The recent auction of Southcoast Financial in Mount Pleasant, S.C., had all the twists and turns of a reality dating show.

The $506 million-asset company in August agreed to sell itself to BNC Bancorp in High Point, N.C., for nearly $96 million.

The auction process, however, was interesting to say the least, based on a recent BNC filing tied to the deal. Southcoast in February began working with Banks Street Partners in Atlanta on "techniques for obtaining desirable proposals," among other things.

Banks Street contacted 28 banks to gauge their interest in an acquisition in the Charleston, S.C., area, without identifying Southcoast as the target. Fifteen banks eventually received access to due diligence materials.

By June, eight of the suitors indicated that they would be willing to buy Southcoast at prices ranging from $9.50 to $13 a share.

Southcoast took an intriguing approach to the next round, kicking the game into high gear. The company automatically moved the two highest bidders into a final round of bidding, letting them perform additional due diligence.

A third suitor, which had raised its offer after a discussion with Banks Street, was told that it, too, would be made a finalist, though its bid was the lowest of the three. The other bidders were told they would not be allowed to proceed, though banks that pressed for a reason could be told to raise their offers to move forward.

BNC was one of the final three, though one participant withdrew shortly after conducting additional due diligence.

The next set of bids was so close that Southcoast's directors invited each finalist to make separate presentations. Rick Callicutt, BNC Bancorp's chief executive, and David Spencer, his chief financial officer, participated in this part of the process, along with executives from the other institution.

"Each presentation covered the history of the party, the details of its proposal and plans for the transactions, including the anticipated impact on Southcoast's executive officers and other employees and customers," the filing said.

Southcoast's board in late July decided to enter into a nonbinding letter of intent with BNC. Within three weeks, the companies had reached an agreement that valued Southcoast at $13.35 a share.

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