An interview with Michael H. Claisse, Senior VP/ Director of Commercial Real Estate
Area of Interest: For 2024, Spencer has invested in the new Small Business Finance Group, which will target local businesses within the Spencer footprint, as well as continue to grow C&I lending. We will continue to deliver comprehensive financing solutions for small and medium-sized companies, as well as stay true to our commitment to Commercial Real Estate lending. Our experienced staff has the knowledge and expertise to provide loans for equipment or property purchases, business lines or investment property development. We understand the financial challenges of business owners and real estate investors and will continue to provide our clients with financing solutions. We will also continue to provide convenient banking for them and service our clients’ entire banking needs, with deposit products that support their success.
Who is your target market? The strong credit quality of Spencer’s $3+ billion loan portfolio has helped make it one of NJ’s most reliable community banks, resulting in growth that expands beyond our brick-and-mortar footprint. Headquartered in northern New Jersey, the bank has a proven track record of helping real estate investors and business owners not just in NJ, but throughout the Tri-State Area. For the upcoming year, we will likely be staying closer to home, meaning lending in our NJ markets surrounding our financial center locations.
What is your most noteworthy transaction or project this year? I’m not sure if there is just one, as we do offer a wide variety of community loans, even in this slowing economy. However, we did have a few projects that could be mentioned. We were able to structure a $5MM loan for a mixed-use building in Queens. What was, and will be, significant for Spencer going forward is the large amount of medical office space.
We are proud of several multi-family rental construction loans we have closed in areas such as Bayonne, Passaic, Newark and Jersey City to name a few. The loans range from $5MM to $11MM, from 20+ units to 60+. These loans are all underwritten with a permanent loan conversion feature.
Where do you think your largest growth area is and why? Construction financing of multi-family rental developments will continue to be a focus, as it not only helps to hedge against interest rate risk but will also strengthen our balance sheet as completed projects come online.
Small Business Finance areas of growth will be all aspects of a small business’ needs to help run their company. As a new division, this group will be focused on operating lines of credit, term loans for machinery and equipment and commercial mortgages for operating companies.
Due to the current interest rate environment, we like most banks have tempered our expectations, especially in commercial real estate. We are cognizant of the constraints all are facing and will be pro-active in our loan structuring.
What separates you from the competition? Our lending teams continue to be flexible, nimble, and creative – with the ability to offer expedited approvals on transactions. Leveraging localized and direct access to decision-makers, our team works hard for clients to streamline the lending process, helping them to save time and focus on their business goals. At Spencer, we constantly empower our team to find creative solutions to meet complex borrowing needs. We work closely with our clients to ensure they get the financing needed to achieve their goals. Spencer never wavered on our financing commitments during troubled economic times, and we remain available to our customer base. We have new products not just for financing needs, but we now have state-of-the-art online tenant security/operating account capabilities.
Name some of your most unique qualities/reasons why someone should do business with your financial institution? We are a $4 billion New Jersey community bank with a lean organization, which differentiates us from larger regional and national financial institutions. Our balance sheet is strong, and our loan portfolios have weathered many storms and remain highly rated. We know our local markets and truly care about our clients; helping them to achieve their goals is always our primary focus. Our veteran lenders communicate closely with executive management to remain aligned with the Bank’s goals. This translates to certainty of execution in these times of uncertainty in lending.