Trident Bank in Atlanta would not be the first start-up bank to target doctors and other health-care professionals, but when it opens its doors early next year it could be the only one offering a payments tool that would give them easy access to patients' insurance data.
The service, one that experts say is rarely if ever offered through banks, would let clinics look up patient information from hundreds of insurers through a single Web portal. Trident organizers say it is a logical service for banks, and they are counting on it to give their bank a competitive edge and generate steady fee income.
Trident's application for a national bank charter was approved by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency last week. The Trident Bancshares Inc. unit also intends to target technology firms and importers and exporters,
Carlton Doty, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc. Cambridge, Mass., said the idea of the banking industry getting into the business of connecting doctors to their insurers through a single aggregating source has been "floated around" for years, "but I don't think anyone has taken it this far yet."
Mr. Doty pointed out that a number of companies, including NaviMedix Inc., Realmed, and Availity LLC, aggregate data on insurance companies for health-care providers.
But Dr. Rajiv Pandya, a Trident founder and board member, said few doctors use aggregating services. Instead, they get patients' coverage eligibility and co-payment information through direct links to individual insurers, such as Aetna and United HealthCare.
Dr. Pandya, an orthopedic surgeon, said the service is to be offered locally at first but could be offered nationally if it catches on.
"The nice thing about the product is it can be equally customized for huge practices or single-man groups," he said.
Pin Pin Chau, Trident's president and chief executive, said the company would outsource the service to a third party, though she would not say which one because negotiations are ongoing.
Besides fee income, the aggregating service would also give Trident insight into doctors' funds, which could lead to lending opportunities.
The system "breaks out … very clearly" what a doctor's actual receivables are from the customer and the insurance company, Ms. Chau said.
Dr. Pandya said many medical offices are managed poorly because doctors focus more on patient health than on their practices' financial health. Cash flow is a persistent problem, he said, because doctors often do not know when or how much they are going to get paid.
The service would not only help medical professionals have a better idea of how much money they will be getting for each appointment or procedure, Dr. Pandya said, but it could save clinics money by helping them operate more efficiently.
Dale Troppito, a managing partner with Gantry Group LLC, a consulting firm in Concord, Mass., said a system providing a single source for hundreds of insurance companies would be "valuable." Most medical clinics are set up to accept only a handful of insurers because of the time and energy it takes to connect to each insurance company's payment site.
Though aggregating systems would streamline that process and give clinics access to far more insurers, Ms. Troppito said, she questioned whether physicians would "change well-established methods and behaviors in their offices."
Most physicians would say, " 'What I have is already working; I'm not going to change it,' " Ms. Troppito said. However, physicians setting up a new practice would be more open to such a sales pitch from a bank, she said.
In recent years a growing number of banks have been catering to medical professionals. The $825 million-asset Barrington Bank and Trust Co., a subsidiary of Wintrust Financial Corp. in Lake Forest, Ill., has focused on medical professionals for about two years.
Jorge Russe, a senior vice president at Barrington, said its work in this niche has been "increasingly profitable."
"When you consider the percentage of our gross domestic product that goes into health care, you can anticipate robust growth in the future for anybody who engages in business with physicians," Mr. Russe said.
When she was the president and CEO of Summit Bank Corp. of Atlanta, Ms. Chau focused on international trade, in part because Summit catered to minority communities, particularly Asian-Americans, with trade ties overseas. (The $665 million-asset Summit was sold to UCBH Holdings Inc. of San Francisco in 2006. Ms. Chau joined the UCBH board, from which she resigned about two months ago.)
Ms. Chau, who said Trident plans to raise about $20 million by the time it opens, planned to stay retired from banking until she was approached by the Trident founders.
This is "actually an excellent time to start a bank," because "customers won't haggle as much about pricing," she said. "Most existing banks are too absorbed in working out their bad loans than to lend new money. We can focus on getting a good business instead of running after bad business."