When ConnectOne Bank sought to expand on Long Island, Kevin Santacroce seemed like a natural fit to be the Long Island market president. The former deputy chief lending officer for Dime Community Bank and chief lending officer/executive vice president for Bridgehampton National Bank knew Long Island, having lived and worked here for decades.
“Over the years, dealing with a lot of people, you really have to have integrity in the way you do business or you can’t be in business for a long time,” Santacroce said recently. “I’m proud of being part of ConnectOne. They conduct business in a straightforward manner. And we’re very business oriented.”
Santacroce and ConnectOne specialize in small-and mid-sized business and high-net-worth individuals with a sweet spot for loans from $1 million to $20 million and clients from a few to about 300 employees.
“Long Island’s mostly small businesses,” Santacroce said. “Do you have a good reputation? Do you provide good service?”
ConnectOne supplements its business with a full Small Business Administration department and a residential department. About 20 percent of the bank is consumer loans, but business lending is the principal focus, Santacroce told the Press.
The bank’s logo, Santacroce said, expresses its philosophy: Three connected dark blue squares and one lighter blue square not connected, representing chairs at a table.
“The light blue chair is the customer. They always have a seat at the table,” Santacroce said. “Any decision we make has to be made asking how does it impact that light blue square, that person, that customer? We connect to that one.”
ConnectOne, a relatively recent arrival bringing new options to the region, was founded in 2005 in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey by Frank Sorrentino, a builder and developer, growing to $9.7 billion assets, including a Melville operational office, where clients can make transactions and an East Hampton loan production office.
“Frank’s vision was to provide a high-touch, high-tech commercial bank in the New York metro area,” Santacroce said.
With offices in Manhattan, West Palm Beach, Florida, New Jersey, and Long Island, it spans areas often connected. Sorrentino also has a home in Sag Harbor, similar to many clients with East End homes. “They live in the Hamptons,” Santacroce said. “They summer in the Hamptons and work in the Manhattan area and vacation in West Palm Beach.”
Santacroce worked at Bridgehampton National Bank for about 25 years as chief lending officer, helping grow it to $10 billion in assets before the merger with Dime.
“I wanted to go to another similar-sized bank. That’s the biggest differentiating point,” he said of the move to ConnectOne. “We’re commercially focused, in the community. We’re not a big money-center bank.”
Sorrentino, he said, meets with clients and prospective clients. “He tells them his story about why he formed a bank,” Santacroce said. “He wanted to provide a client-centric financial institution.”
Sorrentino brings a particular interest in construction lending. “Because of his background, we’re very comfortable providing commercial construction lending,” Santacroce said. “We have a lot of projects in the pipeline for construction loans.”
They made loans on Long Island, for example, for residential apartments, self-storage and assisted living facilities. “A lot of people are selling their homes and they need storage space,” Santacroce said. “Those units sell pretty fast.”
Less than 10 percent of the bank’s $10.5 billion in assets come from Long Island. “That is why I was hired, to build out Long Island,” Santacroce said.
A two-person team recently joined from Dime. They have a business development person in East Hampton, three in commercial real estate, and three in deposits on the retail side part of a staff of around a dozen on Long Island.
“For ConnectOne, the first piece is brand awareness, getting the name of ConnectOne out in the community,” Santacroce said of a key goal.
The bank recently sponsored the Hampton Classic Horse Show and a back-to-business event for the Association for a Better Long Island.
Married with four children ages 15 to 25, Santacroce knows what it’s like to balance business and personal life. He spoke while at his youngest daughter’s soccer game. “I try to make time if I can to watch them, because it goes by fast,” he said.
He is a member of the Long Island Risk Management Association, a trustee at St. Patrick Church in Southold and a graduate of the ABA Stonier School of Banking as well as Bryant University, in Rhode Island, where he studied finance.
He is seeking to build brand awareness, reach out to “centers of influence” such as accountants, attorneys, and title companies, making loans and growing the bank.
“I’m putting money out on the street, lending money,” he said. “We’re looking to open a couple more branches on Long Island and adding employees and teams to join ConnectOne Bank.”
Born and raised in Southold, he has seen Long Island change and it is continuing to change, as more people spend more time, for instance, on the East End. “Over the years, the Hamptons and Montauk and the North Fork have had a huge influx of high-net-worth individuals,” he said. “Property values have gone up. The vineyards on the North Fork have attracted a lot of tourists.”
In addition to business loans, he’s proud of home loans, including some to first-time homeowners. “I’ve been able to help first-time homeowners and business owners provide housing for their staff,” Santacroce said.
But he’s most proud of his work with the Paycheck Protection Program, where Bridghampton did more than $1 billion in forgivable loans.
“That’s one thing that drew me to ConnectOne Bank,” Santacroce said. “They were a big part of the PPP program. The community banks really did a great job.”
Santacroce helped businesses and business people over the years, getting to know them. He said he’s “worked with some fantastic people” and been to many colleagues’ birthday parties, weddings and other events. He also has stayed in touch with clients whom he helped over the years.
He’ll be heading out of state soon to join in a celebration of one client’s family.
“I’m going to Pennsylvania for a wedding,” Santacroce said. “His son’s getting married.”