ABA Banking Journal - February 2009 - (Page 28)
COMMUNITY BANKING REPORT/COVER STORY COVER STORY continued from page 26 bring you business. No noncustomer contractor could bid on work for the center. If we don’t tell our story no one will Blanton sees one of his key roles being to help ABA drum up grassroots support for industry positions. “I’m astounded at the number of bankers who won’t respond” when ABA calls for comments on pending regulations or legislation, says Blanton. “A lot of bankers just don’t feel like they can make a difference. But it’s a numbers game, and they can make a difference.” Banker input was a key factor in beating back Farm Credit System expansion, he notes. Blanton hopes to help make sure that the members of America’s Community Bankers Council get plenty of the right kind of information to guide their deliberations and input to ABA staff this year. He sees this as critical; over the next year all community bankers will have to take responsibility for their own future. “They need to get off their duffs,” he insists, “because if they don’t offer the community bank story to their representatives in Washington, Congress surely won’t defend it.” Beyond the valley, growth In many quarters, banking offers a grim picture, and, as noted, Blanton considers the immediate future an effort to ride out a bad storm. While that must be endured, he hasn’t given up on long-term growth. Within five years, for instance, he expects that Southeastern will cross the $2 billion-assets threshold without a wholebank acquisition. Besides organic growth, some of this may be accomplished through acquisition of other lenders’ portfolios. The company did this in 2008 to grow business in Athens, Ga., a new market. Branching will also likely be a signifi- cant part of the mix. This will likely continue to be based on Blanton’s strategy of choice: “buying the banker,” rather than the bank. What Blanton and Thigpen like to do is find a banker who knows a market, and then build his organization’s market presence around that lender. The company finds this approach much cheaper, and much safer. “A lender is going to bring his good customers with him,” says E.G. Meybohm. “And he’s not going to bring his bad ones.” Independence is the plan. “We are, and we will remain, fiercely independent,” Blanton declares. The only time the company has ever been mentioned as a takeover target, the media got it wrong, mixing up the Georgia bank with another. Employees were so grateful many signed a card thanking him for not selling. “I just got my cubicle in order,” read one of the entries. “Thanks for not making me pick it all up again.” BJ 28 FEBRUARY 2009/ABA BANKING JOURNAL Subscribe at www.ababj.com
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