In land of giants, a lesson on survival A personal touch is what tiny Equity Bank offered. Under its new president, it thrives as it focuses on service.

Posted: April 29, 2001

Anthony Petraitis and his partners own a small factory, so they need a bank.

Their company, auto-trim maker PHC Industries of Camden, used to rely on Meridian Bank to fund equipment, manage cash payments, and help meet the 110-worker payroll between contracts.

Meridian specialized in companies such as PHC. "We were extremely happy," Petraitis recalled.

But in 1995, Meridian vanished amid a series of mergers that overtook Philadelphia's largest commercial banks. Ron Donato, PHC's loan officer at Meridian, was among many who left.

Petraitis said he grew tired of having to explain to a procession of big-bank loan officers about, for example, retooling loans. The way he sees it, "your bank should be like one of your best employees who can take an assignment and require very little supervision from you."

For advice, he called Donato, now a financial counselor with Lancaster County-based Susquehanna Bancshares. Donato took his old client for a round of golf with Ron Gelsinger, a loan officer at Susquehanna's South Jersey affiliate, Equity Bank.

Equity is run by Mike Quick, whose father was a loan officer at Philadelphia's old Provident Bank; his brother worked at Norristown's Continental, and he was a senior loan officer at Midlantic Bank in the 1980s.

"I had always understood [business] banking as a one-on-one personal relationship," Quick said. But as Midlantic grew from a local business lender into a $20 billion-asset corporation, "our senior management had become so enamored with trying to make Wall Street feel happy that they set unrealistic goals. So I got out."

In 1992, he took a senior job at tiny Equity (formerly Atco National Bank) in Marlton. "It was an opportunity to get back to the basics of banking," he said.

With just $60 million in assets, Equity was 3 percent of the size of Midlantic. But, backed by Susquehanna and its other affiliates, Quick, who is now president, and his team have quintupled Equity's loans and other assets in the last six years - largely, he says, by extending personal service to customers such as PHC.

"If you can get a good price from PNC or First Union, why would you switch to a bank like Equity? Because people want to deal with a bank's decision-makers," Quick said.

Of course, bankers like to say it's easy to lend money; the hard part is getting it back. Banks that grow quickly are often crippled by problem loans.

But Quick says he is confident in his local-banking model, which he says has stood the test of time better than the kind of growth by acquisition that Wall Street sometimes prefers.

That's fine with Petraitis. In February, the Camden manufacturer set up two lines of credit, a cash-management account, a term loan, and a retooling finance arrangement with Equity.

Joseph N. DiStefano can be reached at 215-854-5957 or jdistefano@phillynews.com.

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