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After closing mortgage branch, Access National shifts focus to commercial loans

In April, Access National Bank baffled its peers when it shuttered its very successful mortgage refinancing office in Denver.

The branch — which had brought in nearly one-third of the company’s 2012 profits — had originated hundreds of millions of dollars in loans.

“It was a difficult decision to make and an unpopular decision,” said Michael W. Clarke, president and chief executive of the Reston-based bank. “But we knew that eventually rates were going to go up, and our refinancing strategy was not going to work anymore.”

Now, as interest rates begin to creep up, Access National is shifting its focus away from mortgages and back to its commercial lending business — particularly in niche industries such as federal contracting and dentistry.

“We’re still in the mortgage business, but we have a laser focus on working with operating businesses in the D.C. metro area,” Clarke said.

The bread and butter of the bank’s business, Clarke said, is working with companies that have $1 million to $100 million in revenue. Many clients have existing businesses and come from larger institutions such as Bank of America or BB&T looking for nuanced help from local advisers.

“As their business grows and becomes more complex, they want to sit down and talk to a trusted adviser — somebody that understands local business matters,” Clarke said. “We fill some of their commercial lending requirements and then things emanate from there.”

The bank, which has five branches and $876.3 million in assets, recently added four employees to its commercial lending staff, bringing the total to 22, and Clarke says he has plans to hire more.

He has broader plans to expand, too.

“We are likely to get involved in the coming wave of bank consolidations,” Clarke said. “Believe it or not, there are approximately 50 depositories in the D.C. market that are smaller than our bank.”

During the first quarter of this year, the bank reported $3.7 million in earnings, a 6 percent increase from the same quarter last year. The quarter before that, it posted a 91 percent jump in year-over-year profits.

Clarke says those gains were largely due to increases in deposits, commercial checking accounts and business loans. Commercial and industrial loans now make up about one quarter of the bank’s portfolio.

“It’s not a real complicated strategy,” Clarke said. “We’re going to stick to what we know.”

Abha Bhattarai is a business reporter for The Washington Post. She has previously written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg Times.
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