When Commerce Bank was sold to TD Bank back in 2007, New Yorkers lost a banking service that cared for its clients like neighbors rather than customers or numbers on a spreadsheet. That has always been the philosophy of Vernon Hill, one of the banking industry’s most notorious figures who had started the New York mainstay as well as Metro Bank in the U.K. After over a decade of absence from the metro New York area, Hill is bringing this attention to his customers’ needs with his new bank, Republic Bank, at its new location on Fifth Avenue and 14th Street, opening this Friday, July 12. We caught up with Hill to talk about how Republic will bring “The Power of Red” back to the city.
What was the decision behind bringing Republic Bank to the New York market?
I started my first bank when I got out of college. I was 26 at the time. For some unknown reason, they gave me a banking license. I had one office in southern New Jersey. We raised a million and a half to start it. At the time, there were 23,000 separate banks in America. Commerce Bank was No. 23,001. We grew over time to become a regional bank. But in 2001 we decided to open new branches in the metro New York market and that’s when the whole Commerce Bank growth numbers went into orbit. In fact, I was flying over the Statue of Liberty on Sept. 11 to go to the first branch opening for Commerce and saw the first building on fire and saw the second building get hit. I could tell nobody had any clue of what was going on that morning. Commerce Bank, over time, built 280 branches in the metro New York market. It was a tremendous success. The customers loved us. It was our biggest market. The bank was sold in 2007 to Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank). You see their branches in New York, they painted them green. The old customers from Commerce were really upset about that. They began to degrade the banking model, that service and convenience that they bought. … We’ve rebuilt Republic Bank in the Commerce Bank model. The look, the feel, the service, convenience and “The Power of Red” means we’re bringing back to New York everything you liked about Commerce. The fun, the feel, the services, the coin counting, the free dogs, and the elimination of every stupid bank rule we could find. Customers in all three states will be seeing this as the return of the success of the Commerce Bank that they loved.
How has the model of Republic Bank changed from the model of Commerce Bank?
The model is the same in the sense of the look, the feel. Our basic business is about building fans. Everything we do is about not making another dime next quarter, but building fans. We were the most beloved bank in America, certainly in metro New York. What’s different now is that mobile and online is much bigger than it was when we opened in 2003. But it hasn’t really changed the basic model. Our model is to deliver to the customer the best in banking services for commercial clients and consumers in every channel, whether it’s in-store, online or mobile. Retailing is about the experience today. It’s not about one product. It’s not about one location. It’s about the brand experience that you deliver by uniting all of the parts together. You want to have your store, online, mobile and on your phones all united to this unique customer service experience.
How will Republic Bank differentiate itself from all of the other New York banks?
There are lots of banks in town! Pretty much based on our success when we went into New York for the first time in 2003, with Commerce, the press gave me a hard time. How is a small bank going to compete? We had a wildly successful experience. I think that customers still want a differentiated service-driven experience. My job is to give them a choice.
What advantages do customers have working with a smaller bank rather than a larger one?
The commercial side is more than half of our business. Commercial clients really want an old-fashioned banker who knows them, who knows their credit. They know the banker and they can work one-on-one. So for the commercial side of the business, it’s very important to deliver the old-fashioned banker back. So that’s what our motto was in America, and is again at Republic: “Your old-fashioned banker.” Customers generally want a small-bank feel with big-bank capabilities. So, that’s what we’re delivering. A local bank delivering all the big-bank products and services that you need.
This article was written in partnership with Republic Bank.