Spotlight On: Chuck Cross, Regional Market President, Seacoast Bank

Spotlight On: Chuck Cross, Regional Market President, Seacoast Bank

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read April 2020 — Over the last few years, consolidation and mergers and acquisitions have dominated the banking industry. In Florida, as the population continues to grow and the financial sector diversifies further, the Palm Beach market remains vital for banks looking to grow their operations in the state. With the recent acquisition of First Bank of the Palm Beaches, Seacoast Bank is positioning itself to take full advantage of the opportunities within the Palm Beach market. In an interview with Invest: Palm Beach, Regional Market President Chuck Cross talks about the strength of the Palm Beach market, the evolution of the banking sector and his outlook for the industry during an economic downturn.

How did Seacoast Bank perform in 2019?

Seacoast Bank once again delivered a record-breaking financial performance in 2019, propelled by a balanced growth strategy. We combined solid, organic growth with smart acquisitions and careful cost control that enabled us to outperform our peers. Seacoast Bank produced double-digit growth and net revenues of $297.8 million. Overall, Seacoast Bank’s goals are focused on growth and Palm Beach County is an important contributor to that growth. Our recent acquisition of First Bank of the Palm Beaches increases our presence in the county from six to eight branches and grows our total deposits to $821 million. When you consider the strength and overall growth of the economy in Palm Beach County, we see the demand for banking services increasing. We are well-positioned to service that growth in Palm Beach County.

How has the banking sector evolved over the last couple of years?

The banking sector has seen a lot of consolidation in the last 10 years, and I think we will continue to see that. Customers are looking for more ways to bank remotely. As banks compete for customers, it is likely they will increase the number of products and services available in their remote channels. The key for a successful merger and acquisition is to integrate and consolidate well and to win over the hearts of acquired customers by providing the convenient products and services of larger banks, but with the personalized attention of a hometown community bank.

What can be done to level the playing field when it comes to credit unions?

The Florida Bankers Association has pushed for legislation to close the loopholes for the mega credit union, those with over $1 billion in assets, and to impose CRA requirements and corporate taxes. Today, there are more than 360 credit unions with more than $1 billion in assets. The majority of credit unions still live up to the intent of the legislation, as they are small and focused, but some of them have grown and may not fit the original intent of the law.

How do you see the banking industry performing during an economic downturn?

The banking industry is federally regulated to make sure that banks remain solvent even in a downturn. Since the last downturn, the Florida banking industry has undergone major consolidation. The winners will be those that manage to deliver the services and technologies that the big banks are known for while still maintaining the high standards of personalized customer services that we all know and love in the community banking environment.

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:https://www.seacoastbank.com/

Face Off: Leveraging tech in providing accounting and finance services

Face Off: Leveraging tech in providing accounting and finance services

By: Yolanda Rivas

2 min read March 2020 — Investment advisory, cybersecurity, business planning and strategy and other related advisory services are seeing a steady demand in the accounting and finance sector. Another change driver in the industry has been the advances in technology and AI. In separate interviews with the Invest: team, Reynold P. Cicalese, managing shareholder at Alloy Silverstein, and Carl H. Bagell, managing partner – Southern NJ at Friedman LLP, spoke about the areas of growth in their firms and how they are leveraging technology.

Reynold Cicalese

What services are seeing the most demand at your firm?

Carl H. Bagell: As a multidisciplinary firm with a growth mindset, we provide a wide variety of services and seek new opportunities to better serve our clients. In South Jersey, we focus on tax preparation, business valuation, forensic and matrimonial, international tax and tax controversy, and every area is expanding. For example, we expanded the number of our international tax practice partners in response to our clients’ growing needs in the face of ever-evolving global trends; the qualified Opportunity Zones segment of our real estate practice is seeing an increased demand for investment advisory; and our cybersecurity division is one of the fastest-growing areas in the region and abroad due to the cyber-threat landscape. 

Notably, SEC audits consistently play a major role in driving revenue for the firm and as such, we have offices in China with about 50 team members to address our clients’ needs. 

