With the pickup of a tiny bank in suburban Denver, James Basey is doing more than returning to his community banking roots.
Earlier this month, Basey, the former president of Colorado National Bank, and his partners, collectively known as CIC Bancshares Inc., acquired the $25 million-asset Centennial Bank in Centennial, Colo., a bank with little baggage and whose owners wanted out.
Plenty of small community banks are looking for such partners, and these so-called platform banks offer a nice re-entry point for longtime bankers seeking to restart their careers.
"There is a significant amount of interest from investors and former bankers who want to take advantage of the dysfunctional market, the low multiples and the anguish of the small banks," said Michael Hobbs, a managing director at St. Charles Capital, an investment banking firm in Denver. (St. Charles is familiar with CIC Bancshares but did not advise the start-up.)
"Sometimes they need more capital, sometimes the bankers just want to exit the business," Hobbs said. "But there are a lot of opportunities. We are working with a handful of these projects."
Another bank using this tack is Golden Pacific Bancorp Inc. in Sacramento, which bought the $100 million-asset Gold Country Bank in Marysville, Calif., this month.
The Golden Pacific team consists primarily of former Western Sierra Bancorp executives who oversaw that company's growth from a $50 million-asset bank in 1997 to a $1.5 billion company with six bank units when it was sold to Umpqua Holdings Corp. in 2006 for $352 million.
Despite its past experience using an existing bank as a base for growth, Golden Pacific had set out to start a bank, said Kirk Dowdell, former president and chief executive of Western Sierra and CEO of Golden Pacific.
The advantages would have been a clean and fresh start.
Yet, after months of trying to secure approval from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Dowdell said the company decided to acquire.
Now that it has its platform, the goal is to recreate Western Sierra's success on a statewide basis.
Golden Pacific has a two-pronged growth strategy.
The company plans to grow by $150 million to $200 million over the next two years by calling on its longtime contacts to move over to the bank, Dowdell said.
The other part of the plan — which is decidedly more ambitious — is growth through acquisition.
Dowdell said the company has identified several targets, including healthy banks like Gold Country as well as ones poised to be taken over by the FDIC.
The company's aim: acquire roughly $2 billion of assets in two years, he said.
Dowdell recognizes that is a lofty goal, but he says it's possible.
"In our worst-case scenario, we are at $250 million in two years. But we are confident that we could be $2 billion in two years," Dowdell said. "We would need significantly more capital, but we have access to it."
Aiding Dowdell's mission is a lack of loan problems to clean up at Gold Country.
As of March 31, noncurrent loans made up 3.41% of total loans.
But those loans have been covered, Dowdell said, and the company built into the sales agreement a hold-back on the consideration to cover any further problems.
"We just didn't want our capital to go toward fixing problems. It is for growth," Dowdell said.
It was a smart move and one that is becoming more common, said Dory Wiley, president and chief executive of Commerce Street Capital LLC, an investment bank in Dallas that advised Golden Pacific.
"The risk falls on the seller," Wiley said, adding that sellers appear more willing to take such concessions and accept much lower multiples.
It was pricing that kept Basey on the sidelines for so long, he said.
"My partners had come to me a few times about coming together on a bank deal, but I didn't think it was the right time. Banks were being purchased at four times book," Basey said in an interview last week.
He would not say what the group paid for Centennial, but he called the premium modest.
That deal also included a provision for troubled loans, with the seller taking $700,000 of problem assets with it.
However, most of Centennial's troubles were tied to its model — the bank was connected to a title company and the housing crisis wiped out its business, Basey said.
Basey said the group considered starting from scratch, but that seemed an unlikely route.
It considered buying a bigger platform for growth, but the candidates were too troubled.
"Some of them would've had to write us a check because of their problems," Basey said.
With Centennial's clean balance sheet, Basey said the company is ready to begin mining its contacts as it embarks on its growth strategy.
"We were able to find this small, clean bank," he said. "So we are ready to hit the ground running."