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Front Page » Top Stories » Velasco Leaves Colonial Bank For Banco Popular

Velasco Leaves Colonial Bank For Banco Popular

Written by on June 9, 2005

By Suzy Valentine
Banco Popular North America is banking on one of Miami-Dade County’s community leaders to help expand its South Florida presence.

Israel Velasco joined the Puerto Rican bank June 3 as South Florida regional executive. He left Montgomery, AL-based Colonial Bank, where was South Florida president and CEO.

"My goal is to grow this region," Mr. Velasco said Tuesday. "I managed 45 branches across South Florida and $3 billion in assets. I’d like to grow Banco Popular to something similar, like 15 branches in each of the counties of the tri-county region."

He would not identify targets for acquisition.

Mr. Velasco, who has worked for First Union and Eastern National Bank in Miami, joined Banco Popular three days before the bank formally converted the eight Kislak Bank branches it acquired Jan. 3. It brings to six the number of Banco Popular facilities in the county. The company also has two branches in Broward and one in Palm Beach counties.

Expansion plans don’t stop there.

"We’re looking at lots of banks," said Juan Carlos Cruz, Banco Popular’s vice president of public relations and communications. "We don’t know which banks yet or which people from which banks. At the moment, we’re just trying to get Kislak up and running."

Mr. Cruz wouldn’t say how long it would be before Banco Popular acquires more banks. "I can’t give a timeframe," he said. "We’re just weighing up good acquisitions."

Mr. Cruz said Mr. Velasco’s move to an operation that is three times the size of his previous employer’s didn’t mark a change of focus for him or the bank.

"We’re just as much a community bank," Mr. Cruz said. "We have 137 branches in six states. We serve the community."

A Colonial Bank official said Mr. Velasco resigned May 31 and the company has not begun its search for a replacement. "It’s only been a few business days. No decisions have been made yet," said Lynne Wines, regional CEO of commercial lending in Broward. She and Pat Choing, retail manager in Miami-Dade, have assumed Mr. Velasco’s responsibilities.

"Colonial Bank is very strong," said Ms. Wines. "We’re the fifth-largest bank in Florida, much bigger than Banco Popular is in the region. I wish him luck. There’s enough business in this region to keep us all busy."

Banco Popular opened its first branch in 2000 on Southwest Eighth Street. The seven Kislak conversions Monday extended the bank’s reach to Doral, North Miami, Miami Beach, Miami Gardens and Miami Lakes, where its regional operations are to be based.

The financial institution acquired 135 employees from Kislak.

Those jobs, Mr. Cruz said, are safe.

"A few jobs may be added," he said – "a teller here, a teller there. But there won’t be a massive amount of recruitment for those banks."