Largely focused on organic growth for the past decade, Sandy Spring Bancorp in Olney, Md., has struck two deals in the last six months, and it is not stopping there.
Its chief financial officer, Philip J. Mantua, said at an investor conference this week that the recent sale of Maryland’s largest banking company, Mercantile Bankshares Corp. of Baltimore, has opened the door for the $2.6 billion-asset Sandy Spring to become the “acquirer of choice” within its marketplace. Sandy Spring has 38 branches in Maryland and Virginia, and Mr. Mantua said that it would target community banks in and around its footprint that might be looking for an exit strategy.
“Our general approach to acquisitions — especially on the bank side — is going to take a turn and change, and we’re going to be much more aggressive and much more proactive,” Mr. Mantua told investors and analysts at a conference Tuesday hosted by Cohen & Co.
Sandy Spring became the second-largest bank holding company based in Maryland this month when PNC Financial Services Group Inc. of Pittsburgh completed its purchase of the $17 billion-asset Mercantile.
Until then, Mercantile had been the Mid-Atlantic region’s most active acquirer of community banks over the last two decades.
Sandy Spring bought an Annapolis, Md., bank in 1996 and acquired seven branches from Mellon Financial Corp. in 1999 but had generally avoided dealmaking in the past 10 years.
In October, though, it announced it would buy the $247 million-asset Potomac Bank of Virginia, in Fairfax, for $65 million, and two months later, it said it would also buy the $145 million-asset CN Bancorp Inc. in Glen Burnie, Md., for $44.1 million. (The Potomac deal closed Feb. 16, and the CN deal is expected to close in the second quarter.)
Sandy Spring president and chief executive officer Hunter R. Hollar agreed that Mercantile’s exit as an independent institution has created more space for his bank, but he added that market conditions have forced Sandy Spring to adopt a more aggressive acquisition strategy.
“It’s hard to deny that the organic growth from a deposit perspective is harder to come by,” Mr. Hollar said. “Since that [has] slowed, it nudges us toward acquisition growth.”
Mark Muth, an analyst at First Horizon National Corp.’s FTN Midwest Securities Corp., said that he expects to see more consolidation among community banks struggling with stagnant deposit growth and a persistently inverted yield curve.
“I don’t think [Sandy Spring is] unique in that they are saying that near-term growth is just going to be extremely difficult and M&A might be the way to achieve that growth,” Mr. Muth said.
To further its acquisition strategy, Sandy Spring is considering establishing a correspondent banking platform from which to build relationships with smaller banks, Mr. Hollar said.
“We think that allows us to be in position when some of these companies … are looking to sell,” Mr. Mantua said.
Sandy Spring is also in the process of building out its infrastructure to ensure that it has the ability to handle acquisitions. “We are working to develop a back-office team here to do the modeling and the due diligence on a more formal basis — to be more efficient in the process,” Mr. Mantua said.
Mr. Hollar named Maryland’s Eastern Shore — a region that he described as a “somewhat resort location becoming more of a retirement community” — as a potential site of future acquisitions.
On the nonbank side, Mr. Mantua said the company would be interested in buying “anything that we think a bank can legally own and operate” but would focus on expanding its insurance and asset management business lines.
Sandy Spring has bought three insurance agencies and an asset management firm in the past five years, he said.
But in light of its two recently announced bank deals, Mr. Muth said, Sandy Spring should be careful not to take on too much too quickly.
“They have a lot to digest right now,” he said. “If they were to pursue too aggressive of a strategy, I think you would see the market penalize them.”