Among local banks, Palm Beach-based Fidelity Federal Bank & Trust moved into Broward County for the first time earlier this year with two new branches and plans to open as many as eight more in the next few years. Orion Bank, based in Naples, recently expanded into Palm Beach, and Lydian Bank and Trust, an upper-end Palm Beach private bank that had only operated "on the island," plans to open an office in the fast-growing north county area (along with an operation across the state in Tampa).
Meanwhile, local banks aren't the only ones eyeing the growing regional market. SunTrust plans to open as many as 15 south Florida branches this year. Commerce Bank has announced plans to open about 15 branches in Palm Beach and Broward counties this year -- and another 15 to 20 a year in south Florida until it reaches 150.
Prompting the growth surge are some favorable demographics and trends: The region has a huge concentration of wealth, with Palm Beach, Martin and Indian River among the five top counties in per capita income statewide. Meanwhile, the area's population is projected to grow by 500,000 residents by 2010.
Eduardo Alvarez, executive vice president for Rochester, N.H.-based retail branding firm BrandPartners, thinks the banking boom has legs. "Baby Boomers and young professionals, along with thousands of Latin Americans, are buying homes in south Florida. When banks look at the demographics, they see an established and a consistent growth opportunity. Florida will be a hot banking market for the next 15 to 20 years," Alvarez predicts.