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Sherri Richards, Published November 10 2010

State Bank to buy Minneapolis-based Bell Mortgage

State Bank & Trust’s impending purchase of a 130-year-old private mortgage company will allow the Fargo-based bank to expand its footprint, its president said Tuesday.

State Bank & Trust announced Tuesday it will acquire Minneapolis-based Bell Mortgage.

“We’ve been blessed with success, and that has allowed us to become more of a regional player in the banking business now,” said Michael Solberg, president and chief operating officer of State Bank & Trust.

Bell Mortgage has 180 employees at 28 offices in the Twin Cities, Bozeman, Mont., and Phoenix. The company rented Target Field on Tuesday to make the announcement to its employees.

Gary Kirt, chief executive officer, said Bell Mortgage was looking to partner with a regional bank to grow his business and adapt to a changing mortgage industry. He said the company is particularly concerned by unknown effects of the Dodd-Frank bill, a massive piece of legislation that overhauled financial regulations.

Both Kirt and Solberg said Bell Mortgage was not in financial trouble.

“A lot of mortgage companies that were in trouble are long gone,” Kirt said. “We sat out the entire subprime mortgage era.”

Solberg said it’s increasingly difficult for independent mortgage companies, like Bell Mortgage, to deal with mandated compliance issues. A bank is also able to offer more loans that an independent company can’t, such as home equity loans and construction lending, because it can keep those loans on its balance sheet.

State Bank’s assets total more than $1.9 billion.

Bell Mortgage will become a division of State Bank & Trust, keeping its name and branding. Neither Kirt nor Solberg would disclose the purchase price. Solberg said the bank hopes to close on the deal in late December.

The purchase won’t produce noticeable changes for State Bank customers in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Solberg said the bank’s growing revenue and loans could lead to more local jobs down the line.

Solberg said State Bank & Trust is not pursuing any other acquisitions at this time. “There is a lot of change happening in the Twin Cities banking market and lots of opportunities because of the banking crisis, but at this point we’re going to focus on this transaction first and see what comes along,” he said.

Business profile: Bell Mortgage

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556