Many community banks have sought that ever-amorphous "high-net-worth individual" almost in the way the Knights of the Round Table sought the Holy Grail. Many have tried, and many have died.

But one Baltimore bank, an unlikely candidate for success at private banking, nonetheless is determined to give it a go.

Provident Bank of Maryland spent most of its 107-year life as a thrift. In the late 1980s it changed charters and management and set about reinventing itself.

Branches in Supermarkets

So far, its plans for new business have been primarily in the consumer banking arena. The $1.7 billion bank is opening a separate consumer finance company and has purchased a residential mortgage banking company in the last year, as well as being the only, bank in Baltimore with a plan to open branches inside supermarkets.

Private banking in the Baltimore market has been dominated by the likes of Provident's bigger brethren, namely Maryland National Bank, the MNC Financial Inc. subsidiary just taken over by NationsBank. Still, Provident management feels like now is a good time to start a private banking operation as a way of alleviating sluggish loan demand and perhaps increasing fee income, said Bradley Sanner, a managing director in the, bank's commercial lending division who's been charged with developing private banking.

Mr. Sanner declined to comment on the bank's plan, however, saying it's too early to give details. He did say the program should be up and running by the end of the year.

Targeting Customers

One private banker in Baltimore said Provident, despite its lack of experience, could make a success out of private banking.

"Not a lot of banks have done this well," said Stuart Greenberg, a private banker in Baltimore for the last eight years. "Some bankers like to think you buy some nice furniture, an expensive Persian rug and a fabulous board room and say, |Welcome to private banking.'"

Mr. Greenberg said Provident must clearly define what kind of customer it wants to serve, develop a strong operational network within the bank to provide good service to them, get the backing of top management and, finally, hire people with as much experience as possible in servicing high-net-worth clients.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.