FirstBank Puerto Rico is aggressively expanding its footprint in Florida, where it plans to open three new branches before year’s end, Calixto García-Vélez, regional executive for the financial institution’s Florida region confirmed Thursday.
As part of that strategy, last night FirstBank officially inaugurated its new branch in Hialeah, a predominantly Hispanic area where industrial and commercial activity is buzzing, he said.
“Hialeah is a growing, vibrant, and progressive city,” he said. “FirstBank Florida is fully bilingual and has the products, services, and attention to customer service that will be of great benefit to both residents and businesses within Hialeah. We’re excited to now be part of the community.”
Two more branches are under development for the Sunshine State: in the Pinecrest area, slated to open in November, and another at FirstBank’s Miami headquarters on Waterford Way, for which FirstBank is seeking the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s permission to get up and running by the end of 2012.
Once open, the new branches will generate a combined 50 jobs and will push FirstBank’s presence in the southern state to 13 branches.
Although in expansion mode, FirstBank is being conservative in terms of investments for the new branches, said García-Vélez, adding the strategy calls for moving into existing facilities rather than building them from scratch.
Case in point is the Hialeah branch, which is located in a property that was vacated by another financial institution that folded. Converting that building into a FirstBank was more cost-effective than investing in a property built from the ground up, which would take about four years to recoup, he said.
Meanwhile, the bank’s Waterford Way headquarters have “offices from which we’ve offered residential and commercial lending. What we want to do now is open that up for consumer and commercial deposit activity as well. We’re seeking a license to operate a full-service branch there,” said García-Vélez.
As part of its intentions to open that branch, FirstBank has already applied to the FDIC for authorization, which the executive said should come down in the next three or four months.
Finally, the Pinecrest location would open for business in an existing operations center where FirstBank has available square footage on the first floor, he said.
The Florida market is an important business segment for the Puerto Rican bank, as it is “very rich in deposits,” the executive added.
“One of our corporate strategies is to continue increasing core deposits and reduce dependency on brokered CDs, and Florida has proven to be positive for achieving that,” he said, noting FirstBank holds about $1.8 billion in deposits and about $900 million in its loan portfolio in the southern state.