Not only has our client base expanded, but so have our employee numbers. To accommodate this growth, we almost doubled our size by relocating to a new office in Marlton. We have a lot of room for expansion and an amazing, flexible space where we can hold seminars, staff meetings and business events. We have a great collaborative working environment. 

Reynold P. Cicalese: All our consulting-related services are seeing growth. Business planning and strategy has been steadily growing. Our business analytics area is also in high demand. These advisory areas help to get our clients the information they need to make informed decisions.

We have engaged with a significant number of new businesses. We are getting more opportunities from nonprofit organizations. Giving back to the community is important for us, and we find we are getting more and more clients from the nonprofit sector. We are also getting more work from the for-profit sector. For the region, in the last six months there has been a big influx of micro businesses. As a result of e-commerce, there are more small, micro businesses starting out of their houses. These businesses may not need retail or office space, but they do need financial and tax advice.

Carl Bagell 

What impact is technology having on the accounting and financial sectors?

Bagell: Technology is a crucial part of our workflow. We have advanced technology at Friedman that allows us to leverage data to support our clients and attract new clients. Our cloud-based accounting software allows us to have faster, more effective internal communication. We also have a team specialized in cryptocurrency and blockchain, and we are now seeing more and more clients coming to us for advisory services. 

Cicalese: Technology has brought significant changes to our industry, allowing us to better serve our clients beyond just preparing a tax return or financial statement. We are on the cloud ourselves, encourage our clients to be on the cloud, and use technology to help and collaborate with clients on a daily basis. Our advisers are proactive in helping design our clients’ future, as opposed to only telling them what they historically have done. We use software and apps that allow us to create KPI dashboards for our clients so they can have real-time data to make better decisions based on today’s information – not from last month or last year. We also have clients all around the world and we use meeting apps to constantly communicate with them.

Artificial intelligence is severely disrupting the industry. The investment in AI will significantly increase within the next five to six years. We need to keep an eye on this trend and make sure we remain competitive. With regard to audits, for example, it is expected that AI can look at every transaction and provide an efficient audit report. For regional and smaller firms it will be a challenge to compete with larger firms that have the capacity to invest in AI. 

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

Alloy Silverstein: https://alloysilverstein.com/ 

Friedman LLP: https://www.friedmanllp.com/ 

Stay hopeful: Handling coronavirus-related stress in Palm Beach County

Stay hopeful: Handling coronavirus-related stress in Palm Beach County

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read March 2020 — With constant updates on the coronavirus and its impact on the United States, social media posts displaying frenzied buying, and closure of schools and other municipal buildings, it is easy to stress and feel coronavirus-related anxiety. As you monitor the news for the latest coronavirus developments in Palm Beach County, here are a few ways to make daily life under this changing landscape more bearable.

Try that new restaurant you were craving, via takeout or delivery of course

Many states and municipalities are enforcing early curfews or closing dine-in options altogether in the midst of the coronavirus. However, that does not mean you have to forego that delicious entree or amazing dessert you were craving. Go ahead and treat yourself to succulent food by perusing the different delivery options UberEats, Grubhub, and Delray’s own Delivery Dudes have to offer. Delivery Dudes and the like offer favorite, local restaurant options to enjoy if you are shacked up with the little ones and their homework duties, or neck deep with remote work.     

Go out for a beach walk

As government leaders encourage social distancing, this may be the best time to get in touch with nature and disconnect from the stress brought on by the coronavirus talks. MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach is the perfect place to stay six feet away from people and then some. Though events have been canceled, the park remains open until further notice and is encouraging beach walks. Dip your feet in the sand, stretch, and breathe in the Palm Beach air as you take a mental break from the news and other worries. 

Connect with others

In this particularly stressful period, it is easy to sulk and retreat from others, especially with talks of self-isolation and quarantine. However, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends to use this time to reach out to others who may also feel stressed and anxious due to the coronavirus pandemic. The administration recommends that reaching out to those you trust is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety, depression, loneliness and boredom during the possibility of social distancing, quarantine and isolation. SAMHSA recommends to use telephone, email, text or email messaging, as well as Skype and other video conferencing services to stay in touch with loved ones and friends. The administration recommends to maintain a hopeful and positive attitude during this time and to consider keeping a journal to write down grateful and positive thoughts. 

