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When the pending N.C. bank deals close, First South Bank of little Washington will be the tenth-biggest bank based in the state, with assets of about $1 billion. That compares with 34th in 1997, reflecting the industry’s consolidation.

Asked if First South will be the next bank snapped up, Chief Executive Officer Bruce Elder gave a lawyerly answer this week: “Our mission is to be a high performing independent community bank that is valued by and rewards shareholders, customers, employees and communities.”

Speculation of a change at First South stems from both past pressure by shareholders to consider a sale and a delay in the company’s annual meeting. Usually announced in April and held in late May, First South hadn’t filed a proxy statement this year as of today.

Elder says the annual meeting will be held on June 29. “We’ve pushed it back because of additional regulatory filings and additional information as we crossed the $1 billion (in assets) mark.”

Since Jan. 1, seven North Carolina banks have sold or are in the process of a sale, compared with three for all of 2016, Elder says, citing industry research.

Elder has led the bank for five years, having succeeded longtime CEO Tom Vann, who had run the bank since 1975. It has grown from $645 million to $1 billion since 2012, including the purchase of nine former Bank of America branches in eastern North Carolina. It now has 28 branches stretching from the Outer Banks to Durham and employs 295 people. Washington, N.C. is 110 miles east of Raleigh.

“We haven’t met our goal of being a high performing bank, but we are making progress,” he says. The bank earned $7 million in 2016 and has a market value of about $126 million. Shares have increased more than 45% in the last year.

Out-of-state management teams will control six of the eight N.C. banks sold this year — the exceptions are Southern Pines-based First Bancorp’s purchase of Greensboro’s Carolina Bank Holdings and a pending deal with ASB Bancorp of Asheville. Read lots more about the state’s fast-changing banking industry in the June issue of Business North Carolina.

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