The year started and ended with some M&A action between regional banks.
First came the marriage of Henrico-based Virginia Commonwealth Bank and Blue Ridge Bank out of Charlottesville. While billed as a merger of equals, Blue Ridge was technically the acquirer and the Blue Ridge brand is the surviving flag, hoisted for the first time in the Richmond market. Shortly after the deal’s closure, VCB CEO Randy Greene stepped down with little explanation.
The other sizable deal was that of Henrico-based Essex Bank being acquired by United Bank out of Washington, D.C. and West Virginia. United has since taken over all of Essex’s branches and Essex CEO Rex Smith stays on to lead United’s Richmond-area operations. The deal also led to the layoff of dozens of local Essex employees, which is typical of such combinations.
Another change of ownership occurred in the market, though not through typical M&A. New Horizon Bank was taken over by a group out of New York whose plan is to turn the one-branch $105 million Powhatan bank into a growing institution focused on expansion around Richmond and beyond, mainly through online banking.
In addition to United and Blue Ridge, two other bank brands made their debut in the Richmond market during the year. Henrico-based Sonabank rebranded to become Primis Bank, while Ohio-based Peoples Bank took over the longtime Premier Bank location at the corner of First and Marshall streets in Jackson Ward as the result of an acquisition.
Another out-of-town deal led to a change in Richmond, as Strasburg-based First Bank swooped in and bought the local operations of Smart Bank, a Tennessee-based institution that exited the market after a merger with a peer from its home state.
The big banks also did some branch shuffling, with Wells Fargo and Bank of America each closing a local branch during the year, and Chase Bank continuing its streak of opening new outposts in the area.