James E. Rohr

James E. Rohr, chairman and chief executive officer of PNC, at one of the company's Baltimore branches. (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor / May 11, 2011)

Just five years ago, PNC Bank had virtually no presence in Baltimore. Today, it is Maryland's third-largest financial institution by deposits, after Bank of America and M&T Bank.

PNC Chairman and Chief Executive Officer James E. Rohr has led the growth of the Pittsburgh-based bank in the Baltimore region, starting with the acquisition of local institutional giant Mercantile Bankshares Corp., which owned the venerable Mercantile-Safe Deposit & Trust Co., in 2006.

Since then, PNC has also opened new branches and has made smaller acquisitions, including taking over the banking services from then-Chevy Chase Bank at Giant Food stores in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Washington.

Now the bank has 176 branches and employs 2,500 workers in the greater Maryland market, which includes Baltimore City and its surrounding counties as well as the Eastern Shore and parts of Southern Maryland.

Rohr, 62, was in town last week, cultivating client relationships and meeting with senior executives and employees here.

"I always look forward to coming to Baltimore," Rohr said. "It's a great city."

PNC plans to remain in the city as officials look for a new headquarters when the bank's lease at Hopkins Plaza expires in 2014. That office employs about 410 people.

Rohr sat down with The Baltimore Sun to discuss the bank's Maryland presence, opportunities to expand and new financial regulations affecting banks and customers.

What expansion or growth opportunities do you see in the greater Baltimore market?

We're growing at almost 20 percent a year in Maryland. And it's happened in the last three years. We're adding customers at a record pace. We're cross-selling new products. …

The whole market here, in every business line, is ahead of plan, which is kind of cool. Every business line, whether it's wealth, corporate banking or retail banking, business banking, everyone is ahead of plan.

PNC has been active with acquisitions during the past several years, which includes purchases of Baltimore's Mercantile Bankshares and Washington-based Riggs National Corp. Do you see other opportunities here or elsewhere?

In general, you'll see a lot of continued consolidation in the industry. As a country, we have 7,800 banks. Canada has five. And so, there's a big consolidation effort here.

The most important thing is customer preference. Check writing has gone from 57 percent of the payment business to about 15 percent by the end of this year. So it has declined dramatically, while debit cards is about 35 percent of the business, growing rapidly. You have a big change in the product set and a lot more technology.

Online banking is growing at about 20 to 25 percent, and mobile banking for us at about 45 percent, which is on a smaller basis.

I think you'll see a lot of customer preference change, and the banks that have the competitive products like we do, with Virtual Wallet and other mobile products, are going to able to capture the lion's share of the customers.

Now that you have a few years to reflect on the Mercantile acquisition, do you consider it a success?

It was a tremendous success. It is an absolutely tremendous success.

When we look at [Greater Maryland regional president Louis Cestello] and Lou's team and how they're been able to grow and grow market share here and grow customers, they've done a far better job than we would have expected.