Commerce Bancorp of Cherry Hill, N.J., is considering a leap across the Hudson River into New York.
Vernon Hill, the founder and president of the $7 billion-asset parent of Commerce Bank, said he "has been toying around with an expansion" into various New York markets, including Manhattan and Long Island, but won't make a decision until later this year.
"Our motto is 'Grow, grow, grow,' " Mr. Hill said, and a move into New York would be "just another logical geographic expansion of what we're already doing."
Commerce Bank has 136 branches in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware and has been expanding fast in central and northern New Jersey. Of the 32 branches it expects to open this year, 19 will be in these areas. The overall growth plan includes adding 30 of its standardized white-brick branches a year for the next several years.
Commerce's strategy is to outdo its competitors by offering better service through numerous locations and extended late-night and weekend hours.
Should it enter the competitive New York market, it will be bold about that too, Mr. Hill said. "When we go into a location, we don't like to do one here and one there," he said. "We like to announce a lot of deals at one time."
Still, in New York City, where branches of large regional banks already crowd city blocks, Commerce would exercise a little more restraint. "If we go into Manhattan, we're going to do that one step at a time," Mr. Hill said. Though the company has experience in other urban markets, such as Philadelphia, "Manhattan is a different world," he said.
David Trone, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston Corp. in New York, said Commerce should be successful in New York State if it carves out a niche for itself. But given the level of competition in New York City, where Citigroup Inc. and Chase Manhattan Corp. dominate, with hundreds of branches, Commerce would need to have at least 25 branches there to compete effectively, he said.
"The good news is they can really differentiate themselves with their expanded hours of operation," Mr. Trone said. "But the downside is, Chase and Citi have a better product line."
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