Three new community banks are preparing to compete in the far northern Atlanta suburbs.
Peachtree Bank, North Atlanta National Bank, and Chattahoochee National Bank all expect to be up and running by the second quarter.
Peachtree is closest to opening its doors. It has received a state banking charter, found a headquarters building in Duluth, and raised $4.55 million of the $7 million in start-up capital it planned.
"This area is an incredible market growing very fast," said Monty G. Watson, Peachtree's president and chief executive officer.
North Atlanta is awaiting approval of its national bank charter. It hopes to raise $6.3 million in start-up capital by selling stock in early 1998. Chattahoochee National has not yet applied for a bank charter. It is negotiating with investment bankers to arrange an initial public offering.
The three new banks plan to focus on small-business lending. "We believe that is a segment that is currently underserved in the market," said James A. Walker Jr., chief executive officer of North Atlanta.
The banks are targeting northern Fulton County, where farms are being plowed under for office parks and small estates. Fortune 500 companies such as GE Capital Corp. and medical software giant HBO & Co. are setting up shop, and small businesses are following.
More than 15% of households in the area have annual income of $150,000, according to research from T. Stephen Johnson & Associates, Roswell, Ga. And bank deposits in the area have grown 12% per year since 1994.
"This is a market that we believe to be exceptionally good, both now and in the long term," said Pete Burr, president of Financial Solutions, Atlanta.
Community banks in the region say they aren't worried by the prospect of fresh competition. "I'm surprised we haven't seen new charters sooner," said T. Ken Driskell, president and chief executive officer of First Colony Bancshares, Alpharetta.
Georgia is a hot banking market. Seven state-chartered start-ups have opened this year, up from only three in 1996 and two in 1995, according to the state banking department.
W. David Sweatt, chairman of Chattahoochee, said he's not worried about the competition. "If we all follow our business plans, there is room for all three to be successful."
All three start-ups have something else in common: managers who have sold community banks they once ran. Both Mr. Watson and Mr. Walker were presidents of local banks that were sold in 1996 to Regions Financial Corp., Birmingham, Ala.
Mr. Sweatt is former president of Bank of Lafayette in Louisiana, which was bought by ISB Financial Corp., New Iberia, La., also in 1996.