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May 10, 2019  

Bank of Ireland Eyes Return to US Lending

Bank of Ireland is taking steps toward reviving its U.S. commercial-property finance business, which has lain dormant for the better part of a decade.

The Irish bank has been talking to other lenders about taking part in Stateside deals in the coming months. It would have the capacity to participate in club deals or syndications to the tune of up to $40 million per transaction. It’s unclear whether it might also originate loans on its own in the near future.

The bank has long maintained an outpost in Stamford, Conn., that intermittently has provided debt on U.S. properties, mostly in the hotel sector. The new push would cover a range of property types. The word is Bank of Ireland ultimately could re-establish a New York office and hire staffers for the effort, though the timetable for that isn’t known.

The Stamford office is headed by Tony Dunne, the bank’s U.S. country manager. Also participating in the recent U.S. outreach is associate director Conor Linehan, who is based in Dublin. Linehan was instrumental in setting up the bank’s U.S. platform in 2007. Paul McDonnell oversees real estate lending within the bank as head of its property finance group, also in Dublin.

Bank of Ireland would be the latest of several European banks to relaunch its U.S. commercial-mortgage operation after pulling back amid the 2007-2008 financial crisis. For example, Bayerische Landesbank and Deutsche Pfandbriefbank have rebuilt their New York staffs and taken down pieces of U.S. loans in the past year.

Bank of Ireland made its first large foray into U.S. lending prior to the financing crash, hiring Matthew Galligan to lead the effort. Galligan had previously worked at Bank of Boston, Fleet Boston Financial and DebtX. The Irish lender, which previously had written U.S. loans only sporadically for certain REITs, set up a group that provided an array of financing options, including fixed-rate permanent loans and construction debt.

Within a few years, however, the three Irish banks with the largest U.S. commercial real estate operations — Allied Irish Bank, Anglo Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland — all suffered staggering losses. The government of Ireland took stakes in the banks and forced them to reduce their debt holdings. All three withdrew from the States and sold big loan portfolios.

Bank of Ireland, whose debt book was in significantly better shape than those of its compatriot banks, sold a $1.4 billion portfolio of mortgages to Wells Fargo in 2011. Galligan and a few other members of the Bank of Ireland team, including Meggan Walsh and Chris Niederpruem, landed at CIT Group a few months later.