By Steve Viuker
John Kanas was named chairman, president and CEO of BankUnited in May 2009, when he and a group of investors bought the assets and most of the liabilities of the former BankUnited FSB, investing $900 million in the enterprise to make it one of the most well-capitalized financial institutions in the country.
Prior to joining BankUnited, he was chairman, president and CEO of North Fork Bancorporation, the 16th-largest bank holding company in the United States.
He held this position from 1977, when he was appointed at the age of 29, until North Fork’s acquisition by Capital One in December 2006. He led the company in its initial public offering in 1982 to its membership on the NYSE and inclusion in the S&P 500 Index. During his tenure, the company completed 15 bank acquisitions.
Since its 2009 debut, BankUnited has been recognized for its dramatic growth in Florida. In 2011 it topped the FDIC list of that state’s most profitable banks earning two consecutive five-star ratings from Bauer Financial in its first evaluation opportunities since the bank was established.
BankUnited recently opened its first branch in Manhattan at 299 Park Ave., one of three branches planned for New York City. The other New York branches in the works are at 136 E. 57th St. and 960 Avenue of the Americas. BankUnited also opened a branch in Melville, N.Y, in March.
Visitors to the bank’s website are greeted with the slogan: “We Don’t Have Time For B.S.”
Kanas spoke with Banking New York about his thoughts on the state of the banking industry.
BNY: You’ve been quoted as saying, “A lot of people are probably betting against me, thinking that I’ll fail. I love that.” Why are people betting against you?
Kanas: Our competitors are understandably concerned and don’t believe that we can recreate our successful model.
BNY: Do you still focus on winning business accounts “by getting their deposits, and the loans would follow?”
Kanas: Yes, we are a relationship bank and are attracted to doing business on both the deposit and loan side.
BNY: Do you think smaller banks will be able handle the burdens placed on them by Dodd-Frank and the like?
Kanas: The combination of all the new regulations puts great pressure on all banking institutions, but disproportionately on the small banks.
BNY: What do you think about mobile banking and technology to reach customers?
Kanas: Mobile banking is a very important component of consumer banking today and will continue to be in the future.
BNY: Any thoughts on Mary Jo White heading the SEC?
Kanas: She is a good choice.
BNY: Are options such as the Amex-Walmart Bluebird card a threat to banks?
Kanas: They are particularly threatening to very large universal banks, which derive significant revenue from consumer card business.
BNY: What about credit unions and check-cashing facilities?
Kanas: Credit unions will continue to have a competitive edge on banks since they have an income tax advantage. While fewer people are using paper checks, check cashing facilities will remain important for those who do.
BNY: Banks have been blasted for raising fees? Any other options?
Kanas: The cost of regulatory cost is growing every day and net interest margins are at historic lows. In order to justify the cost of capital, banks will continue to develop fee income.
BNY: If you weren’t a banker, what would you be?
Kanas: Lead singer for the Rolling Stones.■