GRAND RAPIDS — United Bank will become the latest entry into the downtown banking market with the planned opening of a new office later this year.
The downtown branch at 44 Ionia Ave. SW also would mark United Bank’s 12th office in the West Michigan region.
Grand Rapids-based United Bank has had a downtown presence on its “to-do list” for at least five years, said President Mike Manica. The opportunity finally arose when the leased space on Ionia Avenue became available and was the “right fit,” he said.
The site located across the intersection from HopCat is owned by Grand Rapids-based Dwelling Place and formerly was occupied by a Saladworks restaurant that closed last August.
“We’ve had it on our drawing board longer than any other branch expansion that I can think of,” Manica told MiBiz. “We just couldn’t find the right place at the right cost and with the right people. We think we have that now.
“We’ve been growing fairly rapidly. This is simply reaching out to another segment of our local community that, hopefully, will give us a chance and hear our banking model. When we’ve had a chance to do that, we’ve been very successful in bringing new customers into our fold.”
The new branch, designed by Grand Rapids-based Progressive AE, should open in the fourth quarter of this year.
United Bank last expanded its branch network in 2016 with the opening of an office in Jenison, the bank’s first location in neighboring Ottawa County.
In a zoning application to the city, United Bank noted that it has more than 80 customers already in the general vicinity of the new branch location. Executives described the planned office as “an ideal complement” to the restaurants, retail stores and entertainment venues in the surrounding Heartside neighborhood.
The office will have extended hours, including on Saturday, and will remain open until 6 p.m. on many days to “cater to the lifestyle of existing and future downtown customers,” according to the application.
The Grand Rapids Planning Commission last month approved United Bank’s request for a special use permit for the branch office.
Through a dozen branch locations in Kent, Allegan, Ottawa and Ionia counties, United Bank had $633.1 million in total assets at the end of the first quarter and $491.7 million in deposits. The bank’s total assets have grown more than 20 percent since the end of 2015.
The bank recorded $1.6 million in net income for the first quarter and $4.8 million for all of 2017, according to quarterly financial reports filed with the FDIC.
United Bank’s downtown expansion comes amid customers’ growing use of digital banking, a trend that has led to reduced branch traffic for banks. Despite their digital shift, consumers cite a physical presence in a market as the top reason why they make their first contact with a bank and open an account, Manica said.
“It is a bit of a strange thing in banking where customers — particularly retail deposit customers — almost always make their choice of where they’re going to bank based on the most convenient institution to their home,” he said. “Then after they open that account when they move into town, they don’t go back to that building for years at a time.”
Like United Bank’s Jenison location, the new downtown office will use a mix of technology offerings and a smaller staff that is cross-trained in multiple financial services.
Drawn by a growing residential base and a vibrant economy, a number of community banks have entered the downtown Grand Rapids banking market during the past decade. They include ChoiceOne Bank, Horizon Bank, Commerce Bank, Commercial Bank, West Michigan Community Bank and First National Bank of Michigan.
Sparta-based ChoiceOne Bank, which first moved into downtown in 2016 with a lending office, plans to open a full-service branch by late summer on Market Avenue near Founders Brewing Co.
Manica sees the growth of downtown competitors as a good sign of the market’s strength and vitality.
“I’m glad to see downtown is thriving,” he said.