A start-up bank in a swanky New Hampshire village has bought a local brokerage-even before opening for business.
First Alliance Bank and Trust Co., Bedford, will open its doors next month, offering credit cards, mortgages, and deposit services. Its subsidiary, Star Investor Services, will sell securities, annuities and insurance.
First Alliance, whose executives say they expect it to have $80 million to $90 million of assets by yearend, will probably be the smallest bank holding company with a brokerage subsidiary, according to the Bank Securities Association.
"It's certainly the smallest one I've heard of," said the trade group's J. Heywood E. Sloane.
A brokerage "could be a significant expense on the bottom line" for a bank of that size, he added, but "if they can acquire a well-established brokerage, that makes a world of difference."
The bank, started with $5 million from 500 shareholders, will have sites in Bedford and Portsmouth, N.H.
"We can't be the type of bank you were 20 to 30 years ago. It's a more highly educated environment; people want more from their bank," said Elliott R. (Rocky) Bendrihem, First Alliance's chief operating officer and executive vice president.
Mr. Bendrihem, most recently managing director of Alex Sheshunoff Management Services Inc., Austin, Tex., was chief financial officer at another New Hampshire bank, First NH Banks Inc. (now owned by Bank of Ireland).
He said that he and another First NH veteran, Raymond G. Schwedhelm-now First Alliance's president and chief executive-think New Hampshire residents want the stability of a community bank with the services of a brokerage.
By acquiring Robert A. Ramsay Financial Services and Insurance, First Alliance got more than a brokerage; it also got a New Hampshire media personality. Mr. Ramsay, who will continue to run the unit, is known throughout the state as a regular on WMUR-TV's "Daybreak" show.
The brokerage hired Philadelphia-based BHC Securities Inc. to provide transaction processing and technological support, as well as consulting.
To cultivate an affluent clientele, First Alliance set up its headquarters in Bedford (pop. 1,400), a suburb of Manchester. (Manchester itself already had offices of Merrill Lynch, Charles Schwab, Edward Jones, and A.G. Edwards.)
"Bedford is the Beverly Hills of Manchester," said Meredith Nickerson of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
But First Alliance and Star are looking beyond Bedford. Southeastern New Hampshire, once pockmarked with empty textile factories, has benefited from the recent boom in New England's economy.
Boston companies have flocked to this part of New Hampshire, just an hour north, for its educated work force, inexpensive real estate, and lack of sales and income taxes.
This year Fidelity Investments plans to move about 1,000 jobs in customer service, portfolio management, and trading from Boston and Dallas to Merrimack, about 10 miles from Bedford. The area also has offices of two HMOs, Oxford and HealthSource, and a Wal-Mart distribution site.
"It's a complete flip-flop from the late 1980s and early '90s," Mr. Bendrihem said.