Bank losses are up. Stock prices and dividends are down. Lenders are losing their jobs.
Then why is W. Griffin Morrel Jr. starting not one, but two banks?
"In a way it looks like a bad time," the 57-year-old Baltimore banker says. "If we'd have known back when we started this in January that the market had gotten as bad as it has, we might have decided to defer this."
But he didn't and, if all goes as planned, both Baltimore and Gdansk, Poland, will soon have new banks.
In Baltimore, Summit Bank & Trust Co. is scheduled to open early next year in the Colonnade across from the Johns Hopkins University. Summit will begin primarily as a commercial bank serving businesses and other private customers, Mr. Morrel says.
The bad timing, he believes, might actually work in his favor as he prepares to raise at least $4 million from investors to open the bank's doors. Summit, which has yet to lend any money, doesn't have any of the problem loans that are plaguing other banks, he says.
"You can have the entire board focusing on opportunities and not on problems. We have just been inundated with people who say I wish your bank was open now," he says.
Mr. Morrel is chief executive of the holding company, Summit Trust Bancorp, and William E. Sommers, formerly president and chief executive of First Liberty Bancorp in Washington, will be chief executive of the bank.
Although setting up a Baltimore bank has been a challenge, it pales in comparison with Mr. Morrel's work creating a bank with the Polish Trade Union Solidarity in Gdansk.
Scheduled to open by the end of February, the Polish bank is the first of several planned by a joint venture of Solidarity's for-profit subsidiary and Chase International Corp., the Connecticut company financing the bank.
By the end of next year, the plan calls for a second bank to be opened in Warsaw and six more to follow in Poland, at the rate of two a year. Additional banks bearing the Solidarity name are planned in England and the United States by 1994.
Mr. Morrel is a director and major shareholder of the Madison Financial Group in Arlington, Va., a firm that has arranged financing and acted as adviser on the Poland project. But his international banking experience goes deeper: He worked at Maryland National Bank, setting up and running its international division.
He left Maryland National in 1984, joining the Abu Dhabi International Bank in Washington as chief operating officer. Two years later, he moved to Heritage International Bank in Bethesda as president and chief executive.
After failing in a bid to purchase Heritage in 1989, he joined a half-dozen former senior bank officers at Madison Financial.
Now, after six years of commuting to the Washington area, Mr. Morrel is looking forward to having a bank just blocks from his Roland Park home.
"I'm a firm believer in community banking and the ability of small banks to provide really good service," he says.