U.S. Century Looks for Possible New Bank Sites
By Jim Freer
From the April 22, 2005 print edition


U.S. Century Bank is scouting sites on Miami's Brickell Avenue, in Pompano Beach and southwest Broward County for the next stage of its rapid and profitable expansion.

The two-and-a-half-year-old bank is looking at space in several Brickell office high-rises and could sign a lease within several months, Chairman Ramon Rasco said.

That would give U.S. Century a presence in Miami's downtown and international business communities - joining its eight other branches in Miami-Dade County.

U.S. Century entered Broward County last month, with a branch at 4350 Sheridan St. in Hollywood.

The bank has $91 million in capital, about twice the amount it needs to be considered well capitalized by regulators. It plans to use part of that capital to add at least five more South Florida branches by the end of 2006.

That would include Pompano Beach and southwest Broward, two areas where it is looking for vacant branches or retail sites with a goal to open this year.

Then, U.S. Century would consider entering Palm Beach County, said Octavio Hernandez, the bank's president and CEO.

Those steps are part of an astute "rifle, rather than shotgun approach" U.S. Century has taken from its start, said Ken Thomas, president of Miami-based BranchLocation.com, which advises banks on choosing bank sites.

"They are opening in good locations, keeping their expenses low and building a base in one county before moving to another and spending new money on marketing," said Thomas, who owns less than 1 percent of U.S. Century stock, but is not doing any work for the company.

U.S. Century opened in October 2002, with a then-state record $22 million in start-up capital and a board of directors laden with leaders of Miami-Dade's Hispanic business community.

The bank has expanded its capital base through two follow-up private offerings.

Board full of business leaders

U.S. Century's board includes Sergio Pino, chairman of Century Homebuilders and a former president of the Latin Builders Association; Armando Guerra, president and CEO of Sedano's Pharmacy and Discount Stores; and Rodney Barreto, founder of law firm Barreto, Cunningham, May, Dudley and Maloy.

Board members encouraged friends and some clients to be ready to bring deposits to U.S. Century the day the bank opened, Pino said.

U.S. Century's loan officers quickly began booking loans, enabling the bank to become profitable before the end of 2002.

"Our board members and investors are like soldiers for the bank the way we help bring in business," Pino said.

Pino, Guerra and Rasco were directors of Hialeah-based Ready State Bank before its 1998 sale to Union Planters Bank.

Former customers of Ready State were among early customers of U.S. Century, said Rasco, a partner in Coral Gables law firm Rasco, Reininger, Perez & Esquaenzai.

From the start, U.S. Century planned to quickly expand to a wide base of Miami-Dade businesses, Rasco said.

The bank has focused on loans to developers of apartment complexes, office/condominium projects and mid-rise condominiums of three and four stories, Hernandez said.

U.S. Century's growth led to net income of $928,000 and $450 million in assets by the end of this year's first quarter.

That translates to an annualized return on assets between 0.8 and 0.9 percent - just below the 1 percent level analysts regard as strong for banks that have been in business five years or more.

In addition to looking for sites on Brickell Avenue and in Broward, U.S. Century is preparing to build branches in Westchester and Coral Gables, with openings set for 2006.

Plans for next year also include opening a residential mortgage division, Hernandez said.

One certainty, Rasco said, is that U.S. Century will tell any prospective buyers that it is "not for sale."

"Everyone is active and enthusiastic, and we want to keep growing." 


E-mail banking, finance and insurance writer Jim Freer at jfreer@bizjournals.com.
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