Though still true to her suburban Chicago roots, Laura Greenfield, vice president and team leader at M&T Bank, has found her home in New York’s commercial real estate market. Ms. Greenfield—who has originated $750 million in loans over the last 12 months—spoke to Commercial Observer about the importance of relationship banking in her day-to-day routine. She also discussed the different lending structures she’s worked with on recent deals, from 80/20 developments to transactions with EB-5 preferred equity. In her downtime, Ms. Greenfield enjoys exploring—whether within the bounds of New York City or overseas—with her husband and 2-year-old son.
Commercial Observer: How did you get into real estate banking?
Ms. Greenfield: I credit my husband for initially exposing me to the industry. We met in college, and after school he went into real estate finance. I quickly realized from our discussions that commercial real estate was an interesting field. Our friends would tease us that our dinner conversations focused on commercial real estate, but it was those dialogues that peaked my interest. He gave me a great book of recommendations such as The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Real Estate Game and Gotham. I became hooked, and I was lucky enough to be working at the time for a company, M&T, that valued employees and was willing to take a risk in allowing me to work in another part of the organization.
Did you always know you wanted to work on the lending side?
No. I was a typical college undergraduate business student. I knew I wanted to work at a large corporation that could offer me different opportunities to grow within the company, but at the time I did not have a specific interest in any one topic.
How did the opportunity at M&T come about?
As a senior in college at George Washington University, M&T recruited on campus specifically for its management development training program (MDP). I was attracted to the retail manager trainee position within the MDP because I knew it would expose me to many transferable skills in any industry. The program also exposed me to different business lines, senior executives and provided classroom training in banking and business topics.
How has your role expanded since you joined the bank?
Shortly after my one-year management program, I became the branch manager of M&T’s Worldwide Plaza Branch in New York City. I enjoyed the role because of the entrepreneurial nature of the job and that experience has had a lasting effect on how I think about business, clients, banking and employees today. During my time as a branch manager I met a colleague who had made the transition from the retail side to the commercial business line. That introduction enabled me to find out more about M&T’s New York City commercial real estate group. I was eventually hired into the New York City commercial real estate group and M&T’s credit training program. I started in the group as an analyst and was most recently promoted to a team leader in 2013. In addition to managing a team of commercial real estate lenders, I am also involved on several sub-committees at the bank.
We became quite busy after Wilmington Trust closed in 2012. Many of our clients have needs in wealth management, trust and estate planning and were excited when they heard that the bank’s expertise in these areas widened. It helps us that Wilmington Trust is a well-respected name brand in its business line. The synergy was perfect.
Our application to acquire Hudson City was approved by the Federal Reserve on Sept. 30 and subsequently by other regulators, and was set to close on Nov. 1. When the acquisition closes, it will provide substantial opportunities to the M&T metro region since we will be gaining 135 branches to the New Jersey, Connecticut and New York market. This will also allow us to expand our commercial lending footprint deeper into [those markets].
What’s the most exciting deal you worked on this year?
Part of why I love my job is because every deal I work on has interesting lending structures. This past year alone I was able to work on multiple direct bond placement 80/20 deals, traditional 80/20s, loans with EB-5 preferred equity, hotel and condominium deals, and more. New York City commercial real estate is dynamic. There are always changing regulations and rules. Staying educated on different topics is stimulating and keeps you on your toes.
What are the differences between financing 80/20 developments like TF Cornerstone’s 33 Bond Street and entirely market-rate projects?
At least until the end of 2015 projects qualify for 80/20 financing when a developer plans to construct multiple units including affordable housing on lots, which were vacant, predominantly vacant, or improved with a non-conforming use three years prior to the start of construction. An 80/20 project designated from a state agency qualifies the project for several attractive economic benefits that you would otherwise not receive for a market-rate project, including a 421a tax exemption, Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, and other potential savings dependent on location such as waiver of mortgage recording taxes. The benefits vary depending on location within the city. As mentioned previously, 80/20 projects are financed through state agencies. The agency issues bonds, which can be tax-exempt or taxable, subject to certain rules and regulations. A developer can receive tax-exempt bonds as long as no more than 10 percent of hard costs are used for retail or other uses, and no more than 15 percent of the gross or net rentable square feet are allocated to retail or other uses.
Banks are needed to either provide credit enhancement to the bonds to provide liquidity in the bond market or buy the bonds and maintain them on their balance sheets. Projects that are 80/20s take a considerable amount of coordination and participation from many parties. I have always enjoyed working on 80/20s because there is significant collaboration between multiple professionals who are all trying to reach the same goal. When an 80/20 closes, you feel as if you have given birth.
What neighborhoods and asset classes are you seeing the most demand for right now?
Brooklyn is on fire, and it is not just one specific location in Brooklyn—Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Boerum Hill, Red Hook, to name a few. We are seeing many transitional office and retail deals. Multifamily construction was very active this past year although new originations are slowing down since many developers are waiting for the verdict on 421a tax abatements. Banks like M&T always have capacity for condo loans for its long-term relationships; however, the financing market has definitely cooled down in that sector.
How does M&T’s focus on relationship lending affect your day-to-day interactions with clients?
We are all about relationships here, understanding what’s important to our clients, their current needs, anticipation of needs and more. At M&T, we feel we really know and understand our clients and in turn can deliver on their needs quickly. It means that we always make ourselves available and speak [with] and see our clients regularly. We also tour clients’ buildings and projects often. Real estate is a physical business. Visiting a block and understanding the neighborhood allows us to better understand our clients’ vision and in turn properly sell a deal internally. Our clients are also expert commercial real estate professionals who mold the industry, so hearing their perspectives first aids us in closing business.
Do you often find yourself working with repeat clients?
Yes, the majority of our book is comprised of repeat clients. Of course, we are always interested in taking calls from new prospects.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I enjoy exploring the city with my husband and 2-year-old son. We were at the Bronx Zoo last weekend and are heading this weekend to the Queens County Farm. When I have time, I love to go for runs in Central Park or fit in a yoga class. This past year, my husband and I took a quick trip to Vienna. We love travelling and thought it would be interesting to see an opera and visit a winery on the Danube. Community involvement is very important to me, and I have become active in the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York and Jewish Community Center. Lastly, I have a new phrase for happy hour with friends: play dates. I laugh that life in my 30s looks completely different from life in my 20s, but every stage is exciting and different, as life should be.