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With private banking, even company’s sale may be private

How private is private banking?

In the case of SouthwestUSA Bank, a private bank catering to wealthy customers in Las Vegas, it appears to be very private.

A letter recently sent to potential buyers by Dallas law firm Block & Garden states that the bank is for sale but goes on to say that bank management is not aware of attempts to sell the institution.

Patrick Wisman, the bank’s chairman and CEO, said he, indeed, has no knowledge of the letter from the bank’s law firm soliciting buyers for a bank of approximately the same size, $150 million in assets.

He referred a reporter to Peter Kingman, chairman of the holding company’s board. Kingman said he didn’t know of any attempts to sell the bank.

“I’m not running SouthwestUSA. I’m not chairman,” Kingman said.

Kingman is not chairman of the bank, but he is chairman of the holding company that owns all of the shares in SouthwestUSA Bank, 4043 S. Eastern Ave.

The Dallas law firm recently sent letters to bankers saying it was soliciting buyers on behalf of a shareholder who owns 70 percent of the stock. Kingman declined to say what percentage of shares he owns.

“The shareholder desires to meet in person with a potential acquirer to discuss the purchase of the (bank holding) company,” the letter says. “The management of the bank is unaware of this communication and hence the name of the organization will not be revealed until a personal meeting, if any, with the shareholder takes place.”

A call to Block & Garden was referred to partner Steve Block, who did not respond to a request for comments.

Wisman joined Southwest USA in October 2006 to help the bank deal with a cease-and-desist order from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Nevada Financial Institutions Division. The regulators alleged the bank was using “unsafe and unsound banking practices.” The regulators ordered the bank to stop operating with management “whose policies and practices are detrimental to the bank and jeopardize the safety of its deposits,” which the FDIC insures.

Wisman reorganized management, bringing in a new chief financial officer and promoting two officers in the bank.

The CEO said federal regulators have notified him that the cease-and desist-order has been lifted.

Wisman said the bank is performing well, compared to similar banks.

“We are more than back on track,” Wisman said.

The bank has no nonperforming loans, Wisman said. The bank earned a 1.58 percent return on assets, a measure of profitability, compared to 1.14 percent for peer banks.

The bank reduced its reliance on brokered deposits, which stock brokers sell to investors, and often are considered “hot money” or money that flows regularly between financial markets in search for the highest short term interest rates possible.

As a result, the bank has a lower total of outstanding loans than a year ago, Wisman said.

SouthwestUSA profits declined 30 percent in the first nine months to $1.9 million from $2.7 million a year ago.

“We’re the only concierge bank in the city,” Wisman said. The bank has no teller lines and sends bankers to meet with customers at their homes and businesses.

The bank is preparing to move one branch to a new location in Summerlin and is planning to open a branch in Anthem, an affluent community in Henderson.

Nevada Trust Co., which was affiliated with SouthwestUSA, is no longer affiliated although the holding company owns less than 5 percent of trust company shares.

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at jedwards@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0420.

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