Chairman Commercial Bank of New York

Brazilian-born Gabriel Rolando Safdie arrived in New York in 1988 and founded Commercial Bank of New York with the idea of running a European-style private bank.

Results so far have exceeded the 32-year-old banker's expectations. The bank has grown to $700-million in assets and six branches.

"A lot of customers are running away from big banks," Mr. Safdie said. "Customers are seeking out smaller financial institutions able to offer more personalized service.

Next year, he expects, Commercial will top $1 billion in assets.

Ranked as one of the safest banks in the United States by Veribanc Inc. a bank research company based in Wakefield, Mass., Commercial shows how a small, conservatively managed bank can play the market right and pick up business once dominated by large banks.

Like many other small, privately owned banks, Commercial is well capitalized and stays close to home. What makes Commercial's track record all the more surprising is that it does not advertise, pays lower rates than big New York City banks, demands a high minimum deposit, and sets stiff terms for loans. Loans are also limited to 25% of deposits, and the rest of the bank's assets are parked mainly in U.S. government securities.

The stiff conditions have not prevented Commercial from growing. Lending by the bank nearly doubled over the 12 months ended June 30, to $143 million. Deposits more than double to over $640 million.

To keep up with demand, last year Commercial opened a Cayman Islands branch to manage offshore deposits.

The bank recently bought four Manhattan branches of the failed American Savings Bank from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and plans to open a branch in Miami in 1993.

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