SPECULATION is mounting that Bendigo Bank could again be considering a merger with regional banking rival Bank of Queensland.Talk of a new round of mergers in the regional banking industry comes just three years after the Bendigo Bank rejected the Bank of Queensland’s advances in favour of a friendly merger with the Bank of Adelaide. Bendigo and Adelaide Bank chairman Robert Johanson and his Bank of Queensland counterpart Neil Summerson have reportedly met to informally discuss a deal which industry commentators say could be worth about $5.5 billion.Bank of Queensland chief executive David Liddy has encouraged consolidation of regional banks in the past.The Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, which has more than 82,000 shareholders, has already formed a strategic alliance with another Queensland-based bank, Suncorp-Metway on ATM use to improve competition with the major banks.But a Bendigo Bank spokes-woman yesterday said talk of a merger was “simply speculation”.She declined to go into the matter further, and instead said it was not bank policy to comment on market speculation.The Bendigo and Adelaide Bank is represented in all states and territories with almost 900 outlets, including more than 190 company-owned branches, 250 locally owned Community Bank branches, 90 agencies and 800 ATMs. Bendigo and Adelaide Bank has assets under management of more than $47.1 billion and market capitalisation of about $3.3 billion. A Bank of Queensland spokes-woman said it too would not comment on market speculation.The Bank of Queensland, like the Bendigo, is a financial institution with a long history. The 136-year-old organisation is one of Australia’s top 100 companies and has branches in every state and territory, and more than $36 billion of assets under management.Rumours of a new round of mergers and speculation grew on Wednesday after the Bendigo Bank announced plans to buy back millions of shares under its Dividend Reinvestment Plan.The bank indicated the buy-back of as many as 3.4 million shares would begin soon after the end of the DRP pricing period on September 17.It’s expected to be finalised by December 31.A Bendigo bank spokesman said the decision to buy back shares would have little to no impact on shareholders, but was being done to stop share values being diluted.