- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

Equitable Bank of Wheaton, Md., opened its first new branch in 15 years Friday, capping off a rebound following the late 1980s savings and loan crisis.

The 122-year-old thrift institution's new location is in the King Farm development in Rockville, an area where the bank still has customers because it used to have a branch there.

"They should have the marketing and name recognition already established," says Scott Valentin, an analyst with Friedman Billings Ramsey who tracks Equitable.

Bank president and chief executive officer Tim Veith says the bank has had a hard road in the past 10 years or so.

The institution's assets had grown to $400 million by the end of the 1980s when the real estate market bottomed out. Mr. Veith says the bank's management sold off problem assets and shrank Equitable's size to $180 million.

The bank laid off 100 of its 170 employees and closed 10 of its 14 branches.

But the bank's capital ratio cash relative to assets still wasn't high enough to satisfy regulators. Bank executives attempted a merger, but regulators turned the application down. So management decided to take Equitable public, and did so in 1993.

"We were a survivor," Mr. Veith says.

Mr. Valentin says it's not unusual for banks that struggled through the S&L; crisis to be thriving today.

Equitable's Rockville location brings its branch total to five, including offices in Wheaton, Calverton and two in Silver Spring.

Mr. Veith says the bank wanted to continue growth.

The bank's focus is on residential mortgage lending and deposits, and Mr. Veith says the King Farm, a development still under construction, is "a perfect spot."

Equitable's assets have bounced back from that low of $180 million. In its fourth quarter, which ended Dec. 31, assets reached $477 million. Net income fell 25 percent to $503,000 from $675,000 for the like quarter of 1999, which Mr. Veith attributes to a spike in interest rates.

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