Bring it home

By: 
Dec. 16, 2016

Executive Summary
Company. HomeBanc Industry. Banking Key. Bank surpassed several milestones in 2016.

When HomeBanc branch employees and staff hit a milestone or surpass a big, audacious goal, executives will often treat the team to a dinner at Bern's Steak House in Tampa.

It's a scrumptious and swanky reward. But it's also a glimpse into the miss-no-detail kind of customer service HomeBanc executives seek and expect from all its employees. Bern's, after all, is the kind of place where the wait staff adds some extra goodies in a leftover bag and the valets offer bottles of water for the car ride home.

“Pay attention tonight,” HomeBanc CEO-in-waiting Debra Hanses Novakoski will tell her staff. “This is about the service that is delivered here. This is what we talk about. This is who we want to be.”

While Tampa-based HomeBanc, a subsidiary of HomeBancorp, isn't about to add a $48, 11-ounce chateaubriand to its list of loans and investment products, the institution has enjoyed a tasty 2016. Deposits, loans and assets are all up for the year, and the bank's return on equity and return on assets metrics are also up year-over-year through September.

“We focus on doing a few things very well,” says HomeBancorp Vice Chairman, President and COO Dana Cluckey. “Service is gigantically important to us, and the people who work for us are gigantically important.”

In numbers and leadership, HomeBanc scored two specific and significant accomplishments this year.

First, in April, the bank surpassed $1 billion in assets, becoming the seventh community bank in the region to hit that mark since 2010. Hanses Novakoski, 51, while proud of the accomplishment, says she isn't a rearview-mirror leader. Up next: clear $1.5 billion in the next several years, through organic growth of its commercial loan portfolio and retail deposit base.

“We don't plan to sit on our laurels now that we have $1 billion in assets,” Hanses Novakoski says. “One billion is just a place to start. We are going to keep going.”

And in a nod to what bank officials call an “orderly transition,” a series of succession-based leadership changes were announced Oct. 27 that take effect Jan. 1, including Hanses Novakoski's promotion to CEO.

HomeBanc co-founder Jerry Campbell will remain chairman and CEO of the holding company, but the bank, in a statement, says “we felt it was important to communicate to all of our constituencies what our game plan is.”

That plan includes new and expanded roles in the bank and the holding company for Cluckey, Hanses Novakoski, CFO Jeffrey Saunders and Senior Vice President and Chief Risk and Compliance Officer Jon James. Hanses Novakoski says Cluckey and Campbell groomed her and her executive colleagues for several years for their new roles, so the day-to-day differences are subtle.

“It's a change in job titles,” says Hanses Novakoski, “but not much in roles.”

Service keys
Hanses Novakoski says even with her new title, her mission to lead the bank to the top of customer service mountain hasn't wavered.

Hanses Novakoski and Cluckey acknowledge many bankers say they want to outdo the competition by being better at service. With the recent Wells Fargo scandal, that strategy is as imperative as ever, adds Cluckey.

One key to the customer service side at HomeBanc, beyond emulating Bern's, lies some in whom the bank hires and some in how it trains them, executives say. “It doesn't matter if you have $500 with us or $500 million, you will get treated the same,” Hanses Novakoski says. “This is a longtime relationship business for us. Our customers aren't just numbers queued up behind a velvet rope.”

A commitment to employee accountability is one way the bank has built top-of-the-line customer service. All the managers hold monthly chats with employees, for example, for feedback and to set and refine goals.

HomeBanc's efforts to create a great place to work have worked. To wit: It was recently named one of the Best Places to Work for millennial employees in America by the Center for Generational Kinetics and Best Companies Group. HomeBanc was also named to American Banker magazine's 2016 Best Banks to Work For list and was ranked No. 2 out of 60 banks chosen for the list for two consecutive years. Publications in Florida and the Tampa region have also lauded the bank's employee culture.

Good demographics
HomeBanc's decade-long success stems from more than stellar customer service.

The bank, for one, has been opportunistic about when and where it opens branch locations, says Hanses Novakoski. In total, it has 14 branches, mostly in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater market. The branch network goes as far south as Lakewood Ranch, just east of the Interstate 75 University Parkway exit, and as far north as Orlando suburb Winter Park and Lake Mary.

Hanses Novakoski cites the Winter Park branch for a good example of HomeBanc's strategy. It opened a 1,000-square-foot storefront branch in prime real estate in Winter Park's hip and busy downtown in 2012. That bank grew to $60 million in deposits by this year, says Hanses Novakoski — a rapid pace in a competitive spot where HomeBanc has little brand presence. The Winter Park branch doesn't have a drive-thru, and it doesn't even have dedicated parking spots.

But the idea with the branch, Hanses Novakoski says, was to seize on people's dissatisfaction with big regional banks by offering better service. “The demographics fit for us there, and we were looking for a service play,” Hanses Novakoski says. “It worked out great for us.”

HomeBanc was founded in 2007. Campbell launched the bank after obtaining $45 million in a public offering that attracted 150 subscribers. In the first few years, the bank grew organically and with a few acquisitions. It hit $275 million in assets by 2009 and nearly $550 million by 2012. With mostly good timing, it also avoided taking on a large chunk of loans that went sour in the downturn.

To some extent HomeBanc is a bit of dejà vu for Campbell, Cluckey, Hanses Novakoski and several other senior leaders. That's because Campbell co-founded Republic Bancorp in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1986. Hanses Novakoski joined the bank in 1999, coming from a human resources position at another community bank.

Campbell and his team grew Republic to $6.5 billion in assets in 20 years, and like HomeBanc today, Republic was a community bank leader in SBA loans and top workplace recognition. (Republic made Fortune magazine's 100 Best Places to Work in America list six times under Campbell's watch.)

Citizens Republic Bancorp acquired the bank in a $1.6 billion deal in 2006. A year later Campbell was back, this time in Florida. Campbell imported more than good service ideals and a happy work culture from Michigan. He also brought his top 10 values guide to HomeBanc, which includes, in part, “perform at a consistently high degree of excellence” and “demonstrate uncompromising honesty and integrity.”

Another big ideal is humility: Campbell often tells employees “no job is more important than any other job,” at the bank, says Cluckey.
Hanses Novakoski adds the tone Campbell sets drives just about everything that happens at HomeBanc. Says Hanses Novakoski: “You can't have an organization that wants to be something other than what the CEO wants it to be.”

Star power
Nearly every community bank in the region strives to offer something different to reward clients and recruit new customers. Tampa-based HomeBanc does it with some star power.

The bank, through its HomeBanc Business to Business events, has brought in a range of celebrities, usually connected to sports, to mingle with customers.
Past Business to Business guests have included former Tampa Bay Rays and current Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon; Heisman Trophy winner and NFL player Desmond Howard; former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden; NFL Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers; St. Petersburg native and LPGA star Brittany Lincicome; and former Los Angles Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey. The list for 2017, so far, includes former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann.

Homebanc
CEO: Debra Hanses Novakoski (as of Jan. 1)
Headquarters: Tampa
Year founded: 2007
Employees: 103
Assets: $1 billion
Deposits: $770.7 million
Loans: $717.4 million
Note: Figures are through Sept. 30.
Source: Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.