Spotlight On: Rodger Levenson, Chairman, President & CEO, WSFS Bank

Spotlight On: Rodger Levenson, Chairman, President & CEO, WSFS Bank

By: Max Crampton Thomas

2 min read June 2020 — For 188 years, WSFS has served its community by staying true to its values and managing for the long term.  Ultimately, the true measure of the value of any company is how it responds during periods of adversity. WSFS Bank moved to a work from home and drive-through model during the COVID 19 pandemic to continue supporting its customers. It also involved itself deeply in federal aid programs, such as the PPP for small businesses, while looking forward to a reactivating economy, according to CEO Rodger Levenson in an interview with Invest:.

What have the last 12 months been like for WSFS in the Philadelphia region?

In March of 2019, we closed the acquisition of Beneficial Bank, which was a huge milestone for us. It marked our significant entry into the Philadelphia border region. This was followed by a well-done, award-winning marketing campaign that introduced the WSFS brand to the community in a thought-provoking way, sharing our nickname, which was really consistent with the way that Philadelphians view banks and where it is very hard to differentiate yourself.


We married all that with Beneficial and what they brought to the community. We waited until six months after the close to do the systems and branding conversion because we thought it was important to allow ourselves some time to get customers, associates and the community acclimated to our name and become familiar with us. We thought that because of the size of this market, there was value in taking some time.


At the same time, and as part of the Beneficial combination, part of the strategic rationale was to start in a significant way to really deal with the trend in banking over the last few years, which is this shift away from physical delivery channels like branches and more into digital channels – a trend that has been accelerated by the current environment. We used cost savings to invest heavily in our technology overhaul. Not that we had an offering that was lagging behind our competitors, but we saw the need to move faster than we had in the past.


What has been the bank’s strategy to adapt to the situation stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic?

The company has done well. We are serving our customers, we are supporting each other, we are supporting the community. Like everybody else, we’ve had some challenges through this environment, but I would tell you that we are managing through this very well. We are really pleased at how the company pivoted and adjusted how we do things.


I think this is a by-product or a combination of some good planning resulting from our business continuity plans. We clearly had not planned for an extended scenario or a pandemic, but we had plans in place, we had groups that had done offsite, remote workdays and things like that to be prepared. When we made the decision on March 16, to work from home, it was certainly an adjustment, but we weren’t starting from scratch.


On the retail office side, it was not a hard decision to go to drive-thru only. We saw that it was clear that we were dealing with a major health situation and the safety and well-being of our customers and associates; that was our No. 1 priority. We made the call and we went from 90 branches to 72, which were those that had drive-thru capabilities. After a few weeks of that, seeing our customers’ increased use of different channels like mobile, and to keep our associates safe, we adjusted even that footprint. We put together a different model in which our associates who were working at those locations, instead of working a five-day week, started working on four-day on, four-day off teams.


How involved is the bank in federal aid initiatives such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)?

We were really pleased to be a participant in the PPP program from the Small Business Administration and serve our customers. When the dust settles from this program, we will have processed just about 5,000 loans and just a little bit under a billion dollars. 


At the end of the day, that’s almost a billion dollars that we put into the regional economy. If you look at the spreadsheets and the people who received those loans, many were $10,000 to $25,000. These were real people who were in need, who did not have the resources that other people had. Hopefully, a lot of it will be forgiven. We did that whole loan program with everybody working from home and more than 200 associates working seven days a week.


What role will the bank, and the sector in general, play in reactivating the economy?

I think the banking community is really doing everything possible to support our customers and get them through this really difficult stage to bridge them into what hopefully will be the opening up and recovery in the second half of the year.


As things move forward and we open up our ability to continue to support those customers with additional lending requests, among others, we are going to do everything we can to support them and the community. We moved $3 million into the WSFS Foundation, which supports nonprofits in the region, and we did that because so many of those nonprofits are struggling right now. I think that is the beauty of the community banking model.


To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

Spotlight On: Joseph Fernandez, Regional President – Florida, BNY Mellon Wealth Management

Spotlight On: Joseph Fernandez, Regional President – Florida, BNY Mellon Wealth Management

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read May 2020 — Wealth management services have undergone significant transformation over the last two decades, as the financial landscape grows in sophistication. Joseph Fernandez, regional president of BNY Mellon Wealth Management, shares his insights on what makes a financial firm successful in catering to today’s needs and into the future.


 What significant milestones did BNY Mellon achieve in the Miami market over the last year?

