Pending and current acquisitions: Northwestern Financial Corp. (N.C.); Atlantic Bancorp (Jacksonville); Central Florida Bancorp (Dade City); Southern Bancorp (Greenville, S.C.); Citizens Bank of DeKalb (Atlanta), and First Bankers (Pompano Beach, Fla.).

First Union, long the smallest of the three bank companies in North Carolina, will vault over Wachovia Corp. when its acquisitions are completed, listing $17.1 billion in assets, more than twice the assets it controlled just months ago.

Chairman Edward Crutchfield said that he worries that the bigger the bank gets, the harder it will be to manage. Like its competitors at Wachovia and NCNB, First Union will concentrate on lending to middle-market companies. Many of those companies will be far away from the Charlotte headquarters. "It's harder to get information on those companies than on higher-profile companies," he said.

As a result, he said, he doesn't want the individual banks in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina to think of themselves as part of a giant bank. "I want our Florida bank to think of itself as a $5.5 billion bank."

He said that once the First Union acquisitions are completed, the banks could participate in loans as big as $150 million. "I'm not interested in making large loans. What I want are lots of $5 million to $20 million loans."

He said he does not want First Union to venture into competition with big money center and multinational banks -- even as it begins to approach them in size. "I see no reason to leave the Southeast. I know how business is done in Virginia. It might be done the same way in Connecticut. But I don't know that."