William H. Cowie Jr., the longtime head of Union Trust Bancorp who steered the company through its conversion to Signet Bank/Maryland, announced yesterday that he will retire as president and chief executive in April.
The company said Mr. Cowie, 60, will be replaced by Kenneth H. Trout, a 42-year-old executive vice president who rose through the banking company's Northern Virginia operations before joining the local bank in August.
Yesterday's announcement marked the latest in a series of resignations by heads of Baltimore financial institutions. In recent months, the chairman of MNC Financial Inc., Alan P. Hoblitzell Jr., and the chairman of USF&G Corp., Jack Moseley, both stepped down in favor of early retirement amid growing financial difficulties at their companies.
Mr. Cowie, however, said his decision was based on "no Machiavellian reason" but simply came at a time when he felt his chores at the Baltimore bank were done.
Signet Banking Corp., the Richmond-based parent company, was formed in July 1985 when Union Trust Bancorp merged with the Bank of Virginia Co.
"The assimilation of Union Trust into Signet Bank/Maryland is complete," Mr. Cowie said. "I'm looking at it in a positive sense. I've done what I set out to do in the bank, and I'm looking forward to what I might do in the future."
The appointment of Mr. Trout was seen by some analysts as a recognition that the local banking industry is still facing enormous challenges as it plots its way through a collapsing commercial real estate market, primarily in the Washington metropolitan region.
With $3.6 billion in assets as of Sept. 30 and 90 offices in the state, Signet Bank/Maryland had more than 24 percent of its loans in the risky area of real estate construction and land development. Signet Banking Corp. had $11 billion in assets and 238 branches in the region.
Mr. Trout, who joined Signet in 1970, has spent the last 20 years in the bank's Virginia region, moving to the Metro Washington group as executive vice president in 1986. He is currently in charge of Signet Bank/Maryland's commercial line of business and will take his new positions at the company's shareholders meeting April 18.
"The whole ball of wax right now is going to be on the commercial side in the metro D.C. area," said Guy W. Ford, a banking analyst at Scott & Stringfellow in Norfolk.
Mr. Cowie, who joined Union Trust in 1971 as executive vice president after 14 years with Irving Trust Co. in New York, has been president of Union Trust and Signet Bank/Maryland since 1972 and was named chief executive in 1986.