First Green Banking on a Niche
First Green Bank, with $13.4 million in deposits and $10 million in loans, incorporates practices that encourage employees and clients to go green.
Longtime banker Ken LaRoe wasn’t sure how potential investors would react to his idea of combining his passion for banking with his environmental zeal to create a “green” bank. They liked it. And they wrote checks — more than $24 million in three months — to finance the startup of LaRoe’s First Green Bank, which opened in February in Lake County.
The “green” elements of First Green include low-interest loans to businesses for environment-friendly projects; use of recycled paper and other green products; interest-free loans for its 30 employees if they buy a car that gets more than 30 mpg; and a $1,000 raise for employees who become LEED-accredited professionals through the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.
LaRoe previously founded Florida Choice Bank in 1999 and built it to $400 million in assets in four counties and six locations before selling it in 2006.
Other small banks in the area are also using a niche-marketing approach to pick up customers, including:
Urban Trust Bank operates branches out of Wal-Marts.
Urban Trust Bank, which just reached $400 million in deposits, expects to become profitable this year by targeting the “urban market,” which Executive Vice President Kathy Boden Holland defines as customers who want understandable products, low fees, competitive rates and convenient locations. Among its features: A partnership with Wal-Mart that allows the bank to operate in-store branches seven days a week; higher interest rates than big banks; no charge for ATM transactions nationwide; and a prepaid credit card for consumers who either want to budget their spending or don’t have a bank account. Urban Trust has grown to 130 employees and 16 branches in Florida and Maryland/Washington, D.C., since Dan Fischer became president and CEO in October 2007. The bank started as one-branch Metro Savings in Orlando, where it served an African-American community before it was purchased in 2005 by Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson and Atlanta investor Frank Hanna Jr.
Reunion Bank, founded last year with branches in Tavares and Port Orange, focuses on community giving, donating money to local charities when a customer opens an account.