‘This seems to be a good time to be a small community bank,” says Dominick Mazzagetti, right, the new president of South Brunswick-based RomAsia Bank. While big bank after big bank around the world either closes or is still mopping up red ink, small banks like RomAsia are in a good position, he says. Small banks have smaller problems. By their nature, they are not able to overextend credit, at least not to the tune of billions; and they are not able to finance giant-sized, risky products.
What small banks are able to do, says Mazzagetti, is connect with people. RomAsia, part of the Roma Financial family, opened its doors last summer (U.S. 1, September 3, 2008) with the intention of reaching Middlesex County’s substantial Asian population. Then-president William Heath, who was wooed out of retirement to get RomAsia open, said that no bank in the state catered specifically to the needs of the varied Asian-American community, making RomAsia’s mission similar to that of Roma Bank’s goal of reaching out to an under-served Italian-American community in the 1920s.
Despite the worsening economy, RomAsia posted some impressive early numbers. In its first six weeks the bank opened nearly 600 accounts held more than $15 million in deposits. Cash deposits turn into assets for banks, meaning RomAsia’s assets were $30 million before it was even two month old.
Six months later Heath has returned to retirement and been replaced by Mazzagetti. RomAsia holds about $51 million in assets. The growth, says Mazzagetti, is right where RomAsia expected it to be, if not a little ahead.
Things have not gone as well in terms of opening new accounts for Asians. RomAsia was launched to serve the Asian community (the staff speaks a total of 10 languages), yet its earliest accounts were opened primarily by non-Asians. Soon, the numbers evened out and Asians made up a little more than half the accounts. Mazzagetti says the percentages have remained largely even. “We’re still working on it,” he says. “It’s a matter of getting the word out.”
The marketing strategy for 2009 will be more of what RomAsia began with last year, Mazzagetti says — ads in Asian publications, direct mailings, and other ethnically targeted advertising. But there will also be events, the first one being a bus trip to the State Theater to celebrate Chinese New Year.
Still, even if the desired Asian customer base is slow to build, Mazzagetti says more Asians are coming in, and the bank’s assets are building steadily.
One of RomAsia’s early plans was to open a second branch this year. Mazzagetti says that if it happens this year, it likely will be in December. More likely, he says, a new branch, to be located somewhere in Middlesex County, will not be opened until early 2010. Subsequent branches will be opened as interest allows, he says.
Born in Newark and now a resident of Raritan Township, where he once served as mayor, Mazzagetti has a long history in the financial world. After graduating from Rutgers in 1969 Mazzagetti clerked for the New Jersey Supreme Court while he attended Cornell law school. After earning his J.D. in 1972 he joined a firm in Newark that almost immediately put him to work representing its various banking clients.
From 1982 to 1985 Mazzagetti served as deputy commissioner of banking under Governor Tom Kean. He later became president of NJM Bank and served as general counsel for Cenlar Bank. He returned to private law practice in the 1990s and was doing some consulting when he was approached by some old friends at Roma Financial — chairman Maurice Perilli and CEO Peter Inverso.
Having been through the founding of NJM, Mazzagetti says he is aware that the first year of a bank can be rough going. But things at RomAsia are coming along well, he says, particularly because the bank is trying to follow the path of its parent company — one of the few banks that has not been sold or merged in its nearly 90-year existence. Patience and a willingness to grow organically, he says, will do the bank better than buying and selling.
RomAsia Bank, 4287 Route 1, Monmouth Junction 08852; 609-897-8100; fax, 609-897-8138. Dominick Mazzagetti, president. www.romasiabank.com.