He’s always been a real estate man at heart. But is bank-builder Vernon W. Hill finally slowing down?
As chairman of Philadelphia-based Republic First Bancorp, the founder of the former Commerce Bank and England’s MetroBank Plc, Hill continued to champion spotless, glass-walled “stores” for a decade after rivals all but gave up adding neighborhood locations, as customers moved online and onto mobile phone financial apps.
This week, Hill said he was putting Republic’s outpost campaign on pause, too.
Sidestepping a direct question from Frank Schiraldi, veteran bank analyst at the Wall Street investment bank now known as Piper Sandler, Hill said, “We like stores, but the world is different than it was in the days when we’re building one new store each week.”
Hill added, “We’re certainly going to slow the store growth down." To be sure, “stores are an important part of building a brand." But almost completely outside the company’s Philadelphia and South Jersey branch network and its New York outpost, federally funded, forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans have created a big population of new small-business Republic customers. They have less demand for branches, Hill and his team told investors.
Even with its new business in federally funded loans, Republic warned that it faces a charge for credit losses early next year. Shares were down as much as 10% in midday trading, though still above last spring’s coronavirus-shutdown lows. The shares closed at $2.72, down 16 cents, or 5.6%.
One-quarter of the 100,000 bank branches that operated in the U.S. in 2008 are gone, with more closing weekly.
While a few national lenders, notably JPMorgan Chase & Co., continue opening what retail bankers call “stores” in new markets such as metro Philadelphia, multistate lenders such as Wells Fargo (which has the nation’s largest branch network) and PNC, and Pennsylvania banks such as Fulton and Univest, have announced branch shutdowns and consolidations, accelerating amid the virus restrictions.
Fishtown Analytics, a Philadelphia-based software developer, has raised $29.5 million more from Silicon Valley investors led by Sequoia Capital (whose Matt Miller joined the board), plus past backers Andreessen Horowitz and Amplify Partners.
Ted Mann, founder of Philadelphia-based Slyce, whose visual-recognition and search technology helps Home Depot recognize spare parts, says his 25-member firm is being acquired by a larger European group with a base in the German auto-parts industry.
Austria-based Humai is acquiring Slyce and, with it, Slyce’s Barcelona-based affiliate Catchoom to form Partium, which “offers a solution for the fast identification of parts within industrial and retail environments.”
Mann had planned to expand his team in Philadelphia. Instead, “we made the decision to acquire Catchoom and merge with Humai, both of which have talented tech teams. So rather than growing the team here, we’ve grown the team through M&A.” The Slyce team remains based in Philly.
Humai CEO Philipp Descovich will lead the combined companies.
In a statement, Descovich outlined the mash-up: “Humai is the leader in spare-part recognition for industrial and manufacturing industries. Slyce is the leading provider of visual search technology for retail clients like the Home Depot and Leroy Merlin [a French home improvement and gardening retailer], as well as a new in-store solution, Part Finder kiosk. Catchoom has long-standing experience in large-scale image recognition as well as AI-based solutions for enriching product metadata."
Partium will market all this as an “end-to-end solution" to help companies, for example, identify and order spare parts.