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The Fort-Worth Star-Telegram

1st Banco Popular In Metroplex Opening Today

By Ilene Aleshire

May 4, 2004
Copyright ©2004 The Fort-Worth Star-Telegram. All rights reserved.

Banco Popular North America, a community-banking company with roots in Puerto Rico, is opening its first bank in the Metroplex today in Arlington and plans to open at least 19 more.

The company, a subsidiary of Puerto Rico-based Popular, entered the U.S. market in 1996 and is expanding, Vice President Eunice Munoz said. It opened seven branches in the first quarter in New York, New Jersey and Chicago and announced in March that it is acquiring Quaker City Bancorp, which has 27 branches in Southern California.

"We're looking for opportunities, and if we've got opportunities, we're moving," Munoz said Tuesday.

Banco Popular entered the Texas market with the acquisition of one branch in Houston in 1998 and has since opened six more branches there. Shortly before entering Houston, the company had opened a loan-production office in Arlington for Small Business Administration loans.

That office, 1600 E. Lamar Blvd., has been expanded into a bank while the company looks around for an acquisition target, Munoz said.

She said the company wants to have at least 20 Metroplex branches by the end of 2005, preferably by acquiring a company. "It's more economically efficient to make an acquisition rather than starting from scratch," she said.

The Arlington branch will focus a little more on commercial lending than many other branches because of its experience with loans, Munoz said. But it will also offer consumer banking.

"We're really a community bank," she said. "We started off being a Hispanic-focused bank, but in markets where we started, the Hispanic communities have changed, and we've become very diverse as far as customers and staff."

Although the bank no longer specifically targets Hispanics, its Hispanic roots are evident in the corporate culture and the ambience of the banks, Munoz said.

"When I came to Banco Popular -- I came from an ad agency -- I thought it was so bizarre, everybody would hug and kiss," she said. "It was like going to church. But it really does make a difference in the workplace, and that carries over to customers.

"The branches are very colorful, [they] come with atmosphere, the whole ambience changes when you're in a banking environment like that."

Banco Popular also has lending offices in San Antonio and El Paso and eventually will probably expand in those markets, Munoz said. But for now, the company plans to focus on the Metroplex and Houston.

As of Dec. 31, Banco Popular had assets of $6.3 billion and liabilities of $5.73 billion, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

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