We have been operating in the Miami market for 23 years. We came to this market by acquisition. BNY  Mellon acquired an investment advisory firm in 1997 with the belief that being in South Florida, and Miami particularly, was extraordinarily important to the continued growth of the business. The firm was a smaller multimillion-dollar operation and had limited offerings for clients. We now have a midsize office in the overall Florida market with over half of our staff based in Miami and a robust wealth management offering. BNY Mellon Wealth Management’s total assets exceeded several billion dollars in the Florida market. 

Thinking about how migration has worked for a long time in this county is paramount. On the one hand, as clients migrated from the North toward the warmer climates of the South, it made sense to follow them and provide support in those areas, doing it in a way where we truly internalized the “biggest small town” personality of Miami. You needed people who knew the community well. On the other hand, you also have south to north migration, from Latin America to South Florida, which has evolved over decades. Seventy percent of Miami-Dade County’s population is Latin-American, and more than half is foreign-born (2010 US Census). The company had the vision to see the confluence of these factors as an enormous growth driver.


How have you seen clients’ needs shift in recent years?

Wealth in the United States has continued to grow. The composition of wealth changes as wealth transfers from one generation to another. The preferences of the wealthy change, often as a result of that transition. The need for digital tools and capabilities to interact across platforms with wealthy clients and their families, conferring digital interaction options between clients and the firms that serve them has truly taken off. The adoption curve is at its highest point. In 1995, the complexity of the financial services business was rather straightforward, with a U.S.-centric portfolio. Over the last several years, multijurisdictional families have become more prevalent. The preference for investment beyond just the United States and having representation and portfolios of more diverse geographic holdings has also increased dramatically. The other evolution is a shift from the traditional asset-side focus—cash, stocks, bonds—to the liability-side of the equation and managing the tax implications of it all to the level of sophistication that a wealthy client requires from their advisory firm.


There is an upward trend in recent decades of people building up and selling businesses, as private equity has been active in taking out businesses and creating consolidation. The latter, in turn, created several former business owners and CEOs with significant levels of wealth and a serial entrepreneur profile to a point where you become the client’s CFO and chief investment officer because that is the level of sophistication they require for their personal wealth. Our active wealth process boils down to five practices: invest, borrow, spend, manage, protect. 


How has your company continued to oversee its regional business throughout the COVID-19 outbreak?

It is a tribute to preparation, infrastructure and adaptability that I believe is the hallmark of our business and organization. We leverage technology, working in a cloud-based environment that enables us to deploy a quick home-office capacity. We are providing resources to our employees, whether technology or health and wellness-related, eliminating insurance co-payments relative to COVID-19 treatments and holding daily check-ins with our teams. 


What notable developments in the market are you keeping a close eye on? 

The obvious one iterating over the last 24 months was the introduction of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which created a limitation on state and local income tax deductions. We have seen that translate into a North-to-South migratory pattern that has been accelerating quite dramatically to the benefit of Miami-Dade County, as we have no state income tax, relatively low business burdens, more affordable costs of living and a favorable climate. The collateral implication of this has been a couple of things. One is that for many years the narrative around the technology space here was well ahead of the reality. Now the latter has caught up with the former. Our colleges and universities have done a spectacular job in preparing the workforce for those types of jobs. Financial services firms are also multiplying due to the available talent. 


To learn more about our interviewee, visit:



Spotlight On: Tom Finke, Chairman and CEO, Barings

Spotlight On: Tom Finke, Chairman and CEO, Barings

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read May 2020 Charlotte is strongly positioned to capitalize on the investment diversification push from both local and foreign investors to keep its growth sustainable. Tom Finke, chairman and CEO of Barings, walks Invest: through the key features and challenges of the Queen City’s financial landscape.


What is your assessment of the Charlotte market?

Charlotte is a great story. It has grown dramatically since the 1980s, fueled by the growth of the two big banks headquartered here at that time, as well as Duke Energy. It also enabled the expansion of the city’s hospital system and other important institutions, along with other companies growing contiguous to that ecosystem. Today, companies such as Honeywell have chosen Charlotte as their corporate HQ, along with a number of business startups, not necessarily tied to the financial industry but related to either the energy industry, the healthcare sector, education and high tech, to name a few. The Queen City benefits from the fact that through its growth was launched by the financial sector, over the years it has become much more diversified, making it a highly attractive city to any company and industry looking to grow.


What challenges are looming in Charlotte’s financial sector?

