What's in John Kanas' Wallet?

The departing Capital One exec mulls over a run in private equity.
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Veteran banker John Kanas sees abundant opportunity in the fast-changing banking business.

The former CEO of North Fork Bancorp is due to retire next month as head of

Capital One's

(COF) - Get Report

consumer banking unit. But Kanas, 60 years old, isn't done working and predicts in an interview with

TheStreet.com

that he could wind up in investment banking or

private equity.

"I'm way too young to retire," Kanas says. "I expect to stay in the game and have some more fun. There are so many opportunities today in financial services and otherwise. It's kind of an exciting time."

Kanas is a 36-year banking veteran. He spent most of his career at North Fork, where he was CEO for 18 years. Capital One acquired the Melville, N.Y., bank for $14 billion in December.

Kanas, who has signed on with Capital One as an adviser through 2009, isn't rushing into his next job.

"The rules have changed," Kanas says. "Other players are very important in the

banking business today. Investment banking is very important, private equity is very important. There are lots of opportunities in those areas. I'm going to give myself time to look at as many things as I can."

The global buyout boom has put financial executives in great demand with private equity. Abundant financing and low, stable interest rates have drawn buyout shops into a sector they mostly ignored for years. Now the firms want experienced managers helping to sniff out buyout candidates.

In June, Cerberus Capital Management picked up

Bank of America's

(BAC) - Get Report

former CFO and investment banking veteran, Al de Molina. Also in June, the Carlyle Group hired Ned Kelly, the former CEO of Mercantile Bankshares, and David Zwiener, former president and COO of

Hartford Financial Services

(HIG) - Get Report

, to head up a newly created financial institutions group.

Kanas is no stranger to bank M&A. Over his tenure, North Fork picked up a number of banks, including GreenPoint Financial in October 2004.

But perhaps Kanas' smartest deal was to sell North Fork when he did.

The subprime mortgage meltdown occurred just a few months after the North Fork-Capital One deal closed. Dozens of lenders that lent to consumers with poor credit histories reported losses earlier this year as a result of rising defaults and delinquencies and a falling housing market.

North Fork didn't make subprime loans, but through GreenPoint, it was a significant so-called Alt-A mortgage lender. Alt-A includes loans that were made to borrowers with better credit scores but without full documentation. Several banks reported losses in Alt-A in the first quarter.

Kanas "sold his bank exactly at the right time," says Joseph Ficalora, the chairman and CEO of

New York Community Bancorp

(NYB)

. "The obvious benefits of the GreenPoint transaction were running off, and the adverse consequences of the GreenPoint mortgages were going to become a serious burden to the company."

Ficalora, who is also the president of the Westbury, N.Y.-based bank, said it came as no surprise when Kanas stepped down from Capital One.

Kanas and Capital One's CEO, Richard Fairbank, had "two different business models and both are extremely talented, strong people that were used to running their own companies," Ficalora says.

Capital One, known for its "What's In Your Wallet?" credit card ads, is a bit of an upstart in the banking business. It entered retail banking in force back in 2005, when it bought New Orleans-based Hibernia Bank.

Kanas has also been candid for years with analysts and investors about the difficulty of banking as the yield curve flattened. But he is confident that Capital One will handle the deteriorating mortgage market and general banking malaise better than North Fork could have.

"The beauty of Capital One is the beauty of the combined company. It is greatly diversified. They have very strong revenue engine in the credit card business and to a lesser extent in the auto finance," Kanas says. "It's a tough time for small regional banks that have a limited product menu to share profit gains in this kind of environment. It's much easier as part of a diversified company."