Bryn Mawr banks on affluent northern Delaware market

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CEO Ted Peters says Bryn Mawr Bank Corp. came out of the financial crisis “virtually unscathed.”

 That accomplishment came during a period that Peters describes as the worst downturn he had ever seen in a three-decade banking career.

 The financial strength and strong profits have allowed the bank holding company owner of Bryn Mawr Trust to become a bigger player in Delaware.

 Bryn Mawr is based in the Main Line community of the same name that is also the home of well-known Bryn Mawr College. Over the years, Bryn Mawr Trust has added banking offices and expanded a trust operation serving the affluent families in the Main Line and neighboring areas.

Bryn Mawr means big hill in the Welsh language and reflects the Welsh Quaker  settlement in the area beginning in the 1600s. Delaware also saw a  Welsh settlement in the Pencader Hundred area near Newark.

No stranger to the First State, the 124-year-old company has operated in northern Delaware for five years, setting up Bryn Mawr Trust Company of Delaware, a special purpose trust company. It also acquired Lau Associates LLC, a multi-family office and asset management firm. Lau has combined assets under management of more than $2 billion.

Last year, Bryn Mawr moved into the Delaware banking arena, acquiring a portion of the assets of First Bank of Delaware as well as an office in north Wilmington.

First Bank had run into problems with banking regulators over money laundering controls. That led to the institution being stripped of its state charter. Bryn Mawr paid a reported $8.7 million to acquire the “good deposits” of the bank. Click here for a copy of a release from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Later this year, Brwyn Mawr is expected to wrap up the acquisition of MidCoast Community Bank and its four branches in New Castle County and Dover in a $33 million transaction. MidCoast has nearly $280 million in assets and no loans overdue more than 90 days.

Peters says Bryn Mawr, which has assets of about $2.1 billion, wanted to gain a “more critical mass” in Delaware.

He also sees the Delaware market as “a little less competitive” than neighboring areas of Pennsylvania. Northern Delaware remains as an affluent market that complements the company’s branch presence in neighboring Chadds Ford, Kennett Square and other areas, he adds.

Peters says the possibility of a new bank emerging as a competitor is unlikely. With regulations and compliance procedures becoming more stringent, few new banks have been formed in recent years. During his career, Peters helped start two banks in the Main Line. MidCoast was the last new community bank formed in Delaware.

Delaware has been rattled by the acquisition of Wilmington Trust by M&T after the Delaware market leader ran into problems with bad loans, primarily from southern Delaware real estate projects. The buyout has led to more business for competitors, including Bryn Mawr.

Emerging as a top competitor, according to Peters, is WSFS Bank, which has grown to $4 billion in assets and a branch system that extends from southeast Pennsylvania to southern Delaware.

Peters says he has a lot of respect for banks like M&T and WSFS, but sees room for another player that focuses on small and mid-sized businesses with loans ranging from $500,000 to $10 million. Bryn Mawr is also offering free checking for businesses.

In some ways, Bryn Mawr Trust resembles the old Wilmington Trust, since it derives a large chunk of its earnings from fees from its trust services.

Peters says Bryn Mawr continues to look for acquisitions, but wants to maintain to remain in the top tier of banks when it comes to profitability.

Brywn Mawr Bank Corp. has the heft to continue its expansion with a market capitalization of more than $350 million. WSFS has a market cap of more than half a billion dollars.

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