Asset management, like the rest of the financial sector, is dealing with the ongoing economic and market crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is hard to predict the long-term effects and trends. At Barings, we are primarily focused on the short-term situation, managing risk appropriately for our clients through this crisis. It is likely that the financial markets will change after the crisis subsides, much like they did after the 2008 financial crisis, which ushered in an unprecedented decade of lower rates. The macroeconomic picture remains uncertain in terms of the downturn’s length, albeit clearly severe. Looking ahead, investment decisions will be impacted not only by macroeconomic factors but also by understanding which businesses will survive, grow and thrive, which among them will need restructuring, with inherent opportunities to invest on a distress basis and how it affects different asset classes.


How have tax reform and low tax rates impacted your side of the business?

The most recent tax reform enabled corporations to bring capital stranded overseas back into the United States, leading to reinvestments in the home market. It had a positive stimulus effect in terms of growth rates coming into 4Q19, contributing to the strength of the U.S. economy. Over the longer term, lower rates are also an indication that the Fed and other central banks are set on stabilizing inflation at a reasonable level, tangentially worried about deflation. Rates are going to remain low in part because there is a lot of stimulus, both fiscal and monetary, injected into the crisis situation.


How would you rate Charlotte’s attractiveness for national and foreign companies?

Charlotte has been on the radar of several international companies for a long time. The large number of multinational European firms that have operations in Charlotte or nearby in the general region between western North Carolina and into South Carolina, demonstrates that it is definitely a place that attracts business. The next level is to not only continue to attract growing businesses such as technology companies, but also attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). We work with several asset owners, such as sovereign wealth funds and foreign pensions. We direct our discussions toward Charlotte and its inherent opportunities, whether it is investing in real estate or in local companies. Charlotte is in a strong position to continue to attract global investment. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the investment market has further globalized. Several investors, such as the superannuation funds in Australia, are investing in U.S. markets. This diversification push from home to foreign markets is a sizable opportunity for cities such as Charlotte to tap into. 


What strikes you most about the growth of Charlotte’s real estate market?

Barings was the first company to break ground on a new office building post-crisis in Charlotte in 2014. We have seen a significant number of new developments up and down Stonewall Street and other parts of the city since then. It primarily reflects demand coming from within and outside of Charlotte. Coming out of the financial crisis, developers have shown more discipline around ensuring there is demand to support specific types of development.


What impact do you anticipate COVID-19 will have on the economy?

The virus outbreak is unlike anything we have experienced in our lives. It is indiscriminately impacting communities across the world. From a business perspective, we anticipate a high level of defaults and bankruptcies, as well as companies that may thrive in terms of the demand for their products and services. Anytime we go through a significant recession of this sort, there is an initial shock that we are still reeling from, as evidenced by overall economic weakness and the erratic stock market. 


What is your outlook for 2020?

It will take a period of time for economic growth to get back to where it was in the United States and globally, well beyond 2020. It is a question about the severity and the length of the impact on the economy of this shutdown state and how we start getting out of it so companies can again start building revenue. 


To learn more, visit:


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: 

Friedman LLP: 

Spotlight On: Daniel Zagata, Managing Partner, Evershore Financial Group

Spotlight On: Daniel Zagata, Managing Partner, Evershore Financial Group

By: Yolanda Rivas

2 min read March 2020 — Orlando’s diversifying economy has been attracting a high amount of investment to the region. The population of high-income earners and the number of high-income jobs continue to grow, according to Daniel Zagata, managing partner at Evershore Financial Group. Zagata shared the latest market trends and changes in an interview with the Invest: team. 

How did 2019 develop for Evershore Financial?

We have multiple locations in Florida: Orlando, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens and The Villages. In Orlando, we purchased our first office building in 2019 and are looking at real estate acquisitions over the next couple of years as our firm expands. Overall, as a financial services company, we have been working to help people with their concerns over the market’s 12-year bull run, which has been the longest we have ever seen. Market volatility has pushed the consumer to engage us for financial advice and financial services due to the uncertainty that is emerging. Younger clients and people just getting started in the financial game are moving toward the automated system of robo-advisers, demonstrating a more of a do-it-yourself preference. The more affluent client has been engaging financial planners because they require more dynamic, complex, and customized solutions. On top of that, wealth management has changed drastically. It is not just about ROIs anymore. There are more family dynamics, multiple marriages, divorces, legacy issues and tax issues, just to name a few.


What shifts are taking place in the financial services sector?

