Capital One Financial (COF) is on a mission to become one of the nation's top players in equipment-financing.

Over the last two months, the $300 billion-asset company has added 21 professionals to its equipment lending and leasing unit, roughly doubling the unit's size in the process. After hiring eight sales officers in May, Capital One was expected to announce Monday that it has hired 13 more equipment financing specialists, 11 of whom came from rival SunTrust Banks (STI).

The aggressive expansion is being led by Dan McKew, Capital One's head of equipment leasing and finance, who joined the company last year and who ran equipment financing at SunTrust for more than a decade before holding down similar posts at both First Mariner (FMAR) and CFG Community Bank in Baltimore.

Like other banks, Capital One is ramping up in equipment financing as part of an ongoing quest to find new revenue streams when overall loan demand remains lackluster and persistently low interest rates have compressed margins. In an interview Friday, McKew said that equipment financing is a particularly attractive business for banks these days because demand is strong and it is viewed as less risky than other business lines.

"Now everybody's been through the [financial crisis] and it's fairly well proven that this business is one that weathered well," he said. "The losses are less than with most other bank productsÂ…that's why I think you're seeing a lot more investment in this business."

Commercial leasing companies booked roughly $7.5 billion in new business in April, up 23% from a year earlier, according to the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association. Roughly 33% of the companies that have joined the trade group this year are banks.

McKew's unit, part of Capital One's commercial and specialty finance business, focuses on deals that range from $500,000 to $50 million, and aims to provide the full gamut of services to its clients. McKew cites the example of a chemical company that may need processing equipment but also needs rail cars to deliver its products to market. "We really focus on our customer base and what they need to get themselves to the next level," he said.

The latest hires include Eric Moore and Rick Dusek, who specialize in evaluating equipment, Mary Geiger, an operations expert, and Lorraine Carpenter, whose specialty is documenting deals. The four joined McLean, Va.-based Capital One from SunTrust, as did 13 of the other 17 specialists McKew has hired since April.

McKew said that the addition of a seasoned team will help accelerate his unit's growth while minimizing risk.

"If we hire experts in these fields who know more about this business both from a servicing the customer perspective and a protecting the bank standpoint, we'll be able to lessen our losses and give better service," McKew said. "And when you have fewer losses you can offer better pricing and service because you know you won't have to support those losses with prices you pay."

It also helps that he has worked with many of the folks before.

"These are people who know how I like to have thing run and who are excited to come in and make this happen," he said.

For its part, SunTrust says it intends to continue to compete for equipment financing deals despite the exodus. "We are firmly committed to this important segment of our business and are actively engaged in the process of adding new teammates," SunTrust spokesman Hugh Suhr said in an email.

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