Fulton Bank sees 'bright future' in Baltimore after opening first branch

Baltimore Business Journal
April 19, 2019

Fulton Bank opened its new branch in East Baltimore at the site of what almost became a pizza parlor, marking the beginning of the company's expansion in the city.

The branch, located at 929 N. Wolfe St., is the first of three planned in Baltimore by Fulton Financial Corp., the Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based holding company for the bank. Fulton Financial is also the parent of The Columbia Bank.

Mark A. Mullican, president of the Delmarva region for Fulton, said the bank looked all over the city when trying to find a spot for its first new branch. The company chose the site because of its proximity to the Johns Hopkins medical campus and "the chance to a make difference" in a community without many banks. The branch is part of the $1.8 billion redevelopment of Baltimore's Middle East neighborhood being completed by East Baltimore Development Inc.

Fulton (NASDAQ: FULT) previously opened a loan production office nearby largely focused on residential mortgages for first-time home buyers.

"We believe that this is a great community and we’re hoping to do home mortgages, bring in business accounts and bring in personal accounts here," Mullican said. "We think it’s a great spot for us."

The closest competitor will be a Harbor Bank branch a block south. Wells Fargo and Johns Hopkins Federal Credit Union each have a branch less than a mile away. Bank of America and M&T Bank have ATMs nearby to the medical campus.

Fulton opened a loan production office nearby earlier this year largely focused on residential mortgages for first-time home buyers.

CEO Phil Wenger said the office has helped 91 people purchase or refinance their homes since opening. He also noted the bank's partnership with Operation Hope to support a closing-cost assistance program. He offered an optimistic outlook as Fulton pushes forward with expanding in Baltimore.

"We have a great team and we believe a bright future here in this wonderful city," Wenger said. "Together, we’re going to continue to change a lot of lives for the better."

Fulton's expansion became possible because regulators lifted orders inhibiting the bank's growth. Among those was consent order against The Columbia Bank related to deficiencies in the Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) compliance programs.

The Columbia Bank name will cease to exist after it is merged into Fulton Bank as part of a move approved in June. The merger will be completed next month, executives said Monday, and the signs will change during the weekend of Sept. 14.

Many banks have chosen to close branches in recent years to lower costs and deal with a trend of more people transacting online. Fulton, on the other hand, is growing branches. In addition to the Wolfe Street branch, Fulton plans to open one at Yard 56 near Greektown. The bank also will be filing an application with the U.S. Treasury Department in the coming weeks for another branch "due north" of the Hopkins medical campus.

Joe Durham, a Greektown native and a commercial market executive for The Columbia Bank, said he was proud that Fulton is using an “urban market strategy” that does not include closing branches and decreasing resources.

“It’s one that leads with investment, resources, hiring, visibility, accessibility and an emotional commitment to what we can get done here in Baltimore City.”

Fulton employs four people at the bank branch and five at the mortgage office.

Congressman Elijah Cummings was among the many elected officials who attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday morning. He talked about how banks often join communities and "suck out all of the money." He applauded Fulton for "doing something major" by choosing to open new branches and invest the East Baltimore Development Inc. that has been in the making for 17 years.

The branch will be important for East Baltimore residents so they do not have to go to check-cashing stores that charge exorbitant fees and have a long-lasting impact, Cummings said.

“I’ve come to believe it is not how much money you make, it is how much money you’re able to keep," Cummings said. "When we’re dancing with the angels, the benefits of this bank will be felt by generations yet unborn.”

Article by Baltimore Business Journal.

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