Family staycations:

Staycations have been part of the social conscience for some years, and now is the time to perfect the coveted family staycation. Use this time to have some fun with the entire family as schools and workplaces transition into online classes and remote work. Come up with an after-dinner family movie list or interactive project. Maybe it’s time to dust off those boardgames or old books littering the garage, and why not do some spring cleaning while you’re at it. Perhaps a family dance-off or storytelling competition could help break the monotony of being indoors and bring the family closer together. Try it out. With so much time indoors, it is the perfect time to enjoy family time in a totally new fashion. 

To learn more, visit: 

https://deliverydudes.com/

https://www.macarthurbeach.org/

https://store.samhsa.gov/system/files/sma14-4894.pdf

For up-to-date advice on the Coronavirus response, you can check the CDC website here.  For Florida-specific information, click here

Spotlight On:  Arnold Johnson, Market Director – Banking, Chase Bank

Spotlight On: Arnold Johnson, Market Director – Banking, Chase Bank

By: Yolanda Rivas

2 min read March 2020 — Chase is the U.S. consumer and commercial banking business of JPMorgan Chase & Co., a leading global financial services firm. Chase serves nearly half of America’s households with personal banking, credit cards, mortgages, auto financing, investment advice, small business loans and more. The bank began expanding into the Delaware Valley in 2018, opening its first local branch in Camden. Chase’s Delaware and South Jersey Market Director Arnold Johnson spoke with Invest: about the bank’s expansion efforts in the region, why Chase is unique and some of the challenges facing the banking sector.

What is the status and impact of your expansion effort in the South Jersey region?

One of our main efforts in the region is making sure we are opening enough branches to support the community. In the past year, we have opened four new branches: Camden, Cinnaminson, Mount Laurel and Marlton. We are excited to be expanding in Southern New Jersey and our fifth location, in Cherry Hill, is scheduled to open this summer. From a performance standpoint, we’ve been doing very well. The community has received us well and we are glad to be taking care of all their financial needs. 

 

Is there anything different or new about these new branches?

The branches we are building, as we expand, have a home feeling. For example, we have a living room-style setting in each branch’s lobby. We have digital technology, which provides Wi-Fi, charging stations, and enhanced ATM machines both inside the lobby and at standalone locations. One of our goals is to make sure that we are talking about our digital opportunities, so that people know we facilitate the tools for customers to experience the total digital power of Chase. 

 

What makes Chase unique?

We are focusing on providing a holistic approach to our customers. We offer expertise within the branch in the whole life cycle of a customer. We are able to take care of basic checking and credit card needs, but also holistic needs, whether it’s retirement, buying a home, small business or learning about the financial aspects of life. For example, we offer Chase Chats, which are Chase-led conversations held in our branches on a variety of topics, especially financial health. We’ll do them in every Chase branch in 2020, across the country, including right here in Southern New Jersey. The Chase Chats allow our customers to visit us and learn about banking and how to help make the most of their finances. It’s an example of one of the things we always offer: education. By helping customers from a financial and educational standpoint, we are able to build solid relationships with the communities we serve. 

 

What are some challenges in banking?

Some of the challenges that banks may see in their brick and mortar locations would be traffic coming into the branch. For Chase, we really utilize technology within the branch to help make sure we’re helping all of our customers as efficiently and effectively as possible. As an example, our enhanced ATMs can perform close to 70% of routine transactions. Our Associate Bankers are always on-hand to help customers however they would like to transact. Whether that’s helping them open an account digitally, or processing a traditional transaction at the window, we want our customers to know they can come in and be serviced the way they prefer to be serviced. That’s why it’s such a big deal for us to be increasing our presence in South Jersey. We were not local before, so many of our clients had a particular product with us, like a credit card. Now that we have a physical presence in the region, we want our customers and prospective customers to know that we are here as your local bank. Our challenge is to get the message out, let the communities know that we are open and help them understand that we can serve all of their financial needs.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

