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Business Observer Thursday, Jun. 16, 2022 2 weeks ago

California bank drives forward on ambitious Florida expansion plans

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Sunwest Bank has high hopes for the Sunshine State.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Career Florida banker Chad Campbell made a long trip late last year — all the way to California — to pitch a group of other bankers on the power and potential of Sunshine State banking.

Not to get customers, but, instead, to show the executive team at Irvine, California-based Sunwest Bank why Florida, despite the distance, should be its next expansion state. The bank had been growing exclusively out west, following Golden State customers to Utah, Idaho and Arizona. The Sunwest team liked what they heard from Campbell, and by January the expansion was in place, starting in Sarasota with a loan production office.

The Florida expansion decision continues to pay dividends.

Florida Sunwest, for example, beat out bigger banks on eight-figure lines of credit for two separate clients, Campbell says. Also, the bank is already plotting growth within Florida, starting with Naples and Miami, where Campbell has hired two bankers for each market. Expansion up the state’s east coast is next, and after that, back to this side, for Tampa. “We will end up taking over the entire state,” says Campbell, who oversees the Florida unit’s nine employees from an office suite on Cattleman Road in Sarasota.

“When I started here, I had a proof of concept and you hope things work out the way you intended them to,” he adds. “We not only have proven the concept — it’s 10 times bigger and better than I thought it would be.”

While Sunwest is an expansion effort and not an acquisition, it’s not the first time in recent history a California financial services entity has sought to get a foothold in Florida. A California fintech and payment processing company, US Alliance Group, through a Florida LLC it created, acquired First National Bank of Pasco in January. The Sunwest expansion also comes during a frenzied period of industry consolidation, particularly with credit unions buying community banks.

At Sunwest Florida, the goal is to primarily remain what the bank started as in 1969: a bank founded by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. Real estate developer, entrepreneur and philanthropist Eric Hovde, who ran for U.S. Senate as a Republican in Wisconsin in 2012, owns Sunwest. It had $2.23 billion in assets through March 31.

Chad Campbell opened the Sunwest Bank Florida office in November. (Photo by Lori Sax)

Campbell says the client focus in Florida will be commercial real estate and commercial and industrial loans, concentrating on manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and professionals. Within that, the bank does a significant amount of shareholder buy-in loans, says Campbell, for businesses such as doctor’s offices and CPA firms. Those loans are often higher volume and, in many cases, don’t have maturity dates. “Those are things many other banks won’t touch,” he says.  

Campbell’s get-to-yes, entrepreneurial philosophy has been a hallmark of his banking career. He spent nearly seven years at BB&T, running one of the bank’s top lending teams in Florida. After that he went to BMO Harris, where he became a regional president, overseeing Florida and Arizona.

It was Arizona where he met Don Satiroff, one his top BMO Harris lieutenants who became a good friend. Satiroff left BMO to head up the Arizona market for Sunwest in July 2020, and one of his first calls was to his old boss, Campbell, in Florida. It was a bit of a role reversal, when Satiroff asked Campbell to open the Sunshine State market for Sunwest. Campbell, looking for the next career challenge and seeing a lot of what he likes in a bank in Sunwest, jumped at the chance to work with Satiroff, now Sunwest’s chief banking officer.

That’s how Campbell found himself in California in late 2021, selling Sunwest officials on Florida. While it was a geographical stretch, the bank, says Campbell, was also aware of Florida-positive national migration patterns and the state’s open for business mentality.

While Sunwest got an in into Florida, Campbell, in turn, found a bank he says  has a “culture of celebrating wins.” For example, both Hovde, the bank’s chairman and CEO, and Sunwest President Carson Lappetito personally called Campbell to congratulate him and team on the recent lines of credit deals.  

“When you get calls from the top people, it’s empowering and invigorating,” Campbell says. “My wife says it best: ‘I haven’t seen you this happy at work in a very long time.’ That’s because I’ve never worked for a bank like this.”

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