The Virginia and West Virginia bankers associations have intensified merger discussions and could combine into a single trade group by year's end, according to a report Tuesday from Richmond BizSense.

According to the report, the Virginia Bankers Association and the West Virginia Bankers Association have signed a nonbinding letter to combine their operations. The group would be headed by VBA Chief Executive Bruce Whitehurst, the report said.

The proposed deal, which was first reported by the Washington Business Journal in April, would combine the two organizations' administrative offices, but keep in place their lobbying operations in each state.

Whitehurst attributed the trade-group merger to widespread industry consolidation. Banking trade groups in several states have merged with rival trade groups in their home states, but this deal would be the first-ever interstate merger.

"That has different impacts on bankers associations, and we're probably on the front end of a trend we might begin to see around the country where bankers associations join forces in different ways," he told BizSense.

The VBA has 120 members and operates a $7 million budget, according to the report, while the WVBA has 70 bank members and a $1.2 million budget. Several banks are members of both organizations.

The proposed merger would be part of decade-long trend of trade group consolidations within the banking industry, driven by a competition for members and a changing regulatory environment.

The Community Bankers Association of New York State merged with the New York Bankers Association, for instance, in 2005. Similar mergers also occurred in California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.

The trend has also played out at a national level. In 2007, the American Bankers Association absorbed America's Community Bankers, a thrift trade group.

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