Texas, including three in Dallas County that operate under the name Highlands Bank.

When the sale closes ViewPoint would have $3.5 billion of assets and 31 branches in North Texas.

ViewPoint was formerly known as Community Credit Union, which had $1 billion of assets when it switched to a thrift charter on Jan. 1, 2006. At the time it was the largest-ever credit union-to-bank conversion.

Aside from being ViewPoint's first-ever deal, the Highlands acquisition is significant because it would end ViewPoint's search for a new chief executive to replace Gary Base, who announced his retirement earlier this year. As part of the merger agreement, Highlands' chairman, president and CEO, Kevin Hanigan, would take over as president and CEO of ViewPoint Bank and its parent company, ViewPoint Financial Group Inc.

Base, who had led the company for 25 years and was the architect of its conversion, said in a news release that Hanigan is the right fit for ViewPoint as it transitions from a thrift to a commercial banking charter. ViewPoint has received approval to switch charters and said last week that the conversion will become official on Dec. 19. 

Hanigan's "extensive commercial banking and lending experience should provide a significant boost to our ongoing initiative to enhance and expand our commercial division," Base said.

The deal was one of two community bank acquisitions announced in Texas last week. On Friday, Prosperity Bancshares Inc. in Houston said it was buying the $211 million-asset East Texas Financial Services Inc. for $20.4 million in stock.

ViewPoint said that Highlands shareholders would receive roughly seven-tenths per ViewPoint  share for each share owned. Based on ViewPoint's Dec. 7 closing price, ViewPoint would pay the equivalent  of $12.88 per share.

The sale is expected to close in early 2012.

ViewPoint has had a knack for good timing. It converted just before the financial crisis, before many credit unions reached a dead end on growth. It is three times bigger now, had its most profitable year yet in 2010 and raised $200 million this year. "We wouldn't have been able to raise the capital with a credit union charter," Base told American Banker Magazine this summer.

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