There is an increasing demand for customized advisory services and guidance. We have been dealing with a greater number of business owners looking to not only sell their business but also looking for succession plans. The logistics behind planning have become extremely important. Most recently, the term “fiduciary,” and being able to engage a financial planner and adviser as a fiduciary, has become paramount and top of mind with most clients. That type of advice and engagement with clients is growing in demand while several financial advisers are either not properly licensed or do not have the capacity to work as a fiduciary. It has always been a priority for our firm to engage clients on their terms at the level they need. 


What trends are emerging in retirement and succession planning?

Many business owners do not have a written, executable succession plan, and have not identified the person who will take over. The problem becomes who to transfer the business to, how to bring that person in, whether or not they have a vested interest, if they have the required resources to purchase the business and if the resources are delivered as a lump sum or serial payment. It is often said that the top concern of a business owner relating to a succession plan is the impact on employees, along with preserving the business’ reputation. We have seen several business owners resort to repossessing their business when the transition was poorly executed or did not have the intended consequences.  


What is your outlook for 2020 and what are your areas of focus?

Election years tend not to be volatile because there is pressure to keep the economy stable. However, there are always events that are unpredictable, such as the Coronavirus, that can cause immediate volatility. From the firm’s standpoint, we continue to expand. We are looking to bring in highly qualified advisers to add value to what we do. As big proponents of education, clients today want to receive advice and information that are valuable to their investment strategies. I teach retirement classes at the Rollins College STARS program and Celebration Foundation for Lifelong Learning, to name a few. Our reputation, high-quality content and transparency has many schools and universities using Evershore Financial to deliver education. We understand people, and how behavior impacts investing and life. We will continue to grow and expand our firm as we help our clients navigate life’s transitions. 


To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

Evershore Financial Group:

Tech and funding create GFL’s perfect innovation storm

Tech and funding create GFL’s perfect innovation storm

By: Sara Warden

2 min read March 2020 — The convenience economy means reality is increasingly becoming virtual, cloud-based and autonomous. Essentially, anything that can make life less complicated is likely to be a hit. From online banking to ride-sharing, the possibilities of technology are endless. Not only is Greater Fort Lauderdale developing the software, but it is also providing the venture capital funding.


Greater Fort Lauderdale is among the Top 50 U.S. tech talent hubs. No wonder, then, that so many tech startups are choosing the city as their home. Everything from semiconductors to security analytics, to telehealth and connected cars – you name it, Greater Fort Lauderdale has it.

Last month, GFL-based bookkeeping and accounting app Xendoo was chosen as one of 10 companies in South Florida that would receive $75,000 to scale their business via the Finance Forward US accelerator program, which is backed by the MetLife Foundation, PayPal and Village Capital. Previously, Xendoo had secured $3.5 million in funding.

Greater Fort Lauderdale’s technology chops are clear to see. Since 1994, Fort Lauderdale has been the headquarters of Microsoft Latin America. Motorola Solutions’ Plantation facility developed an advanced two-way portable radio for use by police, fire rescue and other first responders. Southeast Florida was home to the first IBM PC and the first smartphone.

GFL also knows how to foster talent. Citrix was established in Fort Lauderdale in 1989 as an IT company with market-leading cloud, collaboration, networking and virtualization technologies and now boasts $2.97 billion in annual revenue. And Plantation-based construction project management company e-Builder was acquired by Trimble for $500 million in 2018.

The region is not only bringing the technology and innovation, but also the funding. Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation recently announced it would invest $50 million in Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving technology. “Waymo is the proven leader in self-driving technology, is the only autonomous vehicle company with a public ride-hailing service, and is successfully scaling its fully driverless experience,” Waymo operating board member Egon Durban told Silicon Valley Business Journal.

Another factor behind the marriage of tech and venture capital is the concerted effort of associations to continue to bring both sectors together. TechLauderdale promotes involvement in Broward County’s tech ecosystem by hosting events that bring together technology companies and funding. The association also promotes education and retraining for those who want to get involved in startup activity. 

“Our startups were having problems scaling up,” Richard Berkowitz, chair to the Broward Workshop’s technology committee, told South Florida Business Journal. “Our hope is that the rest of the business community and technology community in Broward County joins in creating this very strong platform to enhance our tech ecosystem.”


To learn more, visit:







Broward Workshop:


Spotlight On: Julie Kleffel, EVP, Community Banking Executive, Seacoast Bank

Spotlight On: Julie Kleffel, EVP, Community Banking Executive, Seacoast Bank

By: Yolanda Rivas

2 min read January 2020 — Mergers and acquisitions are a trend in the banking industry. A little over a year after Seacoast Bank expanded its presence in the Central Florida area, through the acquisition of First Green Bank, Julie Kleffel, executive vice president and community banking executive at Seacoast Bank, spoke with Invest: about the impact of the merger.

