Bank on Her



Visko Hatfield

When Peyton R. Patterson talks about what will probably go down as the defining moment of her banking career, she uses words like “torturous,” “hair-raising” and even “bloodcurdlingly scary.”

One would think that having engineered the largest initial public offering in United States banking history would be something that makes the banker smile in her sleep. But when asked about the $1.1 billion conversion of what had been a modest New Haven mutual savings bank in concert with the acquisition of banks in Manchester and Tolland three years ago, Patterson shows no signs of reverie.

Navigating the business side of the deal was daunting enough. But this venture presented other pitfalls as well. “We had protesters out here every Friday,” says Patterson, who is chairman, president and CEO of NewAlliance Bank. “I would look out the window, and it would be protesters. Your picture on posters. It was like, ‘Have I just dropped into a new planet here?’ ”

To put it mildly, the changeover was unpopular in politically charged New Haven, where residents feared the loss of what was then the New Haven Savings Bank, a community institution that dated back to the nineteenth century. In the eye of the storm was newcomer Patterson, who was portrayed as greed personified, a hired gun who came to pillage the bank. There was a depositor petition drive, bitter accusations at public hearings, even threats against her life. But what pierced Patterson most deeply was the day that her daughter Kathleen, then six years old, asked out of the blue, “Mommy, why doesn’t the mayor like you?”

That New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. was spearheading the opposition was one thing. But to think that the public rancor had somehow found its way to her child hit Patterson harder than anything her critics could muster. “That was when I said I’d had enough,” she says.

Yet she stayed the course, signed off on the merger-conversion, then set forth to conquer new ground. Under Patterson’s command, New Haven Savings Bank went from “a very nice bank,” as it dubbed itself, to a force to be reckoned with. When she took over five years ago, the bank’s assets were at $2.5 billion. This winter that number is expected to reach $8 billion. Branches, meanwhile, will have gone from thirty-six in two Connecticut counties to seventy-three in six counties around the state, with another fifteen in Massachusetts. NewAlliance ranks as Connecticut’s third largest independent bank and the sixth biggest in New England.

In reaching such heights, Patterson has presided over a string of acquisitions both in and out of the state that has won NewAlliance praise in banking circles and, more important, a widening customer base. In 2005 the bank paid $19.3 million for the Hartford–based Trust Company of Connecticut, boosting its wealth management component. That was followed by the $50 million purchase last year of Cornerstone Bancorp of Stamford, which gave NewAlliance a beachhead in lucrative Fairfield County, including a branch in Cos Cob. And last summer, the bank made the first of what may be several forays into neighboring states when it announced its intention to pay $116 million for Westbank Corporation of West Springfield, Massachusetts, a deal that was expected to be finalized last month.

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