March 29, 2023
The California philanthropist and her Wall Street husband called First Republic Bank nothing less than a life partner. A New York real estate billionaire said it’s always there for him. The fast-food mogul in a wood-paneled room said he and the lender agree: success comes from trust.
Then the bank teetered.
First Republic’s stock plunge in the wake of other failures has left the millionaires, billionaires and up-and-comers who’ve sung its praises in public testimonials over the years trying to square their loyalty with their pragmatism. The lender has featured hundreds of clients in annual reports, radio spots, print ads and online.
The fast and viral first chapter of this crisis — when Silicon Valley Bank and Signature failed before Credit Suisse Group AG was sold in a fire sale — has given way to something relatively slower. Things have leveled out since deposit outflows reached what Jefferies Financial Group Inc. said could be $89 billion, thanks especially to big lenders parking $30 billion with First Republic. That gave acolytes time to chew over what to do.
Bankers have been getting on the phone, several customers said, walking them through their options. Some clients are making backup plans for accounts and loans, while others are signing up at big banks just in case. Many are still holding tight.
It’s “the banking equivalent of Sophie’s Choice,” said Bruce Percelay, a real estate investor who’s been a First Republic client since 2007. He withdrew some money a few months back, but only because Treasury bills were yielding so much that banks couldn’t compete: “It was a purely practical economic decision.”
He said he doesn’t blame friends for making more recent moves and erring on the side of caution.
“Everyone I know was tortured by this,” said Greg Flynn, a client whose companies’ holdings include about 2,400 chain restaurants. “There’s no upside and some downside.”
“Our bankers and wealth managers are busy opening accounts, making loans and executing transactions, and our clients and communities are supportive,” said Greg Berardi, a spokesperson for the bank. It’s “well-positioned to manage short-term deposit activity,” and its commitment to clients hasn’t changed, he added.
Susan Mason, who helps run venture capital firm Aligned Partners, has been feeling good enough about the bank that she recently bought some of its stock, which is down 86% since March 8.
At the same time, her firm set up a sweep to send any money above the FDIC’s $250,000 cap to other banks. Aligned also set up an account at Wells Fargo: “Not to use it, more as a backstop,” she said.
Ghia Griarte, an executive at private equity firm Ponte Partners, also opened an account at a bigger rival. “We don’t even know what we’re going to do” with it, she said. Having it just in case makes more sense than merely “panicking for the sake of panicking.”
As US authorities grapple with the month’s collapses, they’ve considered expanding an emergency lending facility for banks that would give First Republic more time to shore up its balance sheet, people with knowledge of the situation have said. Officials haven’t decided what if any support to provide and see the lender as stable enough to operate for now.
That means its business continues.
Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras, featured on the bank’s website in June, has been negotiating with First Republic for a construction loan. Jean-Marc Berteaux, the group’s treasurer, said he wants to finish that deal “as long as they remain a going concern.”
But the group has approached two other lenders to be safe. Likewise, even while keeping millions with First Republic, the nonprofit has made calls to open a new account at a bigger bank, though they’ve gone unanswered.
Pulling all of its business wouldn’t make sense, Berteaux said. “I wish other nonprofits and clients had understood, so long as you’re not at risk you’re making things worse” by running away.
Sonja Perkins, an investor who had called First Republic the best bank she’s ever worked with, said she hasn’t “moved a penny.”
“I’m not going to join the chorus of Cassandras,” she said.
Out hiking this month in California’s Marin County, Hint Inc. co-founder Kara Goldin said she bumped into another First Republic customer.
“How about all this craziness?” Goldin asked the woman.
The bank, they agreed, will figure it all out.
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