Chase Bank:  https://www.chase.com/ 

 

 

Coronavirus: Gov. Roy Cooper declares state of emergency

Coronavirus: Gov. Roy Cooper declares state of emergency

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read March 2020 — There are now seven confirmed coronavirus cases in North Carolina, prompting Gov. Roy Cooper to declare a state of emergency as leaders and health officials deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Of the seven people who have tested positive for COVID-19, six are from Wake County and one is from Chatham County, according to health officials. The declaration activates the Emergency Operations Center to facilitate the purchase of medical supplies, protect consumers from price gouging, and increase county health departments’ access to state funds. 

“The health and safety of North Carolinians is our top priority. We are taking the necessary steps to ensure that North Carolina is prepared and responding to this virus, and this order helps us do that,” Cooper said in a press release. “Though we are still in the early stages in North Carolina, time is a valuable resource and we must work together to slow the spread while we can.”

There are 120,944 global COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday morning, with 1,039 cases reported in the United States, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. However, at this time, the risk to the general public in North Carolina is low, Mecklenburg County reported. 

As of Wednesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is suspending all travel. The travel limitations apply to district-sponsored trips of any kind for staff or students. “The safety and care of our school family is my top priority as superintendent,” said CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston in a press release. “In situations like these, we come to a deeper understanding of how closely connected we are, and I thank you for your help in our efforts to be prepared.” 

Cleaning standards are being reinforced at schools and office buildings, while families are encouraged to keep children at home if they are sick, the school system reported. 

Similarly, American Airlines, the main carrier at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, also implemented travel limitations, cutting domestic and international flights due to decreased travel demand following the proliferation of COVID-19 cases globally. American Airlines will reduce domestic capacity in April by 7.5 percent and reduce international capacity for the summer peak by 10 percent, including a 55 percent reduction in trans-Pacific capacity. The airline is also suspending flights from CLT to Rome (FCO) and Milan (MXP), as there are over 10,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Italy, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering. 

 

To learn more, visit:

 https://www.mecknc.gov/news/Pages/Update-on-Novel-Coronavirus.aspx

https://governor.nc.gov/news/governor-cooper-declares-state-emergency-respond-coronavirus-covid-19

https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

http://news.aa.com/news/news-details/2020/American-Airlines-Update-on-China-Flights-OPS-DIS/default.aspx

 

 

Spotlight On: Reynold P. Cicalese, Managing Shareholder, Alloy Silverstein

Spotlight On: Reynold P. Cicalese, Managing Shareholder, Alloy Silverstein

By: Yolanda Rivas

2 min read MARCH 2020— Alloy Silverstein is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm, headquartered in Southern New Jersey. In an interview with Invest: South Jersey, Managing Shareholder Reynold P. Cicalese discussed the changes in the sector and the firm’s support for small businesses in the area.

 

 

What changes have you experienced in the accounting sector over the last few years?

Technology has brought significant changes to our industry, allowing us to better serve our clients beyond just preparing a tax return or financial statement. We are on the cloud ourselves, encourage our clients to be on the cloud, and we use technology to help and collaborate with clients on a daily basis. Our advisers are proactive in helping design our clients’ future, as opposed to only telling them what they historically have done. We use software and apps that allow us to create KPI dashboards for our clients so they can have real-time data to make better decisions based on today’s information – not from last month or last year. We also have clients all around the world and we use meeting apps to constantly communicate with them.

Artificial intelligence is severely disrupting the industry. The investment in AI will significantly increase within the next five to six years. We need to keep an eye on this trend and make sure we remain competitive. With regard to audits, for example, it is expected that AI can look at every transaction and provide an efficient audit report. For regional and smaller firms it will be a challenge to compete with larger firms that have the capacity to invest in AI. 

How do you support the small-business community?

