Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Some ponder Bryn Mawr Trust's future

After falling short of expectations last year, Bryn Mawr Bank Corp. rebounded with a strong first-quarter earnings report Thursday.

After falling short of expectations last year, Bryn Mawr Bank Corp. rebounded with a strong first-quarter earnings report Thursday.

Casey Orr, analyst at Sandler O'Neill + Partners, wrote afterward: "We believe this is the quarter [Bryn Mawr] needed to produce in order to restore investor interest and belief in the story."

Underneath the earnings story, however, is another: the question of whether Bryn Mawr Trust might one day be sold. At least one board member is said to be unhappy with the bank's share price under CEO Frank Leto, and a former employee has filed formal complaints.

Bryn Mawr Bank Corp. is the holding company for Bryn Mawr Trust, a $3.1 billion bank with headquarters in Bryn Mawr. The company has locations in Montgomery, Delaware, Dauphin, and Chester Counties and in New Castle County, Del. It also provides wealth-management services and currently has about $9.2 billion of assets under management. Prior to becoming chief executive, Leto was head of wealth management and general counsel at the bank and a board member since 2002.

In February, the stock fell sharply after Bryn Mawr Bank Corp. announced a $17 million one-off charge related to getting rid of its employee retirement plan. After humming along around $31 a share for years under former chief executive Ted Peters, Bryn Mawr Bank dropped to $24.

A very unexpected loss, as one shareholder described it.

Other shareholders, such as Michael Crofton of private bank Philadelphia Trust Co., say they're satisfied with the current management and expect that, if it were to be acquired, Bryn Mawr might fetch 21/2 to three times book value.

"This type of institution does extremely well in an environment like this with low interest rates," Crofton said. "We're a holder of Bryn Mawr, we like the way it's being run. [It's] a strong competitor with disciplined credit procedures and policies."

That said, Crofton added, "Bryn Mawr would be a perfect acquisition. It's got a great franchise name."

Leto said he couldn't comment on if Bryn Mawr, a Main Line stalwart, would be acquired.

"We feel Bryn Mawr is in the unique position in this region to be the dominant player in the next few years. We fit a unique niche in the market. We make decisions locally and quickly. Between our lending and wealth management, we feel we have a unique opportunity to be the dominant regional bank."

As for board discussions, he added, "I hear no disagreement from my board. We talked about it and made investments for the long term. We can't be focused on the short term."

In 2011, Bryn Mawr Bank bought the private wealth-management group of Hershey Trust Co., having acquired Davidson Trust in 2010. In 2014, Bryn Mawr also bought Continental Bank Holdings.

A former employee of Bryn Mawr's wealth-management division now claims that the consolidation of Davidson, Hershey and Continental in that unit in recent years was hurt by the departures of key people under Leto's reign.

In an interview last week, Mary Glassberg, a longtime fixed-income manager at Davidson, says Leto's cost-cutting adversely affected the wealth-management division - to the point of possibly pushing it out of compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act's shareholder protections.

She left in January, after complaining to supervisors that Bryn Mawr's fixed-income portfolios were so short-staffed under Leto that clients' accounts weren't properly monitored. A sixth-generation banker from Chester County, she said Leto refused to pay for Wall Street Journals for portfolio managers or to upgrade portfolio software.

"Bryn Mawr cobbled together a bunch of different computer programs, which had not been updated in years," Glassberg said. "Anyone running $9 billion in assets should have state-of-the-art systems. As you get bigger, you go to a better product."

"We were overseeing thousands of accounts, and we operate in a heavily regulated industry," she added.

Because of Leto's cost-cutting, Bryn Mawr's investment clients suffered, she said.

"Bonds that weren't on the approved list ended up in portfolios for clients anyway, and no one stopped it until I put my foot down," she said. "That practice exposes the client to investment risk."

Leto declined to comment on Glassberg's claims, referring questions to Bryn Mawr's general counsel, Lori Goldman.

"We're not able to comment on employee matters," Goldman said Friday. "We are in compliance with all requirements and know of no situation where we are noncompliant with Sarbanes-Oxley. We followed all required and advisable guidance" with bank regulations.

Glassberg has asked for an investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and filed a complaint of retaliation with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to her attorney, Mark Schwartz.

A Department of Banking spokesman declined to comment, saying the complaint process is confidential.