Unlike the growth markets of the Southeast, New York City with its pricey real estate and a heaping abundance of banks is hardly viewed as a start-up hotbed.
But $42.5 million-asset Signature Bank, the citys first state-chartered start-up bank of 2001, says it is well situated in location and in other ways. The 160-employee unit of Bank Hapoalim, Israels largest bank, just opened this week and aims to take business away from many of the larger metropolitan players by providing personal and business banking and brokerage services.
Whats that old physics thing? Nature abhors a vacuum? We think theres a vacuum, said Signature vice chairman John Tamberlane, a 20-year veteran of Republic National Bank. And if were right and there is a vacuum, others are going to jump into it as well.
While many start-ups are constrained by capital shortages, Signature, which will target small-business owners with investable assets of at least $250,000, is fortified by a parent with assets of $55 billion. Bank Hapoalim has invested more than $60 million in the company, and the funds are expected to continue to flow freely to the U.S. division, said Joseph J. DePaolo, Signatures president and chief executive.
If we had to start this from scratch, without a big parent, it would have been difficult to do, said Mr. DePaolo, 42, another former Republic executive. Clients would probably be nervous joining a small institution, because they probably have more dollars than the capital of the institution. With us, we have the big parent that we can show the strength of.
Though Bank Hapoalim is a public company, nearly 45% of it is owned by a consortium of prominent U.S. investors including former Salomon Brothers trader Lewis Ranieri, who are also expected to send business Signatures way.
We have tremendous firepower between Bank Hapoalim, the consortium members, and ourselves that we can bring into play, Mr. Tamberlane said.
Management says it expects to raise the companys asset size to $2 billion and its customer base to 2,500 in the next three years. Signature, which has five branches in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, expects its executive recruits from FleetBoston, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of New York, and HSBC USA to bring business from their former employers.
Mr. DePaolo and Mr. Tamberlane, who both left Republic after it was bought by HSBC last year, are also expected to build on what they learned at the New York community bank, especially in Signatures dealings with high-net-worth individuals.
Mark Fitzgibbon, an analyst at Sandler ONeill & Partners in New York, echoed Mr. Tamberlane in assessing Signatures prospects.
There was a void created by the Republic acquisition, Mr. Fitzgibbon said. It makes good sense to go after their former customers they had a fabulous private banking and brokerage business. Ever since the merger, he added, local banks have been trying to capitalize on any missteps by HSBC.
While there have only been eight bank and thrift start-ups in New York City since 1996, analysts agree that the consolidating metropolitan market has created opportunities for small banks, including start-ups.
The market is massive, Mr. Fitzgibbon said. There is clearly more opportunity for smaller, more nimble players to be successful by carving out a niche.
Kevin T. Szocik, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. in New York, said the opportunities are especially good for companies that provide high-touch service to the high-end market. Banks working that niche could grow quite nicely, especially in this market given the concentration of wealth and population density, he said.
Instead of lending, which is expected to make up only 15% of its business, Signature plans to concentrate primarily on deposit-gathering and investing funds in investment vehicles such as asset-backed securities and treasuries.
Getting its message heard is one of Signatures immediate priorities. It does not plan a mass-marketing campaign but is setting up meetings with prospective clients to tell them what Signature is all about and try to drive home the companys strength and viability, Mr. DePaolo said.
Once you get past that, youre not going to close tomorrow, he said. Then its easy.