A Columbus, Ohio, investment banking firm plans to take small-bank stock offerings into cyberspace.
Banc Stock Group Inc., a 22-year-old company that invests in more than 200 community and regional bank stocks, said it is launching "IPODepot.com"-a Web site that will make it easier for small investors to buy bank stocks in initial and secondary offerings.
The company characterized the effort as "bringing Wall Street to Main Street," focusing on investors who are typically left out of deals by larger brokerage firms. Banc Stock Group said it will target "quiet millionaires"-such as doctors, lawyers, and retirees-as well as senior management teams of other banks.
"We believe every investor should have community banks represented in their portfolio," said Michael E. Guirlinger, president and chief executive officer at Banc Stock Group. "The Web site will be an opportunity for those investors that didn't have a chance to buy shares in the past."
Here's how the site will work: Investors will view an offering prospectus, fill out the stock subscription form on-line, and mail checks to Banc Stock Group or an escrow agent. The site will feature customer service phone lines and e-mail correspondence to entertain questions.
The site is scheduled to debut in June, and any deal on it will be valued at less than $15 million. For now, all deals will be underwritten by Banc Stock Group, but the company hopes to offer the deals of other investment banking firms on the site, Mr. Guirlinger said.
Banc Stock Group is betting that the boom in start-ups will continue- there have been 400 since 1997-and that these banks will need additional capital for growth. The company predicted that $3 billion of new capital will be sought per year for the next five years.
Industry observers embraced the idea of on-line bank investing though expressing some reservations.
James Avery, a bank consultant in San Luis Obispo, Calif., said it would be a "mistake" for new banks with a strong local following to sell their shares via the Internet. He said investors from another part of the country would not be customers of the bank or able to bring in new business.
"But it's a good idea for new banks that are having trouble selling their stock," Mr. Avery added.
Small banks selling shares on the Internet could attract hostile investors that desire a quick and high rate of return, industry sources added.
If IPODepot.com succeeds, Mr. Guirlinger said, Banc Stock Group would also seek to do private placements and trust-preferred security offerings on-line.