A group of wealthy Northern Virginia businessmen has formed The Bank of Alexandria, the first commercial bank to attempt to open in Alexandria in at least a decade, according to a state official.
Among the bank's directors are Edward Semonian, clerk of the Alexandria Circuit Court; Chamber of Commerce President Howard L. Gaines, and Norman B. Schrott, resident manager of the A. G. Edwards & Sons Inc. Alexandria stock brockerage office.
The intention to open the independent bank next spring is a sign of the increasing financial vitality of the 231-year old city, according to financial observers.
The bank, which was incorporated on June 12, 1980 and must still receive a charter from the Commonwealth of Virginia, intends to raise $3 million in capital by the first of the year through the sale of 300,000 shares of common stock, according to Scott C. Humphrey, chairman of the bank's eight-member board.
However, according to Ralph Jessee, first deputy of the Commission of Financial Instututions in Richmond, the survival rate of independent banks often is precarious because of volatile market conditions.
"It's certainly difficult for an independent bank to survive. Often they start out with weak capital, make bad loans, or don't grow quickly. Three million dollars is the absolute minimum a bank would need to start up today," he said.
Humphrey said the bank already has sold $500,000 worth of stock to 140 investors and anticipates "no trouble" in raising the remaining $2.5 million by Jan. 1.
Under Virginia law, the bank's officers must apply to the State Corporation Commission for a charter once they have raised all the capital they feel they need. The commission then will solicit the opinion of other members of the Virginia banking community to see if the opening of a new commercial bank would cause hardships for existing institutions, then make a judgment about the bank's financial stability.
"We don't feel there will be any opposition from the banking community in Alexandria. We feel we will be able to open without trouble," Humphrey said.
Taylor Burke III, an assistant vice-president of the family-controlled Burke & Herbert Bank and Trust Co., the only other independent bank in the city, caustically agreed. "We don't expect to oppose them," he said. "We intend to ask people who would you rather do your banking with, a banker or a dentist."
One of the directors of the fledging bank, Zack T. Gray, is a dentist.
The presence of Semonian, 46, on the bank's board has raised numerous eyebrows in the city. An attorney and former vice-president with United Virginia Bank in Alexandria, Semonian currently earns approximately $45,000 to oversee operations of the circuit court clerk's office, which handles millions of dollars worth of fines and fees annually.
There is not statute in Virginia law prohibiting elected officials from having outside business interests. Th e only restriction if that office holders may not direct more than $5,000 worth of business annually to private companies in which they hold a financial interest, according to a state spokesman in Richmond.
"There will be absolutely no conflict of interest," Semonian said last week. "I have a clear and full understanding with the other board members that the bank will not benefit from my position. The clerk's office will continue to conduct itself in the future as it has in the past," he said.
In the subscription circular, Semonian is listed as organizer, director and treasurer of the bank, which will use a name associated with an organization that lent the United States money during the War of 1812. Charles S. Perry, a partner with the law firm of Boothe, Prichard & Dudley, is listed as an organizer and secretary. Humphrey is an organizer and chairman.
Other board members are Francis H. Fannon III, an insurance company executive; Gaines, president of Gaines Bros. hardware store; Gray; Philip Tierney, also a partner with the Alexandria law firm of Boothe, Prichard, & Dudley; and Semonian.
"The bank intends to be a full service bank, run by Alexandrians for Alexandrians," Humphrey said. He said the bank will be in a downtown location.