Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
4 min read September 2019 — The health of the banking sector is a great way to gauge the overall health of the economy, so when the banking sector is prospering it is normally on par with a healthy economy. This remains true in Tampa Bay as the local economy has been experiencing a long and healthy growth that is also shared by the banking sector in the region. Invest: Tampa Bay recently spoke with David Call, Florida regional president of Fifth Third Bank, and Allen Brinkman, region president for Seacoast Bank, two of the premier banks in the Tampa Bay region. Discussions with both banking institutions covered their view of the current state of the market in Tampa Bay, how emerging technologies are impacting their banking practices, and ways to keep growth in the sector and Tampa Bay sustainable for the future.
What is your view of the local market in light of the burgeoning economy in the region?
David Call: Everything is moving at a fast pace in the Tampa Bay region, and from my perspective there is not one particular sector or segment of the market that is doing better than another. Our bank has five lines of business in the region: commercial, small business, retail, wealth and mortgage. All five of those lines are doing well and we are still seeing strong momentum. We have seen this growth for the last four years, and while we are prepared for any kind of slowdown, we haven’t seen any sign of that for the near future.
Allen Brinkman: As long as the economy does well and as the spirit of Tampa Bay continues to rise, the market will remain prosperous. There is a growing sense of pride in the city. This pride is creating opportunities for new businesses to start, established businesses to expand and investments into the business market to remain lucrative. It has been a great market for quite some time, and outside of a global economic issue, Tampa Bay is going to continue to do well. I believe that even if the global economy slows down, Tampa Bay is somewhat insulated because it is a place that people want to be, for both a younger and older demographic. There is almost nowhere else in Florida that is as cost-effective, beautiful and offers as many cultural and economic opportunities as Tampa Bay.
With the prominence of emerging technologies in the financial sector, how can banks find the balance to still deliver a personal experience?
Call: Technology has not taken the place of our physical centers, but everything that we do around technology has definitely taken off. Whether that is depositing a check or checking an account balance, all of these uses are being adopted at a much quicker pace than how technology was adopted in the past. That being said, we believe at least 60% of our clients still want to come to a branch and bank with a human being. That does not mean that they do not want technology, because they do, so it is a balancing act. We are still building branches in the state of Florida, and we will have more branches in the Tampa Bay area too. We want to offer all these various channels for people to use because ultimately we need to stay in line with the voice of the customer and keep them at the center of what we do.
Brinkman: The online and digital experience is more of a convenience vehicle than it is an alternative to all banking. Simple transactions like depositing a check or finding a branch can be accomplished with technology, but more complicated transactions are usually going to involve an interaction with a banker. Banks are somewhat of a commodity today, and the only way to set yourself apart from other banks is by the advice you give. Our bankers are trained and spend a lot of time on their consultative approach. For example, in the past, we knew that the mortgage business was about borrowing as much as you could to get the biggest house, and hopefully everything worked out. Today, bankers give a little more advice and guidance on what is a responsible financial decision for a customer to make. This type of personal interaction could not be accomplished by technology.
What are some ways to keep banking sector growth and that of Tampa Bay sustainable and recession resilient?
Call: When we adapt to this influx (of high-net-worth investors), it has a positive affect on our business, and this is true for all of Tampa Bay, not just our bank. There are a lot of businesses and people bringing money to Tampa Bay because they see the growth. Outside investment is a huge part of keeping this growth sustainable because we need an infrastructure that matches the influx of people coming to Tampa Bay. In regards to our bank, we are investing our time and resources into making sure that we are a part of the change so we can help our communities thrive.
Brinkman: We are quite conservative in terms of our approach to lending, which some could misinterpret as not offering loans. However, we do offer loans just as much as most banks, we just tend to be conservative in how we advise our customer. Our bankers sit down with customers to understand why they need a loan, what the purpose is and inform the customer of whatever risk elements are out there that they may not have thought of. When a loan is done with Seacoast, a relationship is formed. We make the decision jointly versus just providing a loan that may not be right for the customer. Our role as a bank is to protect the customer, which creates a greater sense of responsibility to really develop a product that’s customized to their needs. If there is another recession, we believe we will fair well because of this practice.