Leading Question

By Hannah Wallace November 30, 2008

“I think it’s a great time to start a bank,” insists Sarasota attorney Darren Inverso.

 Inverso, a director and organizer of the Consumer First Bank, N.A. (in organization), believes the current banking climate is ideal for a brand new consumer-oriented community bank.

Hudson disagrees. He says community banks are too dependent on a region’s economy. Capital is king, he says, and size does matter. “Large banks can take advantage of economies of scale and can be more diversified of risk,” he explains. “It’s hard for smaller banks to compete with that.”

Hudson, who has 30 years in banking under his belt, offers a historical perspective to what is happening in the industry today. “What we are seeing is a fundamental shift in the community bank model,” he explains. “In the old days you got some investors together to get a bank chartered with the goal of taking advantage of consolidations. But that model does not hold water any more. What we’re seeing in the financial markets is a meltdown. Depositors are fleeing to larger banks because they see safety there.

“It’s only going to get harder to compete with the super big banks,” Hudson continues.  “We are going to see the regulatory environment get stricter. In the U.S. we have a dual banking system. You have the nationally chartered banks that are regulated by control of currency. And then you have the state chartered banks. I predict that the fallout from the current banking crisis is the demise of the dual banking system. We will see one set of regulations that controls all banks. There will be more uniformity and consistency, but there will also be greater barriers to entry.”

Inverso doesn’t appear to be at all spooked by the recent bank failures and resulting bailouts and buyouts. In fact, he is bullish on community banking and says he and his fellow investors have found a niche.

“Our business plan isn’t dependent upon commercial lending,” Inverso says. “We are looking at a long-term venture, long-term sustainability. Recent events have given us something to address. We are starting with a clean balance sheet and assets supported by realistic market values. We are not going to try to blast the top 10 percent of wealth initially to increase our balance. We are targeting the everyday customer and will be promoting long-term banking relationships. We’ll be open seven days a week and we’ll provide additional incentives to work with our bank. We are even going to issue shares to each customer who qualifies. People have to bank, and we see ourselves catering to a group that is underserved. Our focus is on service and that is how we are going to compete with the mega-banks.”

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