What were some highlights for Seacoast Bank in Orlando over the last 12 to 18 months?

The most exciting highlight we had in the Orlando market was the acquisition of First Green Bank, which added significant customers and team members to our Orlando group, as well as the company at large. But the primary focus was in the Orlando metropolitan statistical area (MSA). As a result of that acquisition, as well as our organic growth strategy, Seacoast is now the No. 1 Florida-based company in the Orlando MSA by way of deposits. 

Highlight No. 2 is that this is the fastest-growing market among all the MSAs that Seacoast serves across the diverse state of Florida. The dynamic growth and diversification of the Orlando economy has been beneficial to the bank’s overall growth, which has also improved our ability to invest in our community. Seacoast also was recently named by Forbes 100 as one of the fastest-growing companies in the world as measured by growth in revenues, profits, and stock return. We are very proud of that because it is not just about growth but about profitable growth that we’re returning to shareholders.


How do you plan to incorporate First Green’s environmental initiatives into Seacoast? 

Seacoast has been very focused on its promise to invest in you and your community, and this initiative aligns with that purpose. Probably, the biggest pillar is offering financing to consumers and businesses to instal solar panels to provide sustainable energy. Because we’re a bigger institution now, we were able to extend the solar panel loan program and make it easier for customers. We were able to give them access to capital faster by using some of our technology platforms. As well, First Green offered charging stations for hybrid and electric vehicles at their branch locations. We have expanded this program and are working now with some local partners to continue expanding it. The response has been very positive, and we look forward to doing the same across the state. We have also started recycling at our Orlando branches by partnering with local municipalities.



To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

Seacoast Bank: 

Spotlight On: Heath Campbell, Metrolina Regional President Charlotte, Truist

Spotlight On: Heath Campbell, Metrolina Regional President Charlotte, Truist

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read January 2020 — In December, the banking industry welcomed the nation’s sixth-largest commercial bank as the merger between BB&T and SunTrust was completed to create Truist Financial Corporation. The organization chose Charlotte as its headquarters to begin the new enterprise. The region’s banking legacy, strong financial service workforce and diversifying economy helped solidify Charlotte as Truist’s official headquarters. In an interview with Invest: Charlotte, Truist Metrolina Region President Heath Campbell talks about the factors that brought Truist to the region, the meshing of the BB&T and SunTrust cultures moving forward, and how Truist plans to tap into Charlotte’s financial services workforce.   


What factors led to the selection of Charlotte as the location for Truist’s headquarters?


BB&T has a great heritage in Winston-Salem in the same way that SunTrust does in Atlanta, however our leaders, in the true spirit of a merger of equals, selected a new city in which to base Truist.


Charlotte was a natural choice. Both BB&T and SunTrust had operations here, and it is one of the world’s top financial centers and an emerging fintech hub, with access to incubator and accelerator programs, data science and education programs. The area has the second-largest population of financial services professionals behind New York City. Charlotte also sees more than 33,000 newcomers each year, attracted by career opportunities, diverse living options and a favorable cost of living.


How will the cultures of BB&T and SunTrust mesh as Truist establishes itself in the market?

There are not a lot of mergers of equals because they are hard to pull off. The cultures of the organizations need to be compatible – and they were with BB&T and SunTrust. While we have different practices, we shared a very similar vision, mission and values. We took different strategic paths in how we went to market, but what we stood for was very similar. As Truist, we are doubling down on our community bank philosophy. We are building a client-centric business model. BB&T and SunTrust had complementary strengths. For instance, SunTrust built an investment banking platform that was unparalleled and BB&T had a strong legacy in community banking and insurance. We are combining those strengths to benefit the clients and communities we serve.           


How will Truist tap into Charlotte’s financial services workforce?


I’m particularly proud that when we announced this merger, we not only committed to being best in class for our clients, but recognized that our teammates are at the heart of great client experiences. Truist is a dynamic place to work, offering industry-leading benefits and opportunities for all sorts of professional positions, including insurance, investments, and core banking.


We’re making our mark on the industry by offering a strong benefits programs and great opportunities to build careers, a total rewards program to attract and retain the best talent: the unusual combination of offering both industry-leading 401(k) matches and a pension plan to most teammates; industry-leading time off programs to ensure maximum flexibility in planning life events; and financial wellness programs.


