Community Banks Carve Out Their Market Share

All banks big and small have had to weather the national economic downturn. For community banks in Brevard, the stakes are higher still. Some local banks have come through the unexpected storm more efficient and even stronger, placing them in position to grow and acquire partners and failing banks. Some community banks, especially those with troubled loans or needing investors, are fighting for their lives.

Florida Business Bank

“It fell off a cliff about five years ago. Everybody knew the economy was going to turn because it couldn’t go on forever, but to the extent that it did was a surprise to everybody,” said Bob Mays, president and CEO Florida Business Bank, founded 10 years ago in Melbourne.

Last year the bank took a lot of “tough medicine,” identified and dealt with problems in its loan portfolio, and ramped up its collection efforts. It also studied the demographics of the marketplace, redesigned product sets for small-to-medium-sized businesses and brought in new talent. And the measures have paid off.

“We’re actually in terrific shape. If you’re making money in this economy, you’ve obviously done the right things,” Mays said. Now eyeing an “aggressive plan to grow,” FBB seeks to partner with other banks, Mays commented. “The other tactic is to buy a bank that fails, which makes a great deal of sense because you make money from day one. The reality of it is you still have to deal with the problems.”

FBB focuses on the “bread and butter” of the local economy: small businesses with $2 million to $10 million in sales that want to borrow $250,000, he explained. “Our message is, ‘we’re here, we understand that business, we have a ton of capital and a very strong willingness to lend,’” he said.

Community Bank of the South

Stressing service above all else is the strategy of Community Bank of the South, founded in 1999, with locations in Merritt Island, Cocoa and Rockledge. “Our number one goal is to do what’s right for the client,’’ said founder, President and CEO Bill Taylor. “Our primary focus is business owners, their employees and affluent retirees.”

One important difference is no bank employee is on commission, he explained. “I want us to give objective advice to the client and do what’s right for them. To me, when you come to a bank, you come for trust,” he emphasized. Community Bank of the South is doing well with deposits and remains profitable. However, loans are slow, he said.

“We have money that we’d like to loan, but the challenge is finding the people who are qualified to borrow,” Taylor explained. “The future is looking up, but the hardships may not be over. I think the next 18 months will be challenging times in Brevard and the nation. Unemployment is going to be a challenge as is the excess housing,” he continued. “The bank is continuing to look for opportunities to expand and to increase its shareholder value. I think community banking will remain strong as long as there are small businesses out there. Our business model is small business banking and nobody does is better.”

Florida Bank of Commerce

Dana Kilborne, now CEO of Florida Bank of Commerce, founded Prime Bank in 2004 in Melbourne and Merritt Island. In 2008, the banks were joined under a common holding company and they merged in 2010. The company’s main office is in Orlando; there are six branches total, also including Winter Park, Lake Mary and Kissimmee.

“We took on the Florida Bank of Commerce name, combined the management teams and combined the boards. Nothing was eliminated,” Kilborne said. The bank continues a conservative approach for small business owners, professionals and individuals. “We know what we’re good at and we know we’re not a general bank. We actually haven’t changed our strategies. We have been very fortunate. The economy has a way to go before any of us feel that we’re out of the woods but we’re working with our clients and we’re still active lenders and we’re profitable,” she commented.

And Kilborne also is hopeful for the future. “I think ultimately, private enterprise is what will sustain this county. We definitely have the ingredients for businesses to want to start here. These are difficult times for everybody but we’ve got to seize the opportunities in times like this,” she concluded.

BankFIRST

BankFIRST, formerly The Bank Brevard and founded in 1996, was purchased by a private equity firm in January of 2007. It has branches in Melbourne, Suntree/Viera and Titusville.

About four months later, the same group acquired BankFIRST headquartered in Winter Park, including seven branches in the Orlando area. “We essentially operated as two separate banks until May 2008 when we merged, and the BankFIRST name survived,” said Mick Welch, Regional President Brevard County.

“BankFIRST has fared well in the down economy mostly through a conservative approach to lending and superior service,” he said. “It’s been challenging but our deposit growth has been strong, our loan business is soft, and we’re trying to put money on the street. Service is extremely important to us. Many of our customers have been with us since 1996. It’s more of a family atmosphere,” Welch said.

As for the future, BankFIRST hopes to expand to new branch locations and maybe the purchase of other banks. “Our bank is very strong in capital, we’re very liquid, and we’re very conservative,” Welsh explained. “We’re trying to position ourselves to pull out of this economy quicker than anybody else. We’re just open to all opportunities that may arise.”

Coastal Bank

Facing tougher decisions is Coastal Bank, founded in 1999, currently with four branches in Port St. John, Palm Bay, Merritt Island and Cocoa Beach. CEO and President Jack Shoffner took over the role as of Aug. 2.

“We’re just in the process of announcing the closing of the Port St. John and Palm Bay branches as of Nov. 1. The branches were five years old and they never produced the customer base or deposits that we had hoped they would. We decided to close them and concentrate our resources in the Cocoa Beach and Merritt Island branches,” he disclosed.

“Even with the closures, cutting expenses, and working out troubled loans, the future of Coastal remains somewhat cloudy,” he said. “We’ve got our trials and tribulations and they’re not over yet. We expect another year or 18 months of a fairly rough economy and then we’ll just have to see what the space program does and what effect it has on this whole area. We’re leaving the troubled scenario in the near future and moving into the much more pleasant growth pattern,” Shoffner said.

But, even in the face of the challenges before him, Shoffner remains hopeful. “We think that in the next 36 to 48 months we should be able to grow the bank from $150 million where it is now, to about $300 million.’’

Sunrise Bank

Faced with the possibility of closure by federal banking officials, Sunrise Bank is counting on local investors and the success of its new building in Cocoa Beach, said CEO Larry Roselle. Also on board as a new member of management is former Coastal Bank president and CEO Paul Johnson.

Sunrise Bank opened in 2005 during construction of the present location which opened in July 2007, a two-story, Key West inspired bank, complete with a small café for customers. Sunrise also touts two mobile branches to serve business customers. “Our target market is affluent retirees in Cocoa Beach who come to our building because of what we have to offer here: the best bankers in Brevard county; the service level and friendliness; and the atmosphere. We’ve become a tourist destination. No other bank around here is like that,” Roselle said.

As for the critical need for capital, Roselle said Sunrise is stressing its personal service and offering stock to local investors. “We enter relationships with our customers and we are there with them during the tough times. We do have a few problem assets, when the relationship breaks down, where the customer stops cooperating. As long as we’re talking and moving in the right direction, we’re not going to be like the big banks and just throw you out on your ear. We’re trying to sell $20,000 investments to 400 people rather than one person coming in with $8 million and waving the big stick. That’s what a community bank is: owned by the community. We have local management, local boards, all our loans are in Brevard County,” he said.

Johnson summed up the position of all the local banks: “I think the future of banking in Brevard is in line with the future of Brevard and I think Brevard has a good future.”