ConnectOne Bancorp believes it can succeed in the Big Apple, even if it just ends up with a small piece of the pie.

The $3.5 billion-asset company opened its first New York branch on Madison Avenue last week. The move is far from surprising; ConnectOne has a number of clients that do business in the area, and it even signaled in a 2013 regulatory filing that such a move was inevitable.

Still, it is always interesting to gauge how a newcomer, particularly a community bank, will make it in the big city. From the perspective of Frank Sorrentino 3rd, chairman, president and chief executive of the Englewood Cliffs, N.J., company, the first few days have been encouraging.

"We've had people calling telling us they're so happy we're finally in the city," Sorrentino said in an interview.

"We don't have to grab a big slice of the market," Sorrentino added, noting that New York's gross domestic product approaches $1.6 trillion. "Getting even a tiny slice of that would be huge."

ConnectOne, which raised $45 million through its 2013 initial public offering, has been in growth mode ever since. It has more than tripled its assets and branches, reaching 25 locations with the latest addition. The company made a big leap in July 2014 when it merged with the $1.7 billion-asset Center Bancorp of Union, N.J.

The key for gaining traction in New York will involve courting the city's countless small businesses, which Sorrentino said are "critically underserved."

His comments were echoed by the findings in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's most recent Small Business Credit Survey, which found that less than a third of businesses with $10 million or less in annual revenue received the credit they sought. In comparison, firms with more than $10 million in annual revenue are approved at a 58% rate.

As a result, a significant number of small businesses are turning to nonbank, online lenders to meet their credit needs, industry experts said.

Small businesses' complaints are driven by more than just issues accessing credit, said Joseph Fenech, an analyst at Hovde Group.

"There's a distinct lack of service," Fenech said. "Small businesses are feeling like they don't receive the same level [of attention] as bigger companies. … The opportunity is definitely there."

So there is room for service-oriented banks to thrive in New York, Fenech said, pointing to Signature Bank, which has flourished in the city by offering high-touch service to small and midsize companies. Founded in 2001, Signature has ballooned to $29 billion of assets, largely by snatching lending teams from competitors.

"There really aren't a lot of companies serving that middle-market sector in New York City, even today," Fenech said. "I've always wondered why more banks haven't" emulated Signature's business model.

ConnectOne, for now, has tapped one its own to lead the effort in New York. Elizabeth Magennis, a banker with ties to New York who has been with ConnectOne for the better part of a decade, is handling the expansion.

"New York is the hub of global commerce and represents tremendous opportunity for us and our future talent," Sorrentino said, hinting at hiring more local bankers over time. "Our expansion … is a natural progression in ConnectOne's growth story."

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