The job that Anthony Weagley is doing at Malvern Bancorp in Paoli, Pa., bears more than a passing resemblance to his previous gig leading the former Center Bancorp in New Jersey.
When Center promoted Weagley to become its president in August 2007, the Union, N.J., company was struggling financially. Weagley's turnaround tactics included an acquisition, entering a new market and forming an alliance with a wealth management firm. Those efforts paid off in June 2014 when Center merged with ConnectOne Bancorp in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
It looks like more of the same at the $655 million-asset Malvern. Weagley, 54, joined the company in September 2014, shortly after he left Center and a month before Malvern was placed under a written agreement with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
His predecessor at Malvern, Ronald Anderson, resigned in January 2014 after the company posted a quarterly loss of $18.8 million.
Since Weagley's arrival, Malvern's stock price has risen by more than 50%, closing Tuesday at $16.80 per share. That's coincided with steady quarterly profit growth, from net income of $294,000 in the calendar-year third quarter of 2014, to about $1.2 million a year later.
Such progress has calmed the nerves of anxious investors and caught the attention of at least one of three activist shareholders that have stakes in Malvern. Lawrence Seidman, in Parsippany, N.J., has bought more than 320,000 Malvern shares between Sept. 30 and Jan. 11, according to regulatory filings.
Weagley "knows the banking market from all ends," Seidman said. "He doesn't go in to sell a bank, but he knows what his responsibilities are and he takes them very seriously."
Seidman, who was on Center's board when it merged with ConnectOne, is not a director of Malvern.
Weagley also received the blessing of two other activists when he was hired — Joseph Stilwell in New York, whose funds held a 9.8% stake at Dec. 30, and PL Capital in Naperville, Ill., which owns about 9.4%. A representative for Stilwell declined to comment. PL Capital did not return a call seeking comment.
Weagley said he has tried to manage the bank as a hybrid. That has meant keeping Malvern firmly rooted in its historic roots as a small-town community bank — it converted from a mutual thrift in October 2012 — while at the same time appealing to the affluent residents of the Main Line region of suburban Philadelphia.
"It's really a bridging of the legacy from the past and trying to take that forward and convert the bank into a motif organization that can service the constituency that helps drive performance and value," Weagley said.
Some of the related moves include: forming a partnership with the Rehoboth Beach, Del., wealth management firm Bell Rock Capital and hiring an adviser from that firm; opening a retail branch in the Main Line community of Villanova, Pa.; hiring a former Susquehanna Bancshares commercial lender; and hiring key officers, including a chief risk officer, business development officer and a director of residential and commercial lending.
Many of those hires are directly related to wealth management, a key prong of Weagley's plan for Malvern.
"What the marketplace is still ripe for [are] high-net-worth individuals, corporate borrowers [and] corporate real estate borrowers," Weagley said. "People within that segment of client relationships … want leadership from their bank and want someone to be able to sit down at the table with them."
The talent available in eastern Pennsylvania should remain abundant, given an increase in bank consolidation in the past year. Recent deals include BB&T's purchase of the $19 billion-asset Susquehanna, in Lititz, and the $9.6 billion-asset National Penn Bancshares in Allentown. In all, more than a dozen bank deals occurred last year in the Keystone State.
Malvern made certain bankers knew it was hiring; last fall it staged jobs fairs to lure Pennsylvania workers dismissed by BB&T. That kind of aggressive push to find talent shows Weagley has shifted from repairing Malvern's finances to finding new avenues for growth, said Travis Lan, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.
"What we're seeing is this transition from an internal focus to an external focus where he can get back to building the bank," Lan said. "It's all part of the customer acquisition strategy ... providing additional … products to target the high-net-worth clients he thinks Malvern can bank."
It's not necessarily a formula that other community banks can replicate, especially if they are competing for the very rich with big banks or regional banks, said Rod Taylor, a bank consultant in Atlanta. But community banks can certainly take a piece of the wealth management pie, he said.
"Community banks can take care of the mass affluent if they focus on specific segments and develop their expertise and capabilities in terms of the knowledge of the people inside the bank," Taylor said.
Weagley has done a good job of taking what the Philadelphia suburban market offers, in terms of wealth management opportunities, and not overextending his reach, Taylor said.
"He realizes you have got to specialize in and focus on specific niches," Taylor said. "A generalist community bank can't survive. He knows how to attract talent and he has visions of what specific niches he would be in."
Weagley declined to say if he is specifically looking to sell the company or find a merger partner, as was the case at Center. What KBW's Lan expects from Weagley is a continued focus on using wealth management, not as the primary business, but as a way to supplement its main lending operations.
"A focus on expense management and credit are the building blocks of a high-performing bank," Lan said. "Wealth is very much an ancillary business and not a focus. Wealth management is likely used as a way to build out the large product suite that fits Mr. Weagley's goal."