The Bank of Southeastern Connecticut, the state’s first de novo bank in more than a year, is almost set to open its doors at 15 Masonic St. in New London. Its sister bank, The Bank of Southern Connecticut (above), is based in New Haven.

By Katie Curnutte

The state’s first de novo bank in more than a year is nearly set to open in New London. The Bank of Southeastern Connecticut – the sister bank to the successful, nearly 4-year-old New Haven institution The Bank of Southern Connecticut – is waiting for final approval from the state as organizers are making important appointments and final preparations for the bank’s opening.

The bank is set to open in the second half of this year, according to bank organizer and holding company President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Ciaburri. Renovations on the bank’s new headquarters at 15 Masonic St. in New London – a former People’s Bank branch building – are under way.

The new bank’s holding company, Southern Connecticut Bancorp – also the holding company of The Bank of Southern Connecticut – recently named The Bank of Southeastern Connecticut’s new chairman. Daniel R. Dennis Jr., a banker with more than 36 years of experience, was the president and chief executive officer of Norwich Financial Corp. and the Norwich Savings Society, which Bridgeport-based People’s Bank acquired in 1998. He retired from his position as senior vice president and eastern market manager at People’s two years ago.

“We are pleased to have Dan as the chairman of our new bank in New London,” Ciaburri said in a prepared statement. “He is an accomplished banker who has achieved great success in the banking industry during a long and storied career.”

Dennis also will be appointed to the board of directors of Southern Connecticut Bancorp.

“Mr. Dennis brings us a wealth of banking experience and an intimate knowledge of the businesses and commerce of the Greater New London area, where [The Bank of Southeastern Connecticut] will be headquartered,” Ciaburri said.

Dennis is a corporator of Backus Hospital and a board member of the hospital’s subsidiary, WWB Corp. He is also treasurer of the Norwich Community Development Corp., where he served as president for 17 years. Dennis lives in North Stonington with his wife Janice.

A Possible Partnership

The bank’s impending opening follows a major investment in its holding company by the American Indian tribe that runs Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket. The Mashantucket Pequot Indians bought 117,000 shares of stock, totaling about $1 million, during the follow-on offering of Southern Connecticut Bancorp last July. That totals about 5 percent of the shares.

And the partnership may not end there. It is possible that The Bank of Southeastern Connecticut will team up with the Connecticut Community Credit Union, which serves workers at Foxwoods and citizens in nearby towns. The Mashantucket Pequot tribe plays a big part in the support of the credit union. After The Bank of Southeastern Connecticut opens, its leadership will explore the possibility of a partnership.

“We will then look to sit down with the tribe and the tribal council,” Ciaburri said.

The deal is not set in stone, Ciaburri said, so there are no specific details about what may happen. The credit union has three offices in southeastern Connecticut.

This wouldn’t be the first foray into banking for the Mashantucket Pequot Indians. The tribe also has invested in the Native American Bank, a federally chartered bank based in Denver that caters to American Indians.

As the leaders of The Bank of Southeastern Connecticut prepare for the de novo to open its doors, the institution’s holding company announced a net loss of $15,567 for the first quarter of 2005. But The Bank of Southern Connecticut continues to do well overall, Ciaburri said.

The New Haven-based Bank of Southern Connecticut, which opened in October 2001, has reached $80 million in assets, Ciaburri said. The bank has been particularly successful in commercial banking.

“That is our niche and our focus,” Ciaburri said.

Ciaburri and his father, Joseph Ciaburri – chairman of Southern Connecticut Bancorp – started the institution. They are both experienced in the financial industry. Michael Ciaburri owned an investment banking company, Ciaburri & Co., for 11 years before beginning the full-time work necessary to start Southern Connecticut Bancorp.

Joseph Ciaburri started the Bank of New Haven in 1979, which he later sold to Citizens Bank when he retired.

The Bank of Southern Connecticut also has plans to open a new branch in Clinton later this year, Michael Ciaburri said.

The bank’s holding company’s recently announced first-quarter loss comes to 1 cent per share. In the first quarter of 2004, the company showed a net income of $35,712, or fully diluted earnings per share of 3 cents.

But the bank’s leaders are encouraged by growth in the company.

“Despite the decrease in the earnings of Southern Connecticut Bancorp in the current quarter in comparison to the same period in 2004, we are encouraged with the continuing development of operations during the first quarter of 2005,” Michael Ciaburri said in a prepared statement. “Earnings in 2004 included $125,986 in gains derived from the sales of [U.S. Small Business Administration] loan participations to other financial institutions. Therefore, excluding such gains in the prior year, the results for the first quarter of 2005 represent a substantial improvement in comparison to 2004.

“Thus, excluding gains on the sale of loan participations, the loss for the first quarter of 2005 was $75,000 lower than the first quarter of 2004;no givey n despite the challenging interest rate, regulatory and competitive environments, we view the first quarter of 2005 as successful for Bancorp.”

The total assets of the company ended at $88 million at the end of the first quarter. That represents an increase of $6.3 million, or 7.8 percent, compared with the end of 2004. Loan portfolio growth was largely in the commercial loan category.