Sometime in the next few months, Hemisphere National Bank will be transformed into a different bank with a new name, a new board, newly expanded and decorated quarters and an expanded constituency, says the bank's new owner.
Abel Holtz, now president, chairman and principal owner of Hemisphere, has applied to the comptroller of the currency for permission to change the bank's name to Capital Bank N.A.--a name designed in part to erase the bank's old image as a Hispanic bank, Washington's only one and an institution that never quite succeeded in making much of a dent.
Holtz, a Miami banker who is Cuban-born, said the institution will become a commercial bank, establishing real estate, international and commercial loan divisions. In the past, it was primarily a consumer bank.
"This is the only way we can serve the community and the Hispanic customer," Holtz said. "The only way we can serve any minority community is to attract the community at large . . . We're a banking institution. We have to be good at what we do. Then we can serve the Hispanic and black communities."
In the building where the bank is located, at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and I Street NW, some 90 percent of the workers don't use the bank because they view it as a strictly Hispanic bank and also because of problems in the way it has handled operations in the past, he said. "We want to establish a new image without having to defend against what happened in the past," he said.
Capital is also the name of Holtz's profitable Florida bank. Holtz started that bank in the same year Hemisphere was founded, but compared to the Washington bank's approximately $21 million in assets, the Miami bank's assets are roughly $350 million. It is, according to Holtz, the most profitable bank in the country, earning $9 million (after taxes and dividends) on $15 million in capital last year.
"He has an extremely successful record," said Erwin Katz, executive vice president of Jerry Williams Inc., a Tampa securities firm, who is familiar with the Miami bank's reputation. "He has an awfully good record of helping that bank to grow, and the earnings have been awfully good."
Holtz said he should be able to do even better with his Washington bank by bolstering it with the Miami bank, which will participate in the D.C. bank's loans and enable it to enter the commercial market in a more meaningful fashion. For instance, with the participation of the Miami bank, the D.C. institution will be able to make commercial loans of up to $4.5 million. Without that participation, the D.C. bank would be limited to lending $300,000 to one borrower.
Holtz took over the bank after almost a year of negotiations by different groups of investors for control. In December 1980, investor Jeffrey N. Cohen said he was seeking controlling interest in Hemisphere. That fell apart, and it looked for a time as if a group of investors including former White House protocol chief Abelardo Valdez and physician Dr. Jose Solano might take over.
In early October, Holtz reached an agreement with former chairman Leveo Sanchez, Washington construction company owner Angel S. Roubin and other investors to acquire 34 percent of the bank's stock, paying $32 a share for 53,914 shares. Since then, he has increased his holdings to 39 percent. Within the next month, he expects to control 51 percent of the bank's stock, he said. On Dec. 21, he became chairman and president.
Holtz, whose Miami bank is active in international banking, said he sought the Washington base as an aide to his international operations. It is also part of a grander plan.
"We're really looking for small banks in major financial areas that can be developed and organized in the same way . Eventually it will be one institution," he said. Holtz said he will settle on the purchase of a small New York bank next week and is negotiating for small banks in Houston and Los Angeles.
When interstate banking becomes a fact, major banking companies such as Citicorp and Chase Manhattan will be buying large regional banks. While they are doing so, Holtz said, he hopes to be operating his national network of small banks. Beyond that, he said, he sees an opportunity to build the D.C. bank.
First, said Holtz, he plans to add to the staff, hiring three top executives. Holtz said former Florida Sen. Richard Stone will be joining the bank and will be recommended to the board on Jan. 19 as vice chairman. "We have good officers, but we don't have enough officers," he said.
Holtz also said he expects to recommend an almost entirely new bank board at the directors' March 31 meeting. Holtz's aim is to have people on the board--such as real estate developers and auto dealers--who can attract commercial business, and to include representation from the international financial community.
He also plans to roughly double the clerical staff, which stood at 17 when he took over. Holtz said he found that D.C. bank salaries, both at the clerical and executive level, are roughly a third lower than salaries in Dade County. He will, he said, pay better salaries.
Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union won an election last year entitling it to represent clerical workers at Hemisphere after an organizing campaign that had, as its long-run goal, getting a foot in the door for organizing other banks. Previous management and the union failed to reach agreement on a contract. Holtz said he has not yet been contacted by the union and is constrained by federal labor laws from increasing salaries beyond a certain point in the meantime.
Holtz also plans to completely computerize the bank's operations. Several major operations, including loans and certificates of deposit, are handled manually, he said. The computerization should be complete in February, he said.
Holtz said the former management and board were good intentioned but were hampered by the difficulty of making a go of a bank geared so strictly to the Spanish-speaking community, by infighting on the board, union problems and the growing pains that face any small bank. He also said that in recent months management had been principally a caretaking operation.
Holtz forecasts that the bank eventually will be able to double its capital every year.