Saturday, October 4, 2003

PNC invests for growth

Regional leader confident it can be larger player

By Jeff McKinney
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Set to launch PNC Bank's biggest expansion in Greater Cincinnati in a decade, John Taylor gets elated about his bank's plans.

As regional president of PNC in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, Taylor will invest up to $10.25 million in the next 18 months to add and remodel branches. He even plans to add TVs and personal computers for customers at its Anderson Township branch, one of its busiest.

It's all in the hope of making the bank - the fourth-largest in the area - more attractive to customers and help it become a larger player in one of the nation's competitive banking markets.

"The exciting thing for us is that we're in a market where there is a lot of upside for growth," he said. "So, because the marketplace is growing, we have to invest more heavily than ever before so that we can be where the market is growing."

Of course, Taylor knows his job won't be made easy as some of his Tristate rivals, including Fifth Third, Provident and First Financial, also are expanding.

But Taylor is confident. He's already demonstrated to Pittsburgh-based parent PNC Financial Services Group Inc. that he can grow the local franchise - and that's why he's being allowed to invest heavily now.

He also says that unlike major markets where PNC has dominant market share - in cities such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia - there's still more room to add customers in the Tristate.

Indeed, PNC has deposits of $2.2 billion and 47 branches in a 12-county region surrounding Greater Cincinnati, according to data from SNL Financial, a bank research firm. Yet PNC has only about 6 percent deposit market share, versus a combined 66.5 percent for Fifth Third, Provident and U.S. Bank.

PNC serves about 86,000 local households, up 14.6 percent from 75,000 a year ago, Taylor said, explaining how the bank is growing.

As part of PNC's plans, it will spend:

• $7 million to build four branches in the next 12 to 18 months. It has developers looking at two sites in Northern Kentucky and one each in Over-The-Rhine and Butler County.

• $1.8 million to open a branch at Route 747 and Union Centre Boulevard in West Chester. Work will begin next month, and it could open by next spring. That would mark its first local branch opening since 1996.

• $850,000 to upgrade existing branches, including gutting its Anderson Township branch and adding such things as new TVs, personal computers, and even a greeter, to make banking more convenient for customers.

• $600,000 for technology, allowing tellers to do such things as give customers better account information more quickly.

Taylor said PNC is working on a deal that, if it happens, would add 60 ATMs to its 120 in Greater Cincinnati.

In addition to its retail-banking unit, Taylor said PNC has been able to grow other parts of the bank.

For instance, he said PNC Advisors has added 200 individual clients this year; revenue from new business in commercial banking is up 77 percent from a year ago. And, PNC's corporate banking unit has had 14 percent growth in new-client relationships from a year ago.

Taylor said PNC and its 500 employees locally have been successful in making those businesses better by focusing on retention and better understanding clients' needs.

The key for PNC is to keep growing consumer banking, analysts say.

Brock Vandervliet of Lehman Brothers in New York said PNC's expansion in Cincinnati is consistent with the parent company's plans nationally to expand retail banking, still its bread-and-butter business.

He pointed to PNC's recent deal to spend $638 million in cash and stock to buy United National Bancorp to add 45 branches in New Jersey, one of the nation's fastest-growing markets in household income. He also said consumer banking accounted for 41 percent of PNC's total second-quarter revenues and 39 percent of its profits.

"They have to continue to improve their financial performance, and building branches and making acquisitions could be one of the ways that they try to achieve that," he said.


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