 

We find that many startups are underserved. We recently launched our Startup Hotline, which is a complimentary CPA Q&A for new and emerging businesses. Micro businesses may have questions regarding the type of entity they should start, for example. Through this tool, we give them access to our team of advisers and experts who can provide guidance on accounting, tax, payroll, and many other general business topics.

 

In addition, we add value for our clients and other small businesses in the community by hosting complimentary monthly lunch workshops, which we call “Alloy Academy.” What started as presentations on accounting software has evolved to bringing in guests so we can cover a wide variety of topics that may be important to a business owner or their employees.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

Alloy Silverstein: https://alloysilverstein.com/ 

 

Spotlight On: Tom Mitchell, Managing Partner, Moore & Van Allen

Spotlight On: Tom Mitchell, Managing Partner, Moore & Van Allen

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read February 2020 — Diversity encapsulates the evolution of Charlotte’s legal sector. Diversity in legal practices and attorneys are a direct result of the growth the region is experiencing. Large, national firms like Moore & Van Allen have benefited from the diversification of the local economy and talent coming to the Charlotte region. From a revenue standpoint, 2019 was a record year for the firm, Managing Partner Tom Mitchell told Invest: Charlotte. The firm encourages pro bono practice as a way to give back to the Charlotte community and provide young lawyers valuable experience, he said.

What were some highlights for the firm in 2019?

2019 was another record-setting year from a revenue standpoint for Moore & Van Allen. We are an AmLaw 150 law firm, which means we are one of the Top 150 law firms in the country based on revenue. Our business expanded in many of our core areas, such as finance, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, intellectual property and regulatory and investigations. As the business grows, we continue to hire attorneys to help us service our clients efficiently. We have approximately 325 lawyers, most of them based in Charlotte. We also offer strong contributions in the public service and pro bono arena. For example, we worked on the merger of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte and Urban Ministry Center last year. We are very proud of this work and can already see the benefits the merger brings to our community.      

 

How have the legal needs of businesses evolved in the last few years?

Charlotte has always been a strong banking center. At Moore & Van Allen, our finance group has been one of our largest practice groups for many years. Recently, with the amount of large companies moving their headquarters to Charlotte, corporate and transactional legal practices in the region have become more diverse. For example, with more technology companies in Charlotte creating jobs in the region, legal practices such as intellectual property, data security and privacy continue to expand. The relocation of large companies to Charlotte has had a significant impact on the legal sector here.

 

How is Moore & Van Allen shaping the next generation of legal talent?

Charlotte offers a competitive and unique quality of life. The sophistication of our legal practices allows us to recruit top talent locally and nationally. We showcase Charlotte as a great place to live and work. With our depth and sophistication in over 20 practice areas, we can provide opportunities early on to our newer attorneys, allowing them to develop their practice and skills more quickly than they might in other cities. 

 

Also, we have been intentional in our efforts to emphasize diversity at Moore & Van Allen. For example, we host a diversity conference each year for first-year law students where we expose them to the practice of law. We also have a strong mentoring program, which contributes greatly to sustaining the pipeline of talent necessary to maintain a diverse workforce and client base for our firm.  

 

How can law firms be more involved in their communities?

At Moore & Van Allen, we are committed to charitable, bar, civic and pro bono service and encourage our attorneys to give back to the community. We have a very active public service committee that identifies, coordinates and facilities public service opportunities for our attorneys, including in such areas as housing rights, assistance with estate planning, and human trafficking prevention, among others. These opportunities also provide great training for our young lawyers. As a result, not only are our lawyers helping someone in need, they are gaining valuable experience as a litigator or transactional lawyer whether in the courtroom or otherwise. Most importantly, our attorneys and staff uphold the legacy of service and corporate social responsibility that Moore & Van Allen is incredibly proud of. 

