Bob McDonough is not your ordinary banker.
"I know every customer who's come in here to open a new account," says the chief executive officer of Continental Bank and Trust Co. of Springfield.
As of last Tuesday, he'd never returned a Continental Bank customer's check for insufficient funds and, he said in an interview, he still remembers the first customer who borrowed money from the bank.
"It was a 19-year-old young man who was buying a used car," McDonough recalled. "It was the day after we opened."
That was almost a month ago.
McDonough's bank is the newest and smallest financial institution in the metropolitan Washington area; its office is in a trailer at the corner of Old Keene Mill Road and Rolling Road in Springfield.
There used to be a dry cleaner there, but this summer workers took down the sign, built a fence in front of the cleaning shop, paved the parking lot, moved in the trailer and hung up an of oilcloth banner that says Continental Bank and Trust Company Grand Opening.
The new bank opened its doors Aug. 28, just as a University of Virginia economist was reporting that 75 percent of the bank deposits in Virginia are in 12 giant bank holding companies, and the big banks' share of the market is growing.
"I still think there's a place for a little bank," McDonough said the other day in his 12-foot-square office. "All banks are basically the same. The services are the same, but we tell customers we're unique: We're a small bank.
"All of your big banks have gotten themselves into a trap," McDonough insisted."It's the numbers game They get too big."
Pointing across the street to the branch of a major Northern Virginia bank, McDonough told how his bank got one of its first unsolicited customers. The customer, a $45,000-a-year man, had been banking at the same place for more than a decade. The paycheck that had been deposited in his account automatically every two weeks for years didn't show up on time and the bank returned several checks - including one to his newspaper carrier for less than $5. The customer was furious, McDonough said, and it didn't help to explain that the person who returned the checks didn't know that the paycheck came regularly every two weeks and would certainly be there in a day or two.
"The customers are tired of big banks," McDonough insisted. "They're tired of the lines. They want to know their teller. They don't like the ID ritual every me they cash a check. They're tired of being an account number."
Dealing with numbers instead of customers was one of the things McDonough left behind when he resigned as a vice president and senior loan officer of Bank of Northern Virginia to become executive vice president and chief executive officer of Continental.
He was managing more people in his old job, McDonough admits, but now he's really the boss - of one cashier, one bookkeeper, one receptionist and three teller. Despite its name, Continental Bank and Trust doesn't have a trust department, nor a trust officer. McDonough is the chief (and only) loan officer and manages the bankk's cash - now all in overnight federal funds - when he's not out developing new business, which is the only kind of business Continental has.
"The all-purposs banker is really kind of a dying thing," he acknowledges, still maintaining. "This is the only way to learn the banking business."
Lacking the MBA that's a requisite for a management job at any of the billion-dollar financial insitutions, McDonough, 33, got most of his formal bank training in short courses at Rutgers University, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Colorado.
Continental Bank got its start nearly five years ago and almost didn't survive. The first time it applied for a charter, it was turned down. A new board of directors got a charter, but had trouble raising capital. The first president was fired long before the bank opened.
At the time he was offered the job, McDonough admits, "The general consensus was that Continental Bank would never open its door."
The bank is state-chartered, but is a member of the Federal Reserve system and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the agency that usually has the most impact on new banks. The government bank insurance agency gives its customers a thorough fiscal examination before it writes a policy.
Starting a new bank requires money, though not a great deal of it by today's standards. Continental's original target was $1.3 million in initial capital; it took nearly three years to raise $1.347 million, selling stock at $10 a share.
The seven local business people on the bank's board are the biggest stock-holders, owning between them 30,200 of the 134,000 shares. None of them owns more than 5 percent of the stock.
The board includes Thomas C. Kilby, the bank's chairman, who is president of Herndon Lumber and Millwork, a building supply firm; Carl Bernstein, a Washington builder and developer; Gerald Corbin, a Springfield businessman who owns Jerry's Barber Shop, Jerry's Beauty Shop and Jerry's Plaza Pizza; Carolyn W. Hirst, an official of Johnson & Wimsatt, a wholesale lumber yard and a partner with her husband in R.W. Hirst Enterprises, a building firm; Marvin Jacobs, president of Bea Mar Associates, a home building firm; Charles Kimzey, a small business consultant with the National Center for Productivity; and McDonough.
Original investors had to buy at least 100 shares - $1,000 worth of stock - but that limit was dropped to bring in more shareholders, and hopefully more depositors, McDonough explained. As a result, the tiny bank has more than 700 stockholders, twice as many as most new banks.
To encourage stockholders to open accounts, McDonough set aside a batch of low account numbers for them, and even held a drawing for account number 0001.
Building deposits is the first priority when a new bank opens its doors, he explained, and stockholders are usually the best prospects. The directors showed up with their deposits - and low account numbers - on the first day and since then the bank has taken in about $100,000 a week in deposits and has made almost $100,000 in loans.
Bank directors traditionally are the first customers of a new bank, but the Continental Bank board members have signed a pledge not to borrow from the bank during the first year of operation. Part of the reason is to avoid any implication that the directors started the bank for their own profit, McDonough explained, and part is more pragramtic - Continental is just too small to serve the financial needs of the businesses owned by the directors. The most it can loan a single customer is $100,000.
"Our bread and butter is consumer loans," explained the CEO. The bank expects to make its money financing new cars, boats, fences and swimming pools for the military and government people who live in the burgeoning bedroom communities of West Springfield and Burke.
But it will be some time before the new banks turns a profit, according to its financial projections. "My first objective is to get (deposits) to $5 million," McDonough said. "A bank just can't operate at profit with anything less than that."
He figures it will take about 18 months before the bank is operating profitably, but by that time it will have built up a deficit of about $140,000. It will take perhaps another year to work off the losses and report the first real earnings. Paying a dividend by the end of the third year will be an accomplishment to brag about.
Within five years, assets should reach $15 million to $20 million. It's premature to think much beyond that, McDonough added, but when the bank reaches the $50 million size it will start running into the thing it is trying to avoid, what he called "the numbers game" that prevents the kind of personal banking that McDonough brags about.
After that, McDonough said, comes another threat: "Some holding company will probably come in here and offer our stockholders three or four times what they paid for their stock."