Topeka bank wants into Lawrence

Commerce Bank & Trust planning for two or three branches in city by 2009

Commerce Bank & Trust

  • Assets: $1.15 billion
  • Branches: 24 in Topeka and Emporia
  • Plans: Open four branches in Johnson County by end of 2008; have two or three open in Lawrence by end of 2009; branches also are planned in Manhattan and Junction City.

A Topeka-based bank is looking to move into Lawrence.

Commerce Bank & Trust is embarking on an expansion program that will start with a new branch in Shawnee, set to open in December. Up next: another three Johnson County locations next year, then “two or three” branches to be up and running in Lawrence by the end of 2009.

“It will really depend on how fast we can close on the ground,” said John Fager, the bank’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “We’re a fairly aggressive bank.”

It’s all part of Commerce Bank & Trust’s plan to stretch throughout the Kansas River corridor, from Manhattan and Junction City to the Kansas City metro area and beyond.

The bank, with $1.15 billion in assets, already has 24 locations: 21 in Topeka and three in Emporia. Now the idea is to find more room for growth, and hot markets such as Manhattan/Junction City, Lawrence and Johnson County top the list.

“We’re not into overextending,” Fager said. “You take a look at some of these sites and locations, and they make sense for a good return. We’ve done our homework. :

“We’re not going into anywhere to lose money.”

The company, owned by private investors and the bank’s own employee stock ownership program, already has somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 customers in Lawrence, Fager said. Many live in Lawrence and work in Topeka.

Realtors are working on the bank’s behalf to locate potential sites in Lawrence, he said. Fager declined to discuss specifics, saying that all areas of town were in the mix.

“We think we have a line on two or three pretty good locations,” he said. “West side? East side? Central? We’re really just looking to offer convenience for our customers.”

Commerce Bank & Trust also is looking into expanding into Colorado, Fager said, and “almost certainly” will reach across the Kansas state line into Missouri.

“That has to be part of the strategy,” said Fager, who says that the company likely would buy another bank’s charter in the state. “You can’t have half of Kansas City.”