Staying Customer-Focused… Service a Top Priority at Investors Bank’s New ABL Unit
Investors Bank jumped into asset-based lending late last year as part of a strategy to diversify its lending products. The group’s new executive team provides insights into how they intend to keep the customer at the center of the process by offering complete depository services plus robust ABL products, encompassing revolvers, term loans and equipment finance.
Employees at Investors Bank are challenged to make a difference every day. “That is an attitude that pervades the entire bank, and it’s been a rallying cry for us,” affirms David J. Viggiano, senior vice president and head of the bank’s recently formed asset-based lending group.
“We try to provide outstanding service, deliver on our commitments and produce custom-tailored products that meet our clients’ needs. The culture at Investors is dynamic, and it’s a stimulating place to work! The entire management team and all the bank personnel support and help each other as they deliver products and services to the customer. We put the customer at the center of that process.”
Investors Bank announced the launch of its asset-based lending group in November 2013. Viggiano was appointed senior vice president and head of asset-based lending with Joseph DeVito as senior vice president and director of business development. “The addition of the ABL product broadens our capability for regional businesses and adds another financing tool that allows us to serve current customers and attract new ones,” says President and CEO Kevin Cummings from bank headquarters in Short Hills, New Jersey.
Viggiano has 30 years of corporate lending experience and spent the past 17 years at GE Capital. DeVito complements that experience with 28 years in asset-based lending and commercial finance, most recently as director of business development at Sterling National Bank. “Joe and I built this business unit together,” declares Viggiano. “Our goal was to create a small group of experienced people who already knew each other and were highly respected within the industry. It was important that we could work well together as a unit, and I am very fortunate to have recruited top-quality talent.”
Asset-based lending was a natural extension of Investors Bank’s commercial lending and middle market lending groups. “These customers tend to be fairly similar, but the credit metrics for some lend themselves more to ABL than middle market,” explains Viggiano. “I had been looking for an opportunity to build and lead an ABL group, and I thought Investors was a nice fit for what I was trying to accomplish.”
The Investors ABL team members are Joseph R. Costanza, head of risk management; Peter Provenzale, senior business development officer; Michael McIntyre, senior underwriter and portfolio manager; and Lauro Neto, assistant vice president. “This team has a great deal of industry experience with large institutions,” stresses Viggiano. “They are thrilled by the chance to build a new business within the exciting story that is Investors Bank. I challenge my people every day to think how we can do our job better and be more effective in delivering products and services. One of the unique attractions here is that each individual has the opportunity to have his voice heard and make a difference within the group.”
The group will pursue credit facilities for middle-market companies located in the bank’s footprint encompassing New York, New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. “We will be industry-agnostic, and we will call on companies with revenues of $25 million to $100 million,” reports Viggiano. “An important part of our go-to-market strategy is calling on companies directly and working with the bank’s commercial lending units to determine the best solution for the customer. We want to be the agent bank and will offer complete depository services plus a robust offering of ABL products, including revolvers, term loans and equipment finance.”
Because Investors’ ABL unit is a start-up group, the team must invest time and energy developing effective internal processes and disciplines in functional areas such as marketing, underwriting and credit administration. “We strive daily to improve in each of these areas,” says Viggiano. “Probably more than half of my time at this point is spent building the business, but we now have several people working solely on new business.”
So, how are things ramping up? “Very nicely!” exclaims Viggiano. “The board recently approved our credit policy, and we implemented an account management software system. We closed our first deal, which was a participation for a large distributor. We have two awarded deals in the pipeline, for which we will be the agent bank. We have proposed on several other deals, and we anticipate good opportunities there.”
Viggiano has basked in the tremendous cooperation he experiences between all the bank’s middle market and commercial/industrial groups. “Executive management has been extremely supportive and has created an atmosphere where individual groups are encouraged to work together.”
Viggiano expects the ABL unit to grow in proportion to the economy as it grows. “ABL offers a great combination of attractive rates of return, and in the last three years, the ABL experience shows historically low credit losses. These factors make ABL a desirable asset class, and the industry is expanding. There is more supply than ever, and it’s a big challenge for every unit to get its fair share. It’s important that we are disciplined in credit management and pricing while operating as efficiently as we can. We will be opportunistic, and we will structure deals that meet the needs of the customer in the marketplace.”
Making a Mark
“Investors is at a really interesting time,” informs Cummings. “We are now over $15 billion in assets, and we have grown over $8 billion in the last six years. In 2005, when we went public with our initial IPO and sold 45% of the company, we had just started the commercial real estate group. We didn’t start business lending until 2008. When we made our first construction loan, we didn’t even have business checking and had to wire the funds to a national bank. In 2003 the bank moved from mortgage-backed securities to residential loans and, two years later, moved from residential loans to commercial real estate. In 2008-2009 we started the multi-family and the C&I lending businesses. We have been building these businesses to the point now where our commercial portfolio represents over 50% of our total loan portfolio. We have gone from a commercial portfolio of $380 million in 2007 to approximately $7 billion today. Right now we are in the midst of a capital raise that will help to enhance shareholder value. The opportunities ahead of us are very exciting.”
Viggiano’s past experience positions him for success. “GE Capital’s strength is efficient execution and maintaining discipline in every phase of business, from financial management, marketing and credit management to critical business practices. I try to leverage those strengths with superior customer service,” states Viggiano. “That is the formula that will drive our new unit’s success.”
“Dave is excited about joining us,” proclaims Cummings. “He came out of GE Capital with a high level of expertise, and he brought in a good team of seasoned professionals. There is more to this than just going out and getting business. You must also manage the processes and the backend. Part of it is credit risk, but there is also operational risk at stake. We had wanted Investors Bank to get into ABL as part of an effort to diversify our lending products, and Dave has a great pedigree. Interestingly, he and I went to the same high school and played basketball for the same coach. He came to Investors through the business side of the bank, but I already knew him from high school and basketball alumni activities in Jersey City. He has a great reputation with the high school alumni community, too!”
Getting noticed in a rapidly expanding industry can be a challenge, but Viggiano plans to rely on his team’s individual experience. “We are certainly well-referenced within the industry. Investors Bank is developing an excellent reputation for customer service and products that are individually tailored to meet the needs of customers. If a prospect has any doubts, I would encourage him to speak with people who have done business with us over the years.”
The new unit has lofty goals for 2014. “We want to be the agent bank in our relationships and provide credit facilities of $5 million to $15 million,” relates Viggiano. “If we can provide eight to 12 facilities in that size range this year, I would consider our performance outstanding.” It seems the group is well on its way.
“I have never had more fun in my career,” laughs Viggiano. “We have built a team of talented, experienced professionals, and we enjoy working together. We are developing an operating rhythm that will allow us to provide great products and services to our customers. Kevin and COO Domenick Cama have built a dynamic culture at this bank. It’s an exciting place to work, and it’s a great challenge to build this business. Our team embraces that challenge, and we are having a great time doing it!”
Lisa A. Miller is a freelance writer and contributor to ABF Journal.