Community Bank of the South
The Little Bank that Can!
by George White
According to a regional four-year peer performance study by The Hovde Group, the relatively small Community Bank of the South, based here in Brevard County, ranked third overall of all the banks along Florida’s East Coast from Jacksonville to Indian River County.
And at the helm, perpetuating a customer-service-above-all-else philosophy, is founding president and CEO, William “Bill” Taylor. Founded in 1999 in Merritt Island, the bank now has branches in Cocoa and Rockledge. “Banking is what we do, but we’re a small business – only 20 employees in three offices with no voicemail. Nobody can beat our service. Nobody. And the reason for that? Decisions are made here,” Taylor explained.
At the top of the Hovde Group list is Ever Bank (with total assets $13 billion); #2 is Jacksonville Bank ($580 million); and Community Bank of the South comes in third ($122 million). “When you think about the population of Jacksonville then you think about the metropolis of Merritt Island, there’s a huge difference,” said Taylor.
Other Brevard banks making the list were: Florida Business Bank of Melbourne (#16), Sunrise Bank of Cocoa Beach (#18) and Fidelity Bank of Florida (#21). Taylor added, “When that [ranking] came out, it blew my mind because I never thought of it that way. They weighed different things. We were ranked 12th in loan growth, but in earnings for the last four years we were ranked second; and we were ranked second on return on assets and total charge-offs or loan losses.”
Customer Service is #1
What makes Community Bank of the South consistently competitive is strict attention to customer service, Taylor explained. “Customer service is really in the eye of the beholder. It’s not what we say, it’s how our customers feel. Different customers have different needs.”
Continuing he said, “I think what gives us a competitive edge are the local decision-making and being able to customize our products for our clients. The difference with us is when you go to Home Depot they say, ‘This is what we have,’ compared to Travis Hardware (in Cocoa Village) where if you need something, they’ve probably got it. All those big boys are the Walmarts. We’re the Travis Hardware. We’re a small business.”
Reluctant to use the term “specialty bank,” Taylor said someone once described his bank like the sitcom Cheers. “We’re where the locals go and everybody knows everybody. We’re all friendly, even the décor is warm and inviting. It‘s a different feel. We’re no different than our clients. We‘re professionals but we make money by loaning money,” he said.
Taylor added that Community Bank of the South has plenty of money to loan – it’s just a matter of to whom. “The challenge we have right now is finding people who have the ability, and can demonstrate that ability, to pay it back,” he said. As Taylor described it, Community Bank of the South is a conservative bank and plans to stay that way.
“Our clients have similar philosophies. Nobody here at the bank is on commission. We look at what’s called ‘consultant selling.’ We’re more like business consultants. We visit the clients, really look at what their needs are, and offer appropriate solutions. That‘s where we add the value. Our business model, from the inception, is working,” he said.
Taylor wants to stress his humble appreciation for the bank’s success. “To me, if you get your ego involved you feel like you can’t do anything wrong.” But recent banking history shows the flaws in that idea, a reality Taylor appreciates. “We are able to work with our clients because we can approach them on an individual basis,” he said.
Looking forward a few years, Taylor said it is possible that his bank could expand into new areas of the county, but only if it makes financial sense. “Banks mirror the local economy; they are a barometer of the economy. If the local economy is doing well, the banks are doing well.”
Taylor says he’s starting to see interest in commercial properties, but residential home sales “is skipping along the bottom. What is truly going to help the economy are jobs,” he said.
In spite of the changes in local employment, such as those resulting from the end of the Space Shuttle program, Taylor still very much believes in this area. “I think Brevard is not a good place to do business, it’s a great place to do business! We have a very diverse workforce, especially if you compare what we had in the 70s to what we have now. We have a lot of other employers. Look at the tax structure, quality of life, standard of living, the county government and city governments. We have a lot of stability.”
“It’s going to take more patience (to fully recover from the end of the Shuttle), but I don’t think it was as severe as everybody thought it was going to be. I’m very positive about Brevard County and Central Brevard,” Taylor concluded.