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Business Observer Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 5 months ago

After 15 years on his own, a banker gets back into the game

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Charles Idelson has big expansion plans for Investors’ Security Trust under its new owners, Illinois-based Busey Bank,
by: Beth Luberecki Contributor

At age 70, many people have either already retired or are heading toward that point. But when Charles Idelson hit that milestone, he was just beginning his latest business venture.

“I don’t consider myself 70; I think I’m more like 55,” he laughs. “I really enjoy working. I’m not going to just sit at home.”

That’s why earlier this year Idelson signed off an acquisition of the Fort Myers-based Investors’ Security Trust. Illinois-based Busey Bank, with $7.8 billion in assets bought Investors’ Security, in a deal that closed in September. Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed. The combination, Idelson says, provides his investment and trust clients access to Busey’s banking services while also helping to expand Busey’s trust and investment services in Florida. Idelson is now regional president of Florida operations for Busey Banking Corp.

‘In the next year or two, the market could go a lot higher, but it also could go a lot lower. Sometimes it’s better to have your cake and eat it too than to end up with an empty plate.’ Charles Idelson

“What I was looking for was what would be the best for our clients, employees and shareholders,” Idelson says. “And what would be best would be to partner with a financial institution where we can offer private banking, residential mortgages, cash management — all those banking services that we didn’t have. Busey fit that model for us.”

That crisscross of various product lines is a key growth component of any financial institution, Idelson says. “You build your footprint bigger and better, and it makes the client feel more valuable,” he says. “Rather than just have one service for them, it’s good to have five or six services with the client.”

Idelson says the timing was also right for a deal for two other reasons. One was the general state of the economy. Also, Investors’ Security had reached about $500 million in assets under management — a tipping point.

“In the trust business, we’re only worth what our earnings are,” Idelson says. “I can’t predict where the market is going to be in the future. In the next year or two, the market could go a lot higher, but it also could go a lot lower. Sometimes it’s better to have your cake and eat it too than to end up with an empty plate.”

As founder of Investors’ Security Trust, Idelson reported to a local board of directors. He now has a new boss he answers to at Busey. That’s a change for the entrepreneurial-minded banker.

“For the last 17 years, I have not had corporate conference calls, and now I’m back to corporate conference calls,” he says. “But that’s OK. It’s a learning process all over again. You can’t let ego stand in your way. I did what was right for the company, not what was right for Charles. If you have a fiduciary responsibility back to your shareholders, clients and employees, you need to do what is right for them.”

Idelson wants to double the size of Busey’s Florida business over the next five years. He already has a staff of 100 and a reach that extends into Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda and North Port, in south Sarasota County. The goal is to expand that into Venice and Sarasota, with the potential for his staff to grow to 125.

“We have to find the right partners and the right people,” he says. “I’m talking to a lot of people.”

One big hurdle? Changes in banking mean people aren’t coming up through training programs at regional banks the way they used to. “The challenge is finding the right person to fill the right job — and to be able to do the job correctly,” he says.

Idelson has a four-decade history in banking in Southwest Florida, starting out as executive vice president of Flagship Bank in 1980. He later became president and CEO and stayed in that role through mergers with SunBanks and Trust Company of Georgia. When SunTrust restructured in 2002 and decided its Southwest Florida banking business could be run out of Tampa, Idelson set out on his own, founding Investors’ Security Trust in 2003.

“I saw a real opportunity,” he recalls. “The bigger banks were consolidating, and there were no small trust institutions within Lee and Collier counties. It just made sense.”

Existing clients followed Idelson to Investors’ Security Trust, which had $150 million under management in its first year and was profitable in its third year. “That’s not very common; it usually takes anywhere from five to seven years in trust operations to become profitable,” Idelson says. “It was relationships, people with whom we had done business for years.”

He hopes to continue the same track record in his new role. “I did it before, and I think I can do it again with Busey here in Florida,” Idelson says. “I’m still going strong.”

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