Forget the fractured proverb — if you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs, you don’t know the gravity of the situation. Eric Bergevin knows banking’s situation is grave, but he believes that makes it a good time to start a bank unencumbered with bad loans, ruptured mortgages and gummy liquidity. Five months into it, in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Depression, his proposed Albemarle Bank & Trust was more than 60% of the way to raising its minimum goal of $13.2 million.
“Now’s a perfect time for a de novo bank to open,” says the Winston-Salem native, who will become its president and CEO. “We’ve got a clean slate, new capital to lend, and customers with institutions that don’t have capital or the liquidity to lend are looking for other options.” Albemarle Bank has opened loan-production offices in Edenton, its home base, and Greenville. Startups may under certain circumstances make loans, though not engage in retail transactions. Bergevin wants to open a branch a year for the first three years.
Albemarle Bank is being founded at a time when startups are slowing. A spokeswoman for the state banking commissioner says it’s one of four proposed this year. One, Legacy Bank of Charlotte, gave up in October after raising $17 million of its $26.6 million goal. The record is nine, in 1997, 2000 and 2006. Only one opened in 2002, after 2001’s terrorist attacks shook the nation. Three opened last year.
Albemarle Bank will serve retail and commercial customers and expects to thrive in two distinct Eastern North Carolina market segments. On the northern shore of Albemarle Sound, Edenton touts itself as “The South’s prettiest small town” and is popular with retirees; Greenville, home of East Carolina University and its medical school, has become a health-care center. The bank, Bergevin says, will work with state agencies and other organizations to boost small business. “A lot of entrepreneurs know their products, but they may not know their financials.”
A veteran of community banking, Bergevin, 37, started a residential mortgage brokerage, New Vision Mortgage LLC, in Edenton in 2003. Though the minimum purchase is only $2,200 — 200 shares — Albemarle Bank has not been immune to the financial upheaval of late summer and fall, especially among large investors. “The investment we’re getting is about 25% of what we’d get in a typical investment environment,” he says. “The guy who’d invest $100,000 is only investing $25,000. His liquidity is limited as well.”
Though there’s nothing unusual about a community bank starting up in North Carolina, this one has a distinction — it might be the first one with a hidden message in its brand. The logo features four nautical signal flags. The first indicates, “Stop your ship.” The second: “Yes,” The third: “I want to communicate with you.” And the fourth: “Come on board.”
Opening The Second Act
This time, it will be different. That’s what Roanoke Rapids officials say after selling the theater that once bore the name of Randy Parton, Dolly’s brother. A year ago, the city fired Parton, whose company managed the theater, saying he misused funds and failed to sell enough tickets. He also lost a $250,000-a-year gig as a performer after city officials said he showed up drunk. In October, they sold the theater to Chicago businessman Lafayette Gatling for $12.5 million — nearly $1 million less than it cost the city to build and equip. This time, officials think they have an airtight deal. With a lease-purchase agreement, Gatling, a real-estate developer, won’t get the deed until the last payment. He’ll get a $1 million discount if he pays on time, which would cut his price to $11.5 million. The city also is requiring that he and his wife carry $25 million in life insurance, payable to Roanoke Rapids.