- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The one-mile stretch of Route 123 through Vienna, Va., boasts 15 banks. A 16th is on the way.

PNC is in Giant’s parking lot. Across the street is Virginia Commerce Bank. Right down the road, Commerce Bank’s sign announces its future site. Chevy Chase is across the intersection. Wachovia is just beyond that.

“They have all the major players and all the minor players. You normally do not find that in any one area,” said Bernard Clineburg, chairman and chief executive officer of Cardinal Bank, which has 21 branches in Northern Virginia. “In one market that small, you just don’t find that.”

Business is good in Vienna and traffic is bad; that’s good for the banks.

The median market value of homes in town is $424,750, according to Fairfax County Department of Systems Management for Human Services in 2004. Median household income for Vienna was just over $110,000 according to a Money Magazine and CNN/Money study, which named Vienna the fourth-ranked Best Place to Live in 2005.

The main street is Route 123, also known as Maple Avenue and Chain Bridge Road, as it passes through town. On the major commuter route out of the District, traffic on 123 grinds to a halt each morning and evening, as tens of thousands of commuters pass through and, if Vienna’s banks get their way, stop and do their banking.

“It’s a little [Interstate] 495 during rush hour,” one resident said.

The Washington area is an overbanked region, some bank industry officials say. But new banks continue to perform well as the region continues to grow, even — perhaps especially — in Vienna.

“While the banking market is crowded, there always appears to be room for one more,” said David Danielson, the president of Danielson Associates, a bank-consulting firm in Vienna.

“It means it’s a more competitive market, but we don’t mind that,” said Scott Wilphone, president of the greater Washington area for SunTrust, which has two branches in Vienna. “We saw Vienna as being the bedroom community of Tysons Corner.”

Vienna’s banks are waging mailing campaigns, running community service projects, offering lower and lower rates, and holding customer appreciation days to persuade local businesses and individuals to use their services.

“I think everybody is trying to distinguish themselves,” said PNC spokeswoman Sonia McCormick.

For example, PNC recently announced that Washington branches will accept deposits until 7 p.m. to be posted the same business day. SunTrust hosts the monthly Vienna Chamber of Commerce meetings and is a book-collection point for the American Association of University Women. Bank of America worked with the town to finance this year’s vehicle- and equipment-replacement program.

“They are willing to do whatever to get and keep their customers,” said Dawn Quinn, the manager at Wolf Trap Delicatessen and Restaurant, located behind a BB&T;, across the street from a Provident Bank, near a SunTrust bank. “They pounce on businesses for business.”

But she isn’t complaining: The competition means her business fees are close to zero.

“It’s amazing what they offer. They make it worth it,” said Jennie Flynn, a student at Old Dominion University. “Vienna is a major pass-through; it’s convenient for those people.”

Mr. Clineburg, the Cardinal Bank CEO, is waiting for Vienna’s market to “cool off” before opening a branch there.

Aggressive competition among the branch banks already in town, branches that want to move into Vienna, and the low commercial vacancy rate has driven the price of opening a branch in Vienna “sky high,” Mr. Clineburg said. The price of opening a branch in Vienna today is three to four times higher than it was four years ago.

Branch banks have had to “crowd in” to serve Vienna’s small businesses. “That is where the banks have to locate to serve the customers.” Mr. Danielson said. Because of the difficulty driving short distances every morning and evening at rush hour, it “encourages banks to have multiple locations around town,” Mr. Danielson said. Both SunTrust and BB&T; have two branches on Route 123 in Vienna.

A branch’s location is not important for lending because the lenders are sent out to businesses, Mr. Danielson said. But it is essential for bringing in deposits.

Banks begin loan relationships with businesses in hope that the business eventually will place deposits with the bank. For handling deposits, businesses, like individuals, want to deal with a convenient bank.

“We like the demographics in Vienna,” said Scott Silvestri, the spokesman for Wachovia. And so do all the other banks.”

“Convenience and competition, that’s what it’s all about,” said Stephen Einsel, a car salesman in Fairfax.

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