FORT LEE, NJ—(SBN)—Michael Lesler says he loves “putting money out on the street.” Bank of New Jersey, the Fort Lee community bank that Lesler heads, is doing just that, as it ends 2014 with its strongest earnings so far, and assets that broke through the $700 million level in the third quarter.
Lesler is wrapping up his first year at the helm of the bank. He assumed the leadership role at the end of 2013 following the death of Bank of New Jersey founder Albert Buzzetti, his mentor.
“Al and I were together since 1997 at another institution where he was the CEO and I was the CFO, so we had been together for about 17 years,” Lesler told StateBroadcastNews.com in an exclusive interview we reported earlier today for GlobeSt.com. “We stick to our knitting, we are comfortable in commercial real estate, we are comfortable in Northern New Jersey,” says Lesler.
Listen to the interview with Lesler in this player.
What has changed, says Lesler, is interest rates, a slightly more aggressive approach to the market and speed, and the local real estate environment. Those factors led to the successful growth the bank experienced, he says.
Smaller banks are valuable to developers, says Lesler, because “we understand the market, not just the overall market, but the pockets, the niches within the market.” Decision makers at community banks can also underwrite loans more quickly, he says.
The average commercial real estate deal can receive its approval within 3-4 weeks at Bank of New Jersey, he says, adding, “I think that’s excellent speed relative to giving comfort to the borrower, the investor, the developer, that they know they have the backing to support their project.”
The bank saw an increase in commercial construction in late 2013 and early 2014, Lesler says. “That allowed us to increase our construction lending and that’s been a significant part of our growth,” he says.
Among the projects the bank is supporting are a local bakery expanding its retail and manufacturing capabilities, and a real estate investor expanding its footprint to include more rental properties.
“As I make my way into the office I can come down one road and see the various projects,” he says. “Folks are building their businesses and building their dreams, and that’s an important part of my day.”