The top three performers among the nation’s second hundred largest community banks reflect the breadth of America. The No. 1-ranked Suffolk Bancorp is based in Riverhead, on New York’s Long Island; No. 2-ranked Hanmi Financial Corp., is a Korean-oriented bank in Los Angeles, and the No. 3-ranked S.Y. Bancorp. is based in Louisville, Ky.
Suffolk has been a solid performer over the years. In addition to taking first place on our one-year ranking, it placed seventh over both the three-year and five-year periods.
"We have a good market on Long Island although it has no shortage of competition," says Thomas Kohlmann, CEO, who has been with the bank 10 years.
"We have been able to succeed be-cause we know who our clients are and what we can do for these clients."
The bank, Suffolk County National, focuses on small businesses and professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and accountants. "Many say you can’t make a good living dealing with these people because they won’t allow it, but I would counter that if you provide the service, they will pay."
Kohlmann says some of Suffolk’s competitors are trying to copy his formula, but he takes a philosophical view: "It’s like anything else in life: you don’t own it forever."
Suffolk County National is 111 years old, but adopted its present formula only seven or eight years ago. Since then, the bank has nearly doubled in size.
The bank has 26 branches and those that have been opened in the last few years are designed to reflect the markets they serve. "When you walk into one of these newer branches, it would be difficult to guess whether you were in a law office or an accounting office," says Kohlmann. "There are no teller lines."
Out in Los Angeles, Chung Youk, chief executive officer of Hanmi, which has a clientele almost as diverse as its locale, says traditional banks aren’t doing a good job in the ethnic market. The 52-year-old Youk came to the U.S. in 1982 after working in banking for 10 years in South Korea. He continued working in Korean banks in this country and in 1990 joined Hanmi as a branch manager. He was made CEO in 1999.
Two-thirds of Hanmi’s customers are Korean, and the rest include Latinos, Indians, Moroccans, Taiwanese, and Chinese.
"It’s not that easy" serving such a market, says Youk. "In dealing with ethnic groups, you have to understand their culture and traditionand you need the bilingual person who can deal with the customers."
Every branch office, and Hanmi has 11, has its own ethnic market.
Finding business development officers is a big hurdle to doing what Hanmi does, says Youk. "They need marketing ability, banking knowledge and to be able to speak the language."
In Louisville, S.Y. Bancorp’s Stock Yard Bank & Trust Co. also has been around a long time, since 1904.
It focuses on locally owned and operated businesses. But what makes Stock Yard unusual for a bank its size is the power of its trust department. It has more than $1 billion in assets under management.
"This is an unusually large and profitable line of business for a community bank, and it’s a good source of fee income other than deposit fees," says Nancy Davis, CFO.
Davis says the bank also is helped by the stability of the Louisville economy. "It’s a stable mid-Western economy," she says. Also, the economy isn’t heavily concentrated in any industry, with a good mix of service and manufacturing. UPS is the biggest employer in the city, and uses Louisville as its hub.