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(Carl Cronan is editor of Real Estate Florida.)

ST. PETERSBURG, FL-Within just a few days, Raymond James Financial Inc. went from No. 1 among investment banks to one of the masses. The locally based firm now says it will seek to convert to a commercial bank by next summer, joining many of its larger peers who made the same move earlier this week.

Raymond James, which is nicknamed “RayJay” and carries the surnames of its co-founders, disclosed its intentions in a statement issued Thursday evening, followed by a Friday morning disclosure filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Executives with the $3.6-billion company say the move is in response to anticipated increased regulation by federal authorities.

The news was somewhat upstaged by Thursday night’s revelations that Washington Mutual Inc. was seized by federal thrift regulators and immediately sold to JPMorgan Chase & Co. The takeover potentially thwarts what was being touted as one of the largest bank failures in US history.

Raymond James chairman and CEO, Thomas James, emphasized that his firm is not fundamentally changing its business model, noting that “an unfortunate misperception” is being applied to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, which converted to commercial banks earlier this week. “In fact, these changes are more form than substance in that regard,” James stated.

It was unclear Friday morning whether the conversion will allow Raymond James to advance its prior real estate expansion plans, which may involve either its current headquarters site in St. Petersburg or additional facilities in neighboring counties. The company already has Raymond James Bank, which currently has only one office that will change its longtime thrift status to an actual bank branch.

According to published reports, Jefferies & Co. will now become the largest investment bank in the US, followed by Greenhill & Co. and Keefe Bruyette & Woods, all based in New York City. However, analysts say the conversions by larger investment banks may pressure those remaining to either follow suit or sell to a much-larger bank holding company.

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