Albemarle First: Gone, leaves healthy profits

The community bank started in 1998 held onto its name when it was acquired by Premier Community Bank in January 2006. But when Albemarle First became the 27th acquisition of West Virginia-based United Bankshares, it consigned the local name to the swag-pen of history, while leaving its shareholders with returns of more than 200 percent over its nine-year existence.

The sale was announced in January, and over the weekend, the transition became a fait accompli. Signage changed and even the bank's awnings got a new look.

Shareholders who still held stocks purchased for $10– less after the Ivy Industries debacle– saw them soar to $31.62 in the sale to United Bank. "I'm pleased," says Albemarle First founding director Richard Selden.

Albemarle First's enfolding into United Bank ends a decade of competing, locally owned community banks in Charlottesville. Virginia National Bank, now boasting $299 million in deposits, also came on the scene in 1998.

"Albemarle First had some rough experiences getting launched," says Selden. "I was disappointed those bumps in the road came along."

The biggest bump was the $2.4 million check kiting scheme perpetrated by Ivy Industries CEO John Reid to save his company in 2002. Reid was sentenced to four years in 2004 and the former Ivy Industries building is the site of ACAC.

"It seemed to me the problems of the past still haunted us," says Selden. "I thought we could eliminate that by the merger. That's why I supported the merger with Premier."

Former shareholder Richard Spurzem says the idea of a community bank cooked up by local citizens didn't really succeed. "Now it's a branch of a West Virginia bank," says Spurzem.

But United Bankshares president and CEO Jim Consagra touts his company's community banking philosophy in all its 115 branches throughout Virginia, DC, Maryland, West Virginia and Ohio. And he notes a recent Bank Director magazine ranking of the top 150 banks by size, profitability, asset quality and capital adequacy that put United at number 22.

"We just love the Charlottesville market," says Consagra. "Charlottesville is one of the main reasons for us to buy Premier. It's strategically important to us." And United Bank promises Albemarle First customers the same faces when they walk in to their branch.

But for those with a sentimental side about the now-merged bank and an eye toward collectible swag, well, hang onto those Albemarle First coffee mugs.

1 comment

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