Just as Commerce Bank’s signature fire engine red is being replaced by the forest green of its acquirer, TD Bank, and Wachovia is probably preparing to become Wells Fargo, despite lawsuits by jilted suitor CitiBank, a new bank is set to rise in Mercer County.

Patrick L. Ryan, who worked at Yardville National Bank for several years before that 80-year-old, 35-branch bank was acquired by PNC in April, 2007, is about to open First Bank in Ewing.

Ryan is the son of Patrick M. Ryan, who was Yardville’s CEO. The elder Ryan has invested in First Bank, but at this time is not expected to take a management role. His son is the new commercial bank’s chief operating officer. He is also the person who, along with veteran banker Les Goodman, took the lead in putting together the $19 million in capital to get the bank started.

First Bank was originally intended to be a brand new bank, but it turned out to be just a notch short of brand new. Part way through its fundraising, First Bank decided to join forces with another start-up, First Bank of Williamstown, which is in Gloucester County. Ryan says that 2008 is “a good year to form a bank, but not to run a bank,” but still, raising capital was not easy. “It was a challenge,” he says.

Williamstown is headed by Hamilton resident James Loney, a banker and bank regulator who came out of retirement to capitalize the bank and get it up and running. He had raised about $8.5 million toward that goal when he and Ryan teamed up. “Williamstown realized that our groups would be better off working together,” says Ryan. “They knew they needed more capital. We could come in with committed capital. We had a larger capital base, that was important.”

Ryan and Loney, who will serve as president of First Bank through June, 2009, got on well, and in late October, regulatory approvals in place, they officially formed First Bank. There is now a temporary branch in Williamstown, and a permanent branch is expected to open there soon.

The First Bank branch in Ewing may be ready for business by the end of the year. Located near the former GM plant on Parkway Avenue, it is taking shape in a space most recently occupied by a credit union.

The First Bank team is high on Ewing as a place to do business, but its choice of location had less to do with demographics than with expediency. “We see Ewing as a good market,” says Ryan, “but it was not a situation where we were overly scientific. We had an installed base from PNC, where we had four of five branches previously, and we wanted to get into a facility quickly.” The fact that its new building had been a bank makes for fast and relatively easy construction.

First Bank plans to add two or three more locations in Mercer County. “We would like a Hamilton branch soon, and we’re looking for another location, maybe Lawrence or Princeton,” says Ryan.

He isn’t worried about the fact that banks are cratering all over the country. His enterprise, he points out, is not an investment bank, nor is it a retail bank. It will not deal in complicated derivative trades and it will not depend on attracting a huge volume of consumers looking for checking accounts. It will welcome anyone who wants to open an account, no matter how small, and it will write some mortgages and grant some home equity loans, but that will not be its bread and butter business.

“Commercial banking is a different game,” says Ryan. “Small and mid-size businesses and high net worth individuals care a lot about service. They’re looking for a banking relationship.” There are customers who value banks like his for the individual attention they are able to give. Ryan is convinced that, even as mergers all around him create mammoth banks, there is room for a small bank that works with its customers one on one.

“This is more of a grass roots bank,” says Ryan. “We will continue to be involved in non-profits. We will hire people who are well known in the community.” The new bank does not have a lot of money for marketing, and is counting on former relationships with Yardville customers and on word of mouth to pull in its early customers.

Ryan, who lives in Hopewell Township near downtown Pennington, grew up in upstate New York, first in Buffalo and then in Albany. He graduated from Hamilton College in 1997 and then went into investment banking with Goldman Sachs, first in New York City and then in London. His mother, Tracey Sayres, works in New York City as a real estate development consultant, mostly doing projects related to low income housing. His father worked at Yardville Bank from 1991 until it was acquired in 2007.

Ryan joined his father at Yardville for a couple of years in the early 2000s, and then earned an MBA from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. He has also worked as a management consultant at Bain & Company in Boston.

His choice of career was formed partly by family considerations. “Investment banking was enjoyable,” he says, “but it isn’t a career choice, it’s a life choice. It’s 80 to 90 hours a week.”

Ryan’s life now revolves around work on the bank he is bringing to life and around his family. He is the father of three-year-old twins, Liam and Lily. And he has more childcare responsibilities now that his wife, Ashley, a Lafayette graduate who works in product design and development for the Museum of Modern Art’s retail division, has gone Hollywood.

“MOMA just launched a partnership with the Home Shopping Network,” says Ryan. “They asked her to be an on-air host. She flies to Florida for the spots. She just did four segments, and she’s about to do four more. After that she’ll see if it’s something she wants to keep doing.”

Meanwhile, Ryan will be getting ready to welcome the first customers to his bank. It should open just a month or two after the November 15 grand opening of the main branch of the Bank of Princeton, another Mercer County start-up community bank.

As big banks merge and fall, and as their customers grow tired of having to re-order checks bearing new names, Ryan says that newly formed community banks are in a good position. “We have capital to invest and lend,” he says. “We’re in a good position to pick up customers.”

First Bank, 1340 Parkway Avenue, Ewing 08628; 609-528-0832; fax, 609-528-0833. Patrick L. Ryan, COO.

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