In September 2013 the Bank of New Canaan, Bank of Fairfield and Stamford First Bank, already financially under the umbrella of the Bankwell Financial Group, a holding company based in New Canaan, changed its identity and became known collectively as Bankwell.

The move was engineered by the marketing savvy of then-Bankwell CEO Peyton Patterson, former CEO of New Haven’s NewAlliance Bank, acquired by First Niagara in 2010.

Patterson wanted to convert the individual community banks into a unified “community banking franchise” leveraging the community bank market strength and an eventual IPO as a foundation for more acquisitions.

Patterson had previously overseen the conversion of the New Haven Savings Bank from a mutual bank, which included a merger with Manchester Bank and a successful IPO, to create a combined publicly traded entity as NewAlliance Bank.

The move was highly controversial in the New Haven community and Patterson had many detractors. Many others, however, benefited from the NewAlliance Foundation, the charitable non-profit formed as a condition of the conversion. With the growth of the bank and the largess of the foundation, Patterson was redeemed in the eyes of some in the New Haven community. 

Growth was hard to come by after the financial crisis, however, and by 2010 the bank’s board decided that a sale to the faster-growing First Niagara would be a better long-term option for shareholders.

Patterson reportedly walked away with $23 million as part of that sale and became Bankwell’s CEO in 2012, quickly acquiring Wilton Bank after that. In May the Bankwell Financial Group went public, raising $48.6 million in an initial public offering last spring.

Patterson continued to move quickly, returning to the New Haven market by purchasing the Quinnipiac Bank. Quinnipiac was founded in 2008 and had approximately $100 million in assets when the deal was approved in September. Bankwell paid approximately $15 million for the bank, which has locations in Hamden and North Haven.

Patterson, however, will not be part of moving her vision forward. Media reports of Paterson having unpaid debts to some personal creditors including two country clubs and a six-figure credit card balance which she attributed to a “private family matter” led to her resignation in early August.

Gail Brathwaite, former executive vice president and COO of NewAlliance, was recruited by Paterson in April 2013 to perform the same roles at Bankwell. She remains in those positions. Brathwaite was reportedly a key executive in the transformation of both banks to public-company status.

Board chair Blake Drexler has assumed the interim role of CEO while the bank seeks a replacement for Patterson

Mark Candido, founder and CEO of Quinnipiac Bank, was tapped to stay on as senior vice president and president of the New Haven region for Bankwell.

Ray Palumbo, CEO at Underwater Construction Corp. in Essex and former vice chair of Quinnipiac, was elected to Bankwell’s board. With assets of approximately $900 million, Bankwell is traded on NASDAQ (BWFG) and has a current market value of approximately $130 million.

 Rockville Bank has had a lending office in North Haven for several years as the newly public bank was eyeing an eventual expansion. That expansion followed a merger with Springfield, Mass.-based United Bank, now a $5 billion-asset community bank.

United is building a full banking branch in North Haven on Washington Avenue, taking the space of long-time North Haven favorite Droogie’s Pizza, which relocated.

You can still get some really good pizza at Droogie’s new location: 3500 Whitney Avenue in Hamden.

 Small business loan approval rates at big banks reached a post-recession high for the fourth consecutive month, according to the September 2014 Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index, a monthly analysis of 1,000 loan applications on Biz2Credit.com. Small business loan approval rates at big banks ($10 billion-plus in assets) rose to 20.6 percent in September from 20.4 percent in August.

Meanwhile, the percentage of loans granted by small banks slipped to 50.3 percent from 50.6 percent last month. In a year-to-year comparison, small business lending approval rates are up nearly 20 percent at big banks, while remaining essentially stagnant at small banks.

Biz2Credit analyzed loan requests ranging from $25,000 to $3 million from companies in business more than two years with an average credit score above 680.

“Big banks really have roared back into the small-business finance marketplace,” said Biz2Credit CEO Rohit Arora, who oversaw the research. “As the economy continues its slow but steady rebound, small-business optimism grows, and entrepreneurs are more willing to invest in their companies.”

Meanwhile, institutional lenders granted 59.5 percent of the funding requests they received in September, a slight increase from 59.4 percent in August. Lending approval rates by these institutional lenders has increased every month since Biz2Credit began monitoring this category of lenders last January.

"We are seeing more creditworthy applicants get funding from institutional investors, whose interest rates are more attractive than those of other non-bank lenders,” explained Arora.

At the same time, approval rates at alternative lenders — merchant cash-advance companies and other non-bank institutions — dipped slightly for the eighth consecutive month to 62.6 percent in September, from 62.7 percent in August.

Credit unions green-lighted 43.4 percent of loan applications in September, flat compared to August. However, a year-to-year comparison shows that lending approval rates at credit unions are down as they continue to be an afterthought by small-business loan applicants.

The entire report is available at biz2credit.com/small-business-lending-index/september-2014.

 BRIDGEPORT — Broad Range Benefits Group (BRBG), a full-service insurance and benefits agency, will host an open house and ribbon-cutting party at its new office at 2929 Fairfield Avenue in the Black Rock neighborhood of Bridgeport.  The event, scheduled for 5-8 p.m. October 23, will begin with a ribbon-cutting followed by an open tour of the space with wine, beer and hors d’oeuvres catered by local restaurants.

Formerly home to Black Rock’s original bowling alley and pool hall, above the former Tokyo Spa space, BRBG has renovated and restored the space to a bright, high-energy space with historic features.  From refinished original hardwood floors to new high tin ceiling, the property merges the history of this wonderful building with the modern functionality of a working, thriving shared office space.

To learn more phone 203-810-4400 or visit BRBGinsurance.com.

 WATERBURY — The fall Webster Bank continues its process of “optimizing” its banking center network. As part of that process its is moving one of its Bristol banking centers and combining a Longmeadow, Mass. branch with a nearby one.

In December the banking center at 647 Farmington Avenue in Bristol will relocate to 575 Farmington Avenue, where it will be combined with what is now a drive-up only location. The new banking center will be 3,600 square feet and feature Webster’s new “pod” system in lieu of a traditional teller line to provide more open space conducive to more personal interaction: a 24-hour ATM, electronic coin-counting machine and digital video displays.

Additionally, the Longmeadow, Mass. branch will be consolidated into the East Longmeadow Banking Center at 62 Center Square. It offers a drive-up window, drive-up ATM and extended hours not available in Longmeadow.