Many of the best performers among the nation’s community banks attribute their success to taking advantage of the turmoil that’s often stirred up when competing banks are taken over by regional and big-city behemoths.

That’s the case with Resource Bankshares Corp. of Virginia Beach, VA, which takes top place among the fourth hundred largest community banks. These banks have assets ranging from $374 million to $492 million.

The company’s average growth in earnings per share has been around 32% over the past five years, says Lawrence Smith, CEO.

"We have attracted some of the best major lending officers from some of the key regional banks — the Wachovias, the First Unions, the BB&Ts, the Signet Banks," he says. "We’ve got a better atmosphere, a better group of people. All of us have been friends for 30 years. Most of us are in our late 40s to early 50s."

The veteran lenders each used to manage more than $100 million in assets, and they moved a large part of those relationships to Resource, Smith says. "Our loan niche is between $1 million and $5 million. We make business loans, we don’t make consumer loans."

Smith expects Resource’s assets to grow to $1 billion within the next five years, from $404 million at the end of 2000.

In Philadelphia, Bruce Levy, president of Crusader Holding Corp., breaks the mold. He doesn’t complain about having a tough job; in fact, he says it’s easy.

"Banking is not a difficult business," he says. "One of the beautiful things about banking is that most of the income is repetitive in nature — once you put loans on the book your earnings should be fairly predictable. It’s not real complicated."

Yet, Levy says it’s essential to have a strategic plan. "You can’t be following the herd," he says. "A lot of bankers are chasing product lines that have very low margins."

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