 

To learn more about our interviewees, visit: http://www.mvalaw.com/

Gov. Wolf’s Pennsylvania Budget Prioritizes Education, Income

Gov. Wolf’s Pennsylvania Budget Prioritizes Education, Income

By: Sara Warden

2 min read February 2020 — Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf focused his 2020-21 budget on education and income, proposing an increase in spending of almost 6% to $34 billion over the fiscal year, including $600 million to cover cost overruns. Republicans criticized the heavy reliance of the budget on the assumption that revenue would grow by 4.5% ($1.6 billion) over the period. The proposals also require borrowing funds. “It’s easy to put things on a credit card and then ask other people in the future to pay for it,” said Republican State Representative Stan Saylor. “That is not the solution for Pennsylvania.”

 1. There will be no major tax increases

Instead of tax increases for citizens, several novel approaches were proposed in the budget to fund services, one of which was a state police fee based on number of incidents and coverage area. Wolf estimates the initiative will bring in $136 million to fund police services. Another way taxes could stay flat is by imposing a tax on the Marcellus Shale natural gas field to be placed in a $4.5 billion infrastructure fund. Based on 2019 production, Wolf believes the tax would generate more than $600 million per year.

Sweeping changes will be made to charter school funding

Wolf proposed a reduction in the obligatory payments school districts must make when one of their students decides to attend a charter school, which would save districts $280 million annually, according to the governor. “Our charter school system is in desperate need of reform,” Wolf said in a sharp rebuke of the charter school system. “It’s time to close the loopholes. It’s time to establish real standards, and it’s time to level the playing field.”

2. Revisiting previous proposals.

The Wolf administration wants the state to increase basic education spending by $100 million and special education by $25 million. He wants all school districts to offer full-day kindergarten, shifting 22,000 students who attend half-day programs into full days. He wants budgets on the whole for Pre-K to be increased by $30 million, most of which will be allocated to the state-run Pre-K Counts program. Finally, he proposed an increase in the state’s minimum teaching salary from $18,500 to $45,000, impacting 3,000 teachers. 

3. Higher minimum wage is high on the agenda

Wolf’s government has always championed higher minimum wages but has been met with stiff resistance. The governor wants to increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $15 per hour on a gradual basis. The current minimum wage is $7.25, which he proposes should be increased to $12 this July and every consecutive year by $0.50 until reaching $15 in 2026.

Another issue the governor addressed was gun reform, which is unusual for a budget speech. Gov. Wolf made an impassioned plea for the state to take gun laws more seriously. “The steps I’m proposing are supported by the evidence and supported by the vast majority of Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said. “To let another session go by without action would be a failure of imagination that will cost lives.”

 

To learn more, visit:

https://www.governor.pa.gov/

http://www.repsaylor.com/

 

The Peach State’s tourism industry is thriving

The Peach State’s tourism industry is thriving

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read February 2020 — Florida has the beaches, Pennsylvania has the Pocono Mountains, and California has the movie studios. Looking for a place where you can experience all three attractions and still get a taste of southern hospitality? The Peach State is your best bet and the tourism statistics prove it. Georgia welcomed more than 111 million international and domestic visitors in 2018, a record-breaking year for the state’s tourism industry, Gov. Brian Kemp and economic development leaders announced in January during the annual Tourism, Hospitality and Arts day at the Georgia State Capitol.

Explore Georgia, the state tourism office within the Georgia Department of Economic Development, calculated that visitors spent close to $40 billion in communities throughout the state and supported 478,000 jobs. The billions in tourism-related expenditures generated $3.4 billion in state and local tax revenue.

“As visitors continue to discover Georgia’s unexpected destinations that range from the North Georgia Mountains to Cumberland Island, our economy continues to grow, new jobs are created, and our communities thrive,” said Pat Wilson, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Without the jobs created by the tourism industry, Georgia’s unemployment rate would be 10%, nearly twice as high as the record-low average, Explore Georgia said in a press release. 

The announcement follows Georgia’s consecutive recognition as the best state to do business by different business publications, solidifying the Peach State’s live, work and play attraction. “The tourism, hospitality, and arts industries are constantly propelling our state’s places, culture, stories, and people to the forefront – showing the world why Georgia is the best place to vacation, live, and do business,” Wilson said. 

To learn more, visit:

Exploregeorgia.com