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Howard Bancorp to acquire 1st Mariner Bank

“The big banks certainly play a role in the financing of businesses, but community banks are especially important for local businesses,” said Bert Ely, a Virginia banking consultant. “It will be able to serve not just the smallest businesses but those that are not quite so small.”

Many small businesses prefer a smaller, local bank to larger regional and national institutions, said Anita Newcomb, president and managing director of AG Newcomb & Co., a Columbia-based strategic consulting firm for the banking industry. Smaller banks offer businesses a personal relationship with their bankers and easy access to top decision makers, she said.

“They also want to feel that they have a partner who’s going to be with them through the good times and the bad,” Newcomb said.

Some national and regional banks reduced lending and even backed out of local markets during the most recent recession, but local banks remained, she said.

“The community banks, this is their livelihood,” Newcomb said.

1st Mariner Bank recovering and hoping to grow, one year after purchase

The 1st Mariner name came off a 17-story tower in Canton built by Hale, who stepped down as chairman and CEO in 2012, but the bank's headquarters remain on the tower's second floor with a branch in the lobby.

It remains one of the largest banks based in the Baltimore area, even though its deposits also declined, from $835 million on June 30, 2014, to $709 million as of March 31. Its employment also dropped to 381 from about 430 a year ago.

The bank continues to operate under a Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. order, issued in 2009, to increase its capital. Kunisch said the bank was told by regulators in March that it had met the requirements of the order.

But Baltimore bank consultant Stuart Greenberg said regulators typically want to see a good record for some time before lifting the more intensive oversight.

"I think their first challenge is regulatory approval," Greenberg said. "I'm sure that issue is paramount in their minds, and I think they want to get out from under that."