There is also a place for those interested in computer science and engineering. We are creating an Innovation and Technology Center in Charlotte that will be dedicated to the ongoing enrichment of client experiences. The Innovation and Technology Center will focus on optimizing technology to serve our clients at every interaction, whether it takes place in a branch, over the phone or through a digital channel. The Technology and Innovation Center will also focus on equipping teammates with solutions to deliver personal touch and care to clients. We see this combination of technology and personalization as vital to ensuring clients’ trust and confidence in the security, simplicity and convenience of our services.


To learn more about our interviewee, visit :

Spotlight On: Douglas Smith, Charlotte Market Executive, First Bank

Spotlight On: Douglas Smith, Charlotte Market Executive, First Bank

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read January 2020  — After its recent acquisition of Carolina Bank, regional North Carolina financial player First Bank wants to keep its focus on the smaller side of business finance. The bank is relying on a combination of market expertise and speedy response to cater to companies with revenues up to $100 million that could fall through the cracks of larger, national institutions, First Bank Charlotte Market Executive Douglas Smith told Invest: Charlotte 



What have been the main impact from the 2017 acquisition of Carolina Bank?


Carolina Bank was a $700-million to $750-million bank at the time of acquisition, so it was not insignificant from a balance sheet perspective. That operation has had a high impact. We had an opportunity to relocate some of our operations people from Troy, North Carolina, to Greensboro, which has had a positive economic impact there. Carolina Bank was dominant in real estate and we have been able to capitalize on its market share in Greensboro. We were also able to keep some very good bankers from the Carolina Bank team, and hired really good team members with experience in the Commercial and Industrial (C&I) business since the acquisition.


Which niche is First Bank trying to fill within the Charlotte market?


In 2017, there were five banks headquartered out of Charlotte and now there is one, Bank of America. The landscape has changed a lot. Most regional and national banks are swimming upstream from a client perspective. They are looking more for midmarket clients with half a billion dollars in revenue or higher. Our opportunity is with operating companies that have $5 million to $100 million in revenue. I think there is a void there, not just in banks but also regarding the expertise of bankers in that market. Other regional banks offer business banking or a smaller commercial focus, but I don’t think they have our background or our emphasis on commercial banking. We also have a lot of knowledge in commercial real estate and look for project opportunities ranging in size from $2 million to $25 million. 


As a community bank, we have the opportunity to be nimble and quick in our decision-making. We make sure that we have a credit partner in every metropolitan market and we always have a treasury management product officer in every major market, providing all the commercially-relevant pieces that you need to offer quick answers, go to market together and have quick engagement. If we get a full financial package on a prospect, we can have a term sheet in our prospect’s hands within two or three business days. We have heard stories that in the regional bank space, some banks can take four to five weeks to put a term sheet in the hands of a prospect. That speaks to a client.


Which financial services are most in demand by your clients?


Aside from commercial, the mortgage space is hot right now, given where interest rates are. For a while, we were slowing down on refinances but I think that even those people who refinanced two years ago now see that rates could have dropped to 1% or 1.5%, and they are back at play in the market. Acquisition activity is still decent, but the rates environment is definitely driving a lot of activity to the mortgage side. We have a Small Business Administration (SBA) division, which does very well for us from a fee income perspective.


The retail group has also done a great job. We hired a team within the last 18 months that is focused on the oversight of the retail function. Our First at Work product provides the employees of new commercial clients with benefits like free checking, free closing on loans, discounted prices and general financial wellness seminars for their employees. That has been a very meaningful deposit-gathering tool for us. 


What programs are you supporting at the community level to educate the public?


We focus on supporting anything regarding youth education. We try to help with math education, for example, and we put a great emphasis on kids in less developed suburbs of Charlotte who need financial assistance with school supplies. As kids get older, we also look for opportunities to help with financial literacy, making sure that high-school kids understand what a credit card is, what a checkbook is, and making sure to foster the right kinds of behaviors.


What is the near-term business outlook for the city and the bank?


I would like to believe that the lion’s share of the M&A activity in the community banking space is slowing down, just because there are fewer of our types of banks out there. Because there has been so much consolidation in the community banking space, the North Carolina commissioner of banking has been a little bit more generous with the issuance of charters, which offers opportunities for new capital groups to buy charters. As a result, I think we are again building up that base of true, smaller community banks that would be $100 million to $500 million in size, and the community needs that. 


To learn more about our interviewee, visit: