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America’s best regional commercial banks grew up serving small companies in local industries like oil and gas in the Southwest, technology on the West Coast, agriculture in the Midwest, and logistics in the Southeast. Because they’re well versed in the cyclical downturns of these industries, they can easily judge the credit-worthiness of local borrowers and take risks on commercial loans that larger, nationwide banks would not touch, says Jefferson Harralson, a banking analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods in Atlanta.

The better regional commercial banks serve their clients, the faster they grow through acquisitions, expanding beyond their home states and even across regional lines, reaching a size where they are now competing with nationwide banks for bigger local clients. The trouble is that the faster they grow, the more likely they are to be acquired. The drivers behind the M&A boom are two-fold: once such banks reach $10 billion in assets, they face compliance headaches under the Dodd-Frank Act —which gives them a motive to build up economies of scale to cover the cost of compliance; plus, they face a cap on fees they can charge retailers for debit card transactions. As a result, many regional banks are actively trying to sell themselves to larger ones—and even to global players, explains Matt Olney, a banking analyst at boutique investment firm Stephens.

New England | Eastern Bank

Founded in 1818 and based in Boston, Eastern Bank is America’s largest and oldest mutually owned bank. Eastern’s assets grew 9% last year, to $9.5 billion, with its acquisition of Centrix Bank & Trust of New Hampshire. While net income fell 10.5%, to $55.1 million, in part due to the $134 million Centrix acquisition, the bank’s commercial and industrial loan portfolio grew by 55%, to $1.1 billion.

Richard Holbrook, CEO and chairman

Mid-Atlantic | Signature Bank

Based in New York City, Signature has a 1% share of the greater metropolitan area’s deposit market. The bank has grown its loan teams by poaching them from national banks. Net income reached a record high of $296.7 million last year, up 29.7% from 2013. Assets grew by 22%, to $27.3 billion. Loans were up 7.9%, driven mainly by commercial real estate and specialty finance.

Joseph DePaolo, CEO

Great Lakes | Fifth Third Bancorp

Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, Fifth Third had $139 billion in assets as of the end of December 2014 and operates 15 affiliates in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Georgia and North Carolina. The bank extended more than $8.6 billion in loans to business customers between October and December last year.

Kevin Kabat, CEO

Plains | Commerce Bancshares

With a 150-year history, Kemper-family-run Commerce Bancshares is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. Its branches are located in Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, Illinois and Oklahoma. In addition to corporate banking, the bank is active in credit-related insurance, venture capital and real estate. The bank had $24 billion in assets as of December 31, up 4% from a year earlier. Total loans were $11.5 billion, up 5% from a year earlier.

David Kemper, CEO

Southeast | BankUnited

Recapitalized in 2009, BankUnited is known as a lender to growing middle-market businesses in Florida and, to some extent, New York. BankUnited’s assets grew by 28% to $19.2 billion as of December 31, from a year earlier. Experiencing very minor loan and lease losses, the bank’s net loans grew 37% last year.

John Kanas, CEO

Southwest | Comerica

Known for its expertise in the energy industry, which accounts for about two-thirds of its customers, Comerica’s headquarters are in Dallas, Texas. The bank has offices in California, Arizona and Mexico. Net income rose 10% last year, up to $593 million, thanks in large part to cost-cutting measures. Average total deposits increased by 6%, to $54.8 billion. With total assets of $69.2 billion as of December 31, Comerica ranks as the 25th-largest bank in the US.

Ralph Babb, Jr., CEO

Rocky Mountains | Glacier Bancorp

Headquartered in Kalispell, Montana, Glacier Bancorp is growing rapidly through acquisition. Glacier already owns several banks in Montana, Idaho, Utah and Washington. It acquired First National Bank of the Rockies last year, and on March 2, it announced that it had completed its acquisition of Community Bank of Montana. Total assets grew 5.4% last year, to $8.3 billion as of December 31. Net income was up 17.9%.

Michael Blodnick, CEO and president

Far West | Umpqua Bank

Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, Umpqua acquired Sterling Financial last April. Operating earnings for the year ended December 31 increased 91% from a year earlier. Total consolidated assets doubled to $22.6 million last year. Gross loans grew by $68.5 million last year, to $15.3 billion.

Ray Davis, CEO and president


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