Group plans Washington bank with Ethiopian-American focus

January 28, 2018

A group has applied to form a bank in the nation’s capital that would focus on the Ethiopian-American community.

Organizers of Marathon International Bank have filed an application with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to open a bank in Washington, near Silver Spring, Md.

While Marathon would offer loan and deposit products to a broad range of individuals, along with small and midsize businesses, it will have “a particular emphasis on serving the banking needs of U.S. residents of Ethiopian origin,” the application said.

The Washington area has 45,000 residents of Ethiopian descent, the proposed bank’s organizers said, citing 2015 census data. “Anecdotal evidence would suggest that the actual population of the Ethiopian Diaspora in [the Washington area] greatly exceeds this estimate,” the application added.

Gregory Garrett is expected to serve as the bank’s CEO. He previously served as president and CEO of Platinum Bank in Lubbock, Texas. Zekarias Tamrat, a former banker with PNC and Bank of America, is set to become the bank’s president.

Several prominent Ethiopian-Americans are expected to serve on Marathon’s board, including Tekalign Gedamu, a retired economist and former managing director of the Development Bank of Ethiopia who is set to serve as chairman.

The bank plans to raise $22 million to $25 million by selling common stock. It has already posted a job listing looking for people who are fluent in Amharic, a language largely spoken in Ethiopia.

Organizers also plan to market to Ethiopian-Americans through targeted advertising, referrals, affinity relationships and sponsoring local Ethiopian-focused events, the application said. Marathon will also offer an education program that will target underbanked or underserved Ethiopians to bring them into the banking system.

Marathon has “a wide shareholder base capable of guiding the bank's operations, growth, and its long term trajectory,” Tamrat said on his LinkedIn profile.

“Our vision is to help transform the Ethiopian community into a far more economically engaged, creative and vibrant member of the wider and diverse US community,” Tamrat added. Marathon also aims “to become a differentiated provider of financial services by leveraging our understanding of the unique financial needs of the Ethiopian-American community.”

“I think having a very specific business strategy is important to the ultimate success of a new bank, especially if you’re starting in a metropolitan area that is already well-banked,” said Steven Lanter, a Luse Gorman lawyer handling the application for the organizers.

“You have to create new banking relationships,” Lanter added. “The organizers' passion for this application and proposed bank is unmatched. For some of the organizers, to create an insured financial institution that caters to the Ethiopian-American community, and the broader market, will be a dream come true.”

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