SAN FRANCISCO - Alberto A. De Almeida Jr. was the last person to turn off the lights in the San Francisco office of Keefe Bruyette, Bruyette & Woods Inc. when it shut its doors amid a firmwide restructuring in 1992.
Eight years later Mr. De Almeida - a Berkeley, Calif., native and an investment banker with 16 years at Keefe Bruyette under his belt - was ready to be the first to turn them back on in the firm's new San Francisco office, which opened this month.
In the early 1990s, banks were reeling from their worst crisis since the Great Depression and the Internet was not in a meaningful commercial stage of development. Though bank stocks have been wobbled again lately, the last few years have been sufficiently bountiful that Keefe Bruyette's West Coast-focused bankers argued the time was ripe for a new shot at San Francisco.
Last year, Mr. De Almeida said, revenues from West Coast accounts made up 20% of the firm's overall revenues, and one-third of the money made from its overall investment banking business.
Banks aren't the most talked about companies on the financial scene anymore. Northern California boasts a number of electronic finance companies - such as E-Trade Group of Menlo Park, Calif., and Intuit of Mountain View, Calif., as well as the on-line powerhouse Charles Schwab & Co. in San Francisco - that have all promised to give traditional types a run for their money.
Keefe Bruyette's first priority on the West Coast, however, isn't to cash in on the market's appetite for technology and related offerings, which has included e-finance companies, Mr. De Almeida said. Its aim there, first and foremost, is banking in the most traditional sense.
"Our bread and butter has always been commercial banks, thrifts, and depository institutions" with $400 million to $2 billion of assets, said Mr. De Almeida. "We can see the future, in terms of how technology will interface with financial services, but we're not going to neglect the other firms."
That should be evident in their choice of location - San Francisco's financial district, rather than Palo Alto, which is in the heart of Silicon Valley.
The Pacific Northwest is one market Keefe Bruyette expects to do more business in now that flight time is one-sixth of what it was from New York. "It's still a fragmented market," he said. "There might be local buyers, but there are also a lot of other people who want to buy into the region."
That's not to say that it plans to ignore the burgeoning e-commerce industry in its backyard. "In this market, you can't walk out the door without bumping into a new business plan" for a start-up, noted Justin M. Van Etten, a vice president and one of three bankers who transferred with Mr. De Almeida from New York.
In fact, Keefe Bruyette plans to use some of the same tricks more New Economy-focused investment banks have used to meet young, promising businesses. It is forming a $100 million private equity fund - raised from the firm, Keefe Bruyette employees, and outside investors - that will invest in early e-commerce and e-finance concerns. And, under the direction of senior Keefe Bruyette investment banker Joseph Spalluto, the firm has organized a dedicated e-finance group. Research analysts who cover West Coast institutions, such as David Winton, are still located in New York.