Ball knows business in Yonkers
By Jerry Gleeson
The Journal News • June 11, 2008
Martin Ball is no stranger to business in Yonkers.
His father, Martin Ball Sr., operates the Whalen and Ball Funeral Home on Park Street and is a member of the Yonkers Industrial Development Agency. The younger Ball served a four-year stint in the city's Economic Development Office before joining Citibank as a business lender in 2005.
Today, Ball, 31, runs Citibank's branch at 86 Main St. in the heart of the downtown-waterfront renaissance. The bank opened the branch two years ago, and its relationship with Yonkers is growing in other ways.
Last year, the City Council tapped Citibank to serve as lead underwriter for the bonding that will be needed if the council chooses to set up a special taxing district. The taxes would cover some of the infrastructure improvements related to the proposed $1.6 billion Struever Fidelco Cappelli development.
As a branch manager, Ball wouldn't be involved in Citibank underwriting. But he is close to business in Yonkers as a banker. The Journal News talked with him about his experiences.
A transcript of the interview, edited for length and content:
How did you get involved in banking?
I always liked my job in economic development when I was in City Hall and saw the different business transactions going on, new businesses coming in, what they liked, what they didn't like, what they needed. There were always problems, sometimes with their banker and their bank. I was at City Hall for four years, loved my job, but was looking for a change of pace, wanted to try something different.
At a lot of different events, I would see Citibank people. They always carried themselves on a nice level compared to other banks. They always came in teams, which was good. I liked that, the team aspect of it. We joke and call it the Citiswarm. We'll go there and meet with a client and they'll have three or four people that specialize in different things. So when a client has a question, you can answer it. It's not, "I have to get back to you" most of the time.
Citibank was actually putting a branch here in downtown Yonkers, and I sent my resume off and said I'd be interested in doing something in business development.
What kind of services do business people need?
In Yonkers, a lot of it is lines of credit. They're looking for that security blanket. They might not need it right now, but to be on the safe side, we always tell everyone, "When you don't need it is when you should apply." Because when you do need it, it's usually too late and it might take too long. Something might have happened, you might have had a life-changing experience, and things might not look as good.
A lot of them are doing upkeep for their stores. Some of them are just looking to increase their inventories, buy more products to stock their shelves so they can turn a bigger profit.
We do real estate loans, commercial and residential. The downtown area, our area, is 80 percent renters, so we don't do a lot of housing loans, as opposed to a Bronxville branch, or Scarsdale or Rye. The bulk of our business does come from the small mom-and-pop businesses that are here, up and down Main Street, through the square. On the business banking side, I mostly dealt with clients that did from zero to five million dollars in annual sales. And then we have relationship managers that deal with 5 to 20 million dollars, and other bankers that deal with 20 to 100 (million dollars). But the meat and potatoes of it is that zero to 5 million dollars.
How's the business climate in this district?
It definitely keeps getting better and better. We're competing against about 45 other banks throughout the entire city. Our deposit base here is roughly around 45 million dollars, our loan (portfolio) is another 30 to 35 million dollars, so we're about 80 million dollars. We're well ahead of the curve. Normally when they open a branch, they look to break even within three years. We were at our break-even point in about seven months, which was the fastest in Citibank history for de novos, which is new banks.
Eighty percent is our business side. Our personal bankers here are Spanish speaking; they have a huge following. People will wait for them. So we open a lot of accounts. Now a lot of them aren't large-balance accounts, but we are opening a lot more than most other centers.
When Citibank goes into a new marketplace like Yonkers, we actually come in with our community development groups first, and go into the community and get on different boards. They'll do different grants, like the Greyston Foundation or The Sharing Community, different not-for-profits in the area to really start building those roots. We go out to different events, a cocktail reception or a Business Week function. There will be four or five of us there, working the room, talking to people, really getting a grasp of who's in the audience and how we can help out.
Citi saw what the mayor was doing and saw the vision of downtown and believed in it, and said, "We're going to put our first flagship branch right here in downtown Yonkers." We were the first bank to commit to coming to downtown Yonkers. Chase followed, and opened up right next door. They actually opened before us because we had some building delays, but we were the first to commit to come to downtown Yonkers and say, "We want to be a part of your vision and the renaissance that's happening."
Has the credit crisis changed anything?
We're still lending money on the commercial and the consumer side. Like every bank, I believe, certain restrictions are in now. We're looking at deals a little bit harder than they used to. I'm not an underwriter. I'm not reviewing those. But when I bring my clients to the table and we do an application with them, they're checking and making sure everything is accurate. A lot of companies used to do the no-doc (no income documentation), and no bank does that any more.
Are more Citibank branches in the works for Yonkers?
Citi definitely wants to put more branches in Westchester. Right now we're not in expansion mode, hopefully in the future. There are other key areas that they'd like to have a presence in that we're not in yet, like Mount Vernon, Tarrytown, Port Chester. But Yonkers could definitely handle at least one more location, if not more.
Yonkers is still up and coming. It's not there yet, so coming down here still is a risk, and some people don't see that. They just think, "Oh, you can put a store in, make millions and millions of dollars." But that's not true, and it's not reality. It's a good risk right now. So as long as things keep happening, downtown will keep flourishing.
Martin Ball is the manager of the Citibank branch at 86 Main St. in downtown Yonkers. Ball served in the Yonkers Economic Development Office before joining Citibank as a business lender in 2005.
(Tania Savayan/The Journal News)
Reach Jerry Gleeson at email@example.com or 914-694-5026