A group of Houston investors are starting a bank that would serve high- income customers by courier-not traditional branches.

Organizers of Redstone Bank, which received preliminary charter approval last week from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, expect to take advantage of the recent wave of megamergers by offering affluent customers the ultimate in personalized service.

"With all of the large-bank mergers, there is certainly room for niche players," said Allen Brown, Redstone's proposed president and chief executive officer.

Redstone plans to send couriers to pick up customers' paper transactions on a regular schedule or whenever requested; armed messengers would deliver and pick up cash. "This allows us to go to your office and pick up deposits or drop off loan documents," Mr. Brown said. "We plan on being out and about and there for you."

Redstone Bank is modeled after Commerce Bank, Seattle, a branchless bank that targets high-end customers and offers a full range of financial service products via courier service, Mr. Brown said.

Janet Eissenstat, public relations manager for the American Bankers Association, said branchless banks are still unusual, but that many traditional banks are starting to offer courier service as a marketing tool.

Redstone intends to target affluent and "emerging affluent" individuals and commercial customers such as medical practices and law firms in Houston's swank west-side corridor.

Redstone Bancorp will own 51% of Redstone with the balance owned by Northwest Bancorp, the holding company for $145 million-asset Northwest Bank, also in Houston. David Shindeldecker, president and CEO of Northwest Bancorp., is Redstone's proposed chairman.

The two bank holding companies plan to provide $3 million in start-up capital and to open the bank in the fall with $10 million of deposits from investors and other contacts.

To keep costs in check, Redstone will outsource its back-room operations, such as data processing and bookkeeping, to Northwest Bank. Redstone also plans to keep its staff to a minimum and ally with other companies to provide trust, investment, and estate management services, Mr. Brown said.

But one Houston bank consultant predicted Redstone will have a tough time. William Strunk, who heads Strunk & Associates, said he believes the city's high-net-worth individuals and businesses are adequately served by large brokerage firms. "Customers who have a high net worth can get a better deal at Merrill Lynch," he said.

Mr. Brown said Redstone will emphasize its personalized service and not compete directly on price. "People more and more are demanding personalized attention and hand holding," he said.

Mr. Brown said he and Mr. Shindeldecker have been working on Redstone's strategic plan for a year and a half and that they are confident Redstone will be profitable.

"Customers still want that high-touch service," Mr. Brown said.

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