MANCHESTER — Back in the early 1990s, about a half-dozen local banks called Elm Street home for their headquarters.
In the years since, “there were a lot of mergers and acquisitions,” said state Banking Commissioner Jerry Little.
And while there may be no more state-chartered banks with headquarters on the city’s main drag, Elm Street will soon be getting two new branches, from banks entering the Manchester market.
Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, which bought Lake Sunapee Bank in 2016, will open one at 1000 Elm St. on Dec. 10. And Primary Bank, which opened three years ago in Bedford, will christen its first branch office, at 1662 Elm St., in early January.
Bar Harbor is “actively searching” for additional locations in southern New Hampshire, so customers “have the ability to bank where and how they want to,” said Joseph Schmitt, the bank’s chief marketing officer.
Portsmouth has overtaken Manchester as host of the most bank branches, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Portsmouth had 25 locations versus 23 in Manchester as of June 30.
“Manchester is the biggest as far as deposit activity,” Little said. “It’s where the people are.”
But the Seacoast is drawing interest from the banking world.
“There is a huge amount of activity in the Portsmouth area and a lot of branches going into that market as well,” Little said.
From the Concord area south, “there’s a lot of interest from financial institutions in other New England states, namely Massachusetts and Maine,” Little said. “My opinion is there’s an awful lot going on in New Hampshire economically. It’s a good indication of the strength of the New Hampshire economy.”
Primary Bank President and CEO Bill Stone said it seemed logical “to have a physical presence” in Manchester.
“I believe it is just a further extension of what our vision is to be the local community bank that’s there to provide financial services to small- and medium-sized businesses in the greater Manchester area,” Stone said.
At Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, officials have been looking a while for the right Manchester location.
“Our consumer and commercial customers in the area have been asking us when we were going to open a Manchester location to better serve their needs,” Schmitt said.
“We looked at the competitive environment and really didn’t feel that there was a true community bank like ours serving this market,” Schmitt said.
Today, many people do their banking by smartphone or laptop computer, meaning fewer people need to visit branches.
“Commercial activity is a different animal altogether,” Little said.
“It’s a living, breathing relationship,” the commissioner said. “Like any good relationship, you need to pay it some attention and need to be there when they need you.”
According to the New Hampshire Bankers Association, there were 80-state chartered banks around 1990 compared to 16 this year. That doesn’t include federally chartered banks, such as Bank of America.
“The whole premise of why we formed Primary Bank was the consolidation of all the local banks or a number of local banks in southern New Hampshire,” Stone said.
Primary Bank has more than $200 million in assets. Maine-based Bar Harbor Bank & Trust counts about $3.5 billion in assets and operates 22 New Hampshire branches, from Nashua to Hanover.