BNC Regional Manager Ed Stein, Greer Branch Manager Jennifer Polson, and City Manager Blair Miller pitched their bank to a group of business representatives as a well-resourced, locally managed community bank.
Blair Miller, BNC City Manager, chats with a visitor to the bank's Handshakes and Hashbrowns event for greater Greer business associates.
Since Carolina Financial Corporation, operating under CresCom Bank, announced its acquisition of Greer State Bank on Nov. 8, for $45 million, one bank in particular, is publicly promoting its credentials to lure customers to their institutions.
The Bank of North Carolina and BNC Bank held a Hashbrowns and Handshakes breakfast at its branch at 530 W. Wade Hampton Blvd., to publicly stake its claim as another community bank option with a strong portfolio to serve Greer customers.
Citizens Building & Loan of Greer, founded in 1907, proudly reminds people it remains the lone community-owned financial institution in the city. Jennifer Jones, a Greer native and 16-year employee of CBL, officially takes the helm as President and Chief Executive Officer in January. She becomes the third woman in South Carolina to become a bank’s top executive.
“BNC Bank is still local and this meeting (breakfast) was a decision we made here to say we are spending and advertising in Greer,” Regional Manager Ed Stein said. “We’ve got the scale and people can reflect this commercial bank is local.”
Stein made a point to illustrate BNC’s financial strength. “We have the assets and we have the capital and I think that is important,” he said. “We have a strong balance sheet. We have sufficient capital. We’ve got a very clean portfolio of assets that is serving us well. And as we go out and we make money and earn profits we want to use that additional capital to go out and invest our additional capital in loans and obviously be a relationship bank to individuals and businesses out there.”
Stein said BNC, “Now has about $7.5 billion in assets from a size standpoint which means we can serve a lot of the commercial clients and a lot of individual clients. In addition we feel like we have a product capability that some of our other competitors don’t have.” BNC serves 71 locations in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.
There are two advantages BNC can tout, according to Stein.
“We actually have a dedicated SBA (Small Business Administration) division where if a business needs a loan that we can’t underwrite and approve at the bank, there are some different things we can do through our SBA group to try to be creative to help them,” Stein said.
“We also have a dedicated mortgage division that we want to grow,” Stein said. “We have some originators in the upstate and we feel because we are the size that we are, and still a community bank to where if a customer has a problem they are going to call Jennifer (Polson, Greer branch manager) or Blair (Miller, city manager) . . . we feel that that personal touch is what differentiates ourselves amongst some of our competitors.”
Stein said banks routinely offer checking accounts (although CBL does not and has been quite successful) and community banks typically sell service while corporate-sized banks talk about sophistication and all the tools offered with its quantity of resources. Greer State Bank customers, for example, must access their accounts via key fobs.
“All of us working in banking through the years have found that there is a magic medium,” Stein said. “BNC being that $5 to $10 billion asset bank, we don’t offer a lot of sophistication that big banks can, yet we can. I look at the team leadership, at the branch managers and the team we’ve got. The bank is small enough you are relying on one person to make the decisions here.”
Miller said BNC’s consumer home equity line is a strong sell. “We offer a very unique equity line,” he said. “It’s a 15-year interest only, prime plus zero offering right up to 89.9 percent the value of someone’s home. And if someone will take a $10,000 draw and wash it all at a one-year fixed at 1.99 percent, the bank will not charge any originating costs to close that. We are having unbelievable success and the biggest indicator is that several bankers in our community have done this with us.”
Stein said BNC is aggressively pitching its message. “I think it’s a combination of several things,” Stein said. “I think Jennifer does a fantastic job in Greer getting involved in different events, being involved in Greer Leadership, being involved in Greer Chamber . . . those are all important things to be out there and have the exposure but I think of lot of it is ‘blocking and tackling’. I think if we do a good job with our customers, they in turn will have a good experience and they in turn will want to talk about our bank and will talk about our bank to their customers. You know success breeds success. We have found that good news travels fast.”
A year after the Federal Reserve boosted the key interest rate for the first time in nearly a decade, it raised it again earlier this month. The increase brought the lending rate between banks to a range of 0.5 percent to 0.75 percent, up a quarter point, 0.25, since its last hike. The Fed cited higher inflation and a strong labor market as the reason for the interest rate hike.
“The cost to afford a house has gone up because interest rates have risen,” Stein said. “Six months ago, you probably could have gotten a 30-year fixed rate, 3.5 – 3.75 range. Today you are probably talking about a 4.2 to 4.5 percent on a 30-year fixed rate. On a $150,000 loan that will add about a couple hundred dollars a month.
“There’s not a secret sauce (to banking),” Stein said. “It’s old fashioned, building relations.
‘I think we will be very successful in this community,” Stein said. “Greer has a lot going for it, and that’s candidly why we wanted to be in the upstate. We want to be in high growth areas. And if you look at our bank, we are all up and down the I-85 corridor so this is a very robust region and we feel like there is a lot of opportunity.”
The bank’s culture is the selling point, Blair said. ‘What is really important to me is how you drive the culture of the bank and that ultimately is what our customers see. How are you changing lives in the community? Because if you get the culture right, everything else falls into place.”