What goes around comes around is as true in banking as it is in the rest of life. Just ask Tom Johnson.
Mr. Johnson is the chief executive officer and chairman of CreditAmerica Savings, a $270 million-asset industrial loan and thrift in Brainerd, Minn. Industrial loan and thrifts are essentially finance companies that lend only to commercial customers.
When he founded CreditAmerica in 1983, it was part of a holding company that also included American National Bank. In 1995 he sold the $43 million-asset bank to International Bank Corp., which was later sold to what is now Wells Fargo & Co.
By December 1996, American National Bank had ceased to be.
Until now, that is. Mr. Johnson won approval late last month for a national bank charter from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. And because the American National Bank name was no longer in use, he was able to dust off his old brand and give it new life as American National Bank of Minnesota.
Im back in my old bank building right now and the bank examiner he had during American Nationals previous incarnation, Mr. Johnson said in an interview.
His decisions to sell his first bank and to start a new one were both motivated by shifts in the business environment. When CreditAmerica was established, the idea was to have an institution that would not be subject to usury laws. Now that those laws have changed, Mr. Johnson is switching back.
Such a move is not out of character for Mr. Johnson, said Allen I. Olson, president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota.
Hes always been an innovative, aggressive businessperson, Mr. Olson said. Its interesting, the circuitous route hes taken once a banker, then sort of a banker, and now back to owning a traditional bank.
Mr. Johnson, who expects the charter conversion to be complete by the end of August, said the change will not radically alter his business model. In 1985, CreditAmerica was able to get coverage from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. But it required him to administer his loan portfolio as if CreditAmerica were a bank. We were a finance company in name only, he said.
American National has 10 offices around Minnesota and a top-management team that includes a lawyer and certified public accountant. Mr. Johnson said its location strength and management strength have him confident it will succeed as a bank.
Indeed, he has so much faith in his fellow managers that he has taken time off to travel to Haiti and Bosnia to continue work on humanitarian projects.
After the conversion, Mr. Johnson hopes to take American National into the Dakotas and Florida. Though it will be a full-service bank, he plans to limit its business to commercial lending, including real estate and construction loans, as much as possible.
The primary reason for the charter switch is that I need to be able to expand nationally, he said. And he said he hopes national-bank status will help him attract bankers who would be reluctant to work for a finance company.
Mr. Johnson said he has abandoned consumer lending, leaving it to credit unions that can offer lower rates because of their tax advantages, and that he wants to avoid overexposure to demand checking because he does not see it as profitable.
I truthfully dont care if I see anyone in my lobbies, he said.