While the District's oldest homegrown bank, Riggs National Corp., was announcing plans to sell to a Pittsburgh company last week, Loudoun County's largest community bank was preparing for this week's 80th-birthday celebration with cake, balloons and a promise.
Middleburg Bank's chairman, Joseph L. Boling, said his institution would not follow the path of other banks that have sold out to larger companies in recent years.
Longtime Middleburg Bank board member Millicent West echoed that sentiment. "Yes, yes, yes, we should remain independent," she said the other day. "It would break my heart if Middleburg Bank was sold."
To survive in an era of consolidation, though, Middleburg has taken on a new strategy in recent years, shedding its image as the quintessential small-town bank that did business at a single location on the main street of the town it served.
The company's flagship bank remains on Middleburg's West Washington Street, where dogs are still fed treats while their owners make deposits and horseback riders are welcome at the drive-through window. And Middleburg Bank hasn't ditched its logo -- the red fox. This is, after all, fox-hunting country.
But over the past decade, Middleburg Financial Corp., the bank's holding company, has expanded beyond the storied town known for its rolling farmlands, antiques shops and moneyed families. It has opened two branches in Leesburg, one in Purcellville and one in Ashburn. The company plans to expand to Sterling, Herndon, Chantilly and Warrenton over the next three to five years.
In recent years, Middleburg Bank also has moved its operations center from Middleburg to Leesburg and has acquired mortgage lending and financial services firms based in Richmond and Alexandria. Venturing further afield, Middleburg last year bought a 40 percent stake in a mortgage lender with headquarters in Norfolk.
According to Boling, who is president of the Virginia Bankers Association, Middleburg Bank really had no choice but to open new branches and diversify its services.
"We'd be gone if we didn't," Boling said recently. "The market did not have enough growth to sustain one bank."
The growth strategy seems to have worked. Middleburg Financial Corp.'s assets have jumped from $243.9 million at the end of 1999 to $503.9 million at the end of last year, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Over the same period, Middleburg's deposits have grown from $203.8 million to $370 million -- second highest among banks doing business in Loudoun, after North Carolina-based BB&T Corp.
Middleburg Financial Corp. has been profitable, too, earning $8.2 million last year, an increase of 30 percent over 2002. The company's stock price has tripled over the past five years.
Middleburg Bank has survived the ups and downs of myriad economic cycles by being "very, very conservative in its approach," Boling said.
For more than 70 years, he said, the bank resisted opening branches when competitors were doing so, preferring to focus on its core Middleburg market. But in recent years, Boling said, the company has taken advantage of "all the turmoil going on with banks being bought and sold" by hiring key personnel from community banks that have shut down, then using them to staff new branches.
"We kind of got the cream of the crop from the community banks," he said. "Then, when we went to a new marketplace, we really did create a local bank in that community. We gave the people there the authority and responsibility to respond to the community. They didn't need to get a lot of permissions to get things done."
Middleburg Bank hasn't been shy about publicizing this strategy.
"Bank mergers just keep sending great customers our way," one of the bank's newspaper ads reads. "We hope this never stops. Every day, more new customers move their accounts to our bank. Most of them have something in common. Their bank of many years is not the same because it has been merged or bought by a large out-of-town corporation."
Middleburg Bank has found that different communities in Loudoun require different products, Boling said. What works in Middleburg might not work in Purcellville.
"Purcellville, for example, has a larger base of certificates of deposit," Boling said. "That marketplace may be based on the old farming base. Whatever the psychology is, there's a lot more use of certificates of deposit, so that branch has to have flexibility to deal with that," offering terms on CDs that may not be offered at other branches.
There is greater demand for commercial loans in Leesburg than in Middleburg, Boling said. So the company has four commercial loan officers in Leesburg, compared with two in Middleburg.
Boling said the bank will keep its familiar red fox logo even after it expands into eastern Loudoun and Fairfax counties, far beyond its hunt-country roots.
For the uninitiated, Middleburg Bank offers this bit of information: "The Red Fox is a quick, skillful hunter with a reputation for being cunning."