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May 9, 2022

Former bankers, others look to launch new CT community bank

The founders of New Canaan Bank wanted to launch a new branch at 208 Elm St., in New Canaan, in a former Bankwell Financial branch.

Organizers are trying to launch a new commercial bank in Fairfield County, a move being driven by the significant consolidation wave in the banking industry, officials said. 

If successful, the New Canaan Bank would be the first startup commercial bank in Connecticut in over a decade, when Start Community Bank launched in New Haven in 2010. (Start changed its name to New Haven Bank in 2019.)

Organizers of New Canaan Bank include former bank and investment executives, a real estate developer and doctor, among others. 

The founding organizers include: Paul Kuehner, a commercial real estate developer; Frederick Afragola, former chairman, president and CEO of The Bank of New Canaan; Louis Garcia, who is the proposed CEO and president of the new bank; Heidi DeWyngaert, former president and chief lending officer of Bankwell Financial Corp.; Thomas Ayoub, former Bank of New Canaan board member, and medical doctor and chief of staff at Norwalk Hospital; and Joseph Rucci Jr., former legal counsel to several banks including Bank of Darien.

They submitted an application in December to the Connecticut Department of Banking to launch a de novo bank that would provide personal and commercial banking products and services for nonprofits, businesses, local merchants and individuals in New Canaan and the surrounding communities, according to a business plan obtained by the Hartford Business Journal. 

The bank plans to have its headquarters at 208 Elm St., in the heart of downtown New Canaan and in the former Bankwell Financial Group branch. Bankwell formed following the 2013 merger of The Bank of Fairfield and The Bank of New Canaan.

Bankwell now has its headquarters nearby, at 258 Elm St., in New Canaan.

“The organizers have identified an unfilled niche in the Fairfield County banking market,” the New Canaan Bank founders said in a business plan submitted to the Connecticut Department of Banking. “As large banks acquired smaller ones and personal service was subjected to consolidation strategies, the opportunity has increased for locally-owned, operated and highly personal service-oriented banks.”

The organizers singled out the recently completed merger of  Webster Financial Corp. and New York-based Sterling Bancorp, and M&T Bank Corp.’s purchase of People’s United Financial, as creating new opportunities in the market as these larger institutions “outgrow” locally-focused services.

Management expects to raise between $30 million to $40 million to initially get the bank off the ground, they said. 

The Connecticut Department of Banking is scheduled to hold a hearing at 1 p.m. today to discuss the pending application. 

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