Building banks is almost as much a sport for Nolan Ryan's family as playing baseball.
The family, which ran two banks that it later sold, is set to open R Bank in Round Rock, Texas, in June.
Reese Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher's 33-year-old son, is to be the chairman, and he said that, unlike the family's last two ventures, the plan is to keep this bank for the long term.
(Nolan Ryan is to be a director, as will Reese's older brother, Reid.)
R Bank has $12 million in capital, a clean balance sheet, an experienced management team and few aggressive competitors in this environment — all of which should help it flourish despite the weakening economy, Reese Ryan said.
"I don't think our timing could be any better," he said. "There have been a lot of banks that came into the market, and they were undercutting each other and battling for market share. That ran its course, and you see where it went. The opportunity is great right now because there aren't a lot of people out there making loans they shouldn't make or paying too much for deposits."
Industry insiders who work with start-ups agreed that new banks have the benefit of clean balance sheets and, lately, more risk-averse competitors.
But young institutions also must work harder to grow and become profitable, given the economic turmoil, they said.
"You will burn through more capital, but the pluses more than offset the minuses, if you can get capital," said Lee Bradley, a managing director at the Dallas investment bank and consulting firm Commerce Street Capital LLC.
John Blaylock, an associate director at Sheshunoff & Co. Investment Banking, said the economy's slowdown makes it tougher to establish roots.
"This is going to be a difficult market to get started in," he said. "There isn't a lot of activity out there like there was several years ago."
"But it's also a good time because you don't have any legacy issues," he said. "So you can come out of the blocks with plenty of capital and a fresh team and capture business" from other banks that are struggling with loan troubles.
Regulators and investors have become more cautious, making it significantly more difficult to open a bank.
So far this year a dozen banks have been opened around the country, two in Texas, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
This is roughly one-third as many as were opened to this point a year earlier.
For all of last year, roughly 100 banks were opened nationwide, including six in Texas.
In 2007, 193 banks were opened, 25 in Texas.
Though long delays in getting regulatory approval and deposit insurance have caused some would-be bank organizers to give up, Reese Ryan said R Bank — the name is a play on "our bank" — has all that it needs to open its doors with a state charter.
"The stars are really aligning for us," he said during a phone interview from spring training camp with the Round Rock Express, the minor league baseball club his family owns.
Nolan Ryan is not the only star athlete to make banking a second career.
National Football League alums Darrell Green and Joe Montana are among those that have been involved in start-ups.
Helping organize R Bank is Don A. Sanders, a former owner of the Houston Astros baseball team.
Unlike many sports stars who have invested in banking, Nolan Ryan made it a part of the family business.
He had started in banking as a board member for a small bank in Alvin, Texas, in the early 1980s. In 1989, during the Texas banking crisis, he bought a bank in Alvin and renamed it Express Bank, after his pitching nickname, "The Ryan Express."
It was at Express Bank that Reese Ryan and his brother, Reid, got their start.
The brothers were appointed to the board after their graduation from Texas Christian University.
In 2002, Express Bank was sold for $15 million, or double its book value, to Chinatrust Bank in Torrance, Calif.
The next year, the family opened Express Bank of Texas in Round Rock.
Express Bank of Texas, where Reese Ryan also was chairman, was sold in 2005 for $9.4 million, or 2.12 times its book value, to State Bank in LaGrange, Texas. (Prosperity Bancshares Inc. in Houston later bought State Bank.) Express Bank of Texas never made money for the Ryans, but it quickly did so for its acquirer, said Steve Stapp, who was an executive vice president in charge of retail and acquisitions at State Bank at the time of the purchase.
"If it would have remained independent, it would have had the same results," said Stapp, who will be the president of R Bank.
"They had done everything right."
This time, the Ryans have no plan to sell the bank. And though it is expected to be profitable by the third year, fast growth is not as much of a goal as booking quality loans and developing relationships, Stapp said. "We are going to concentrate on doing things right and make sure we cover all our bases."