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Provident to sell check-cashing offices


Provident Bankshares Corp. said yesterday that it plans to sell its network of eight check-cashing offices to Dollar Financial Group Inc. for an undisclosed price.

Provident, the second-largest independently owned banking company in Maryland with $5.2 billion in assets, expects the sale to be completed by Aug. 7.

The check-cashing stores, which are called "Fast 'n Friendly," will operate under the "Money Mart" name after the deal is completed. Seven of the stores are in Baltimore and one is in Baltimore County.

John King, managing director of community banking for Provident, said company executives were approached by Dollar officials about two months ago.

"We knew we had to keep on expanding or look for someone to acquire" the check-cashing stores, King said.

He said it was not a difficult decision to sell because Provident, which is based in Baltimore, has been expanding its branch network rapidly into Northern Virginia and Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

The company plans to open 17 branches this year, which would give it 104 banking offices.

"We are really focused on that expansion," King said. "We just got to a point where checking cashing just doesn't fit ... in the strategy of a commercial bank."

Dollar Financial Group, based in Berwyn, Pa., is the second-largest operator of check-cashing stores in the United States, and the largest operator in Canada and the United Kingdom.

After the acquisition, Dollar plans to offer customers check-cashing services, Western Union wire transfer services, money orders, utility bill payments, fax and copy services and photo identification cards.

"This was a natural fit," said James Higgins, vice president of marketing at Dollar, a privately held company. King said Provident has been losing money on its check cashing business because many of the stores are new. The first two stores were opened in 1994. "Some of the stores were making very good income, and some were a little below par," he said. "Our older stores were making relatively good money."

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