Aiming to become a health-care financing powerhouse in its home state, Commerce Bancorp of Cherry Hill, N.J., has hired four lenders away from rival Summit Bancorp.

Norman V. Buttaci, Terrance J. McCarty, Robert A. Bennett, and Robert S. Greene joined $7 billion-asset Commerce this month. David Flaherty, vice president of marketing at Commerce, said the executives were hired because they have extensive experience in dealing with the state's medical community.

"What these folks brought to us was a wealth of experience and the opportunity to grow into this business quickly," Mr. Flaherty said.

Commerce, best known for its retail banking strategy, has been making health-care-related loans in Pennsylvania for several years. It now views New Jersey as a hotbed of health-care financing opportunities and plans to expand there aggressively, Mr. Flaherty said.

Mr. Buttaci - formerly a vice president at $36.2 billion-asset Summit in Princeton, N.J. - is to lead the health-care unit. At Summit Mr. Buttaci managed a loan portfolio that included more than half the state's hospitals, Mr. Flaherty said, and he acquired numerous contacts as a result.

Mr. Buttaci said he and his team joined Commerce because smaller banks have a better model for health-care lending. "The axiom in the health-care industry is that all health care is delivered locally," he said, "and I think that Commerce has proven the fact that they are a local-relationship-oriented bank which blends ideally with" this approach.

The state's aging population should help the bank's health unit thrive, Mr. Buttaci said. "As the baby boomers get ready to access the health-care market, the demand for services is going to be greater."

David Trone, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston in New York, said Commerce's expansion strategy can succeed so long as it doesn't focus on acute-care providers.

"The government is changing rules in Medicare, which has changed rules for acute-care providers," Mr. Trone said, "so a lot of them are going belly up." Mr. Buttaci said he will seek out these providers but selectively.

Mr. Trone said Commerce will face stiff competition from powerhouses like Fleet and First Union. But Mr. Buttaci said he's unfazed. "What [my people] bring is a breadth of knowledge and understanding of the market," he said, "and we are able to work in a much faster, hands-on manner than most banks."

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