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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 19, 2019 4 months ago

Community bank, fresh off name change, looks for big opportunities in new areas

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Arcadia-based Crews Bank & Trust is moving into Sarasota with a branch opening downtown soon.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

With a name like First State Bank of Arcadia, it’s easy to see how people might think the bank’s focus is on Arcadia, county seat of DeSoto County and a place known primarily to outsiders for its agriculture, downtown antiquing and the Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo.

But the $143.57 million-asset bank, established in 1973 and owned by holding company Crews Banking Corp., now sees bigger opportunities to Arcadia’s west — in Sarasota and Manatee counties. So bank officials embarked on an extensive rebranding process. The effort, including a new name, expanded services and updated signage, is a microcosm of a larger trend in banking nationally: due to rapid changes in technology and shifting demographics, national and regional banks are grabbing a larger share of deposits, putting small banks in precarious positions complicated by slow growth.  

But Crews Banking Corp. is something of an anomaly among community bank holding companies in the region, in that it also owns Wauchula State Bank, Charlotte State Bank & Trust and Englewood Bank & Trust. That portfolio serves as somewhat of a diversified shield against some bigger bank industry obstacles and challenges. Crews Banking Corp., in total, has about 330 employees and 20 branches. The four banks, combined, had $1.43 billion in assets through December, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data. 

Name game

One of the key rebranding moves was a name change: from First State Bank of Arcadia to Crews Bank & Trust.

“We probably spent 16 months planning all of the moving parts,” says Crews Bank & Trust President Kevin Hagan. A lot of thought and effort went into the rebranding, which was done primarily, he says, by a core team of eight or nine people.

To guide them through the name change, the company brought in a national consultant. During the process, the team considered questions such as, “Who have you been? What do you value? Where do you see yourself going?” 

It sees itself in Manatee County, specifically through a loan production office in Bradenton, and more prominently, it sees itself in Sarasota County, at a new branch in downtown Sarasota. The areas offer chances for Crews Bank & Trust to gain new clients and achieve big growth. To get there, it’s harnessing its ability to make decisions quickly and seize opportunities as they come up — even when the leadership team isn’t expecting them.

The name change also presents the institution an opportunity to be less tied to a specific geography. In general, Hagan isn’t a fan of geographic names for banks. “They limit you if you’re going to grow,” he says.  

With an eye on growth, bank leadership is looking toward markets where it can create opportunities. DeSoto County, home to the City of Arcadia, doesn’t have the growth opportunities the coastal areas in this part of the state have, says Hagan, who also serves as president of Englewood Bank & Trust, with branches in south Sarasota County and Charlotte County. So bank officials decided to move the former First State into Sarasota and Manatee counties, too. “We wanted to be ahead of the curve,” he says.

And the old name, says Hagan, wouldn’t have resonated as well entering Sarasota-Bradenton. “We wanted a name that reflected the mission of going into these markets,” Hagan adds.

Seize opportunities

The new Crews Bank & Trust moniker, meanwhile, speaks to the bank’s holding company. That business began when J.W. Crews Sr. started Wauchula State Bank in 1929. “I like the family name,” Hagan says, and being part of the company’s 90-year legacy.

Another banker who likes the family name? Jake Crews, CEO and chairman of Crews Bank & Trust and Wauchula State Bank. The fourth generation of his family to be in the business, Jake Crews is also on the board of directors of the holding company and its four banks, and he says the name change holds big potential.

“I think it helps us tell our story in a new marketplace for us: Sarasota,” Crews says, along with letting people know the family has been in the business for 90 years. “I think that’s important in the community bank space where there’s been a lot of changes and a lot of acquisitions. People can see our stability.”

Last year the bank put together a loan production office in Bradenton with four people, including three loan officers. It opened in early summer 2018.

At the helm of that office is Allen Langford, a banking leader Hagan has known since the mid-1990s. Hagan says he spent six to eight months talking with him about options and expectations for the office. Langford, former president of Bradenton-based First America Bank, among other executive banking posts in the region, has been in the market for a long time, Hagan says, and that presented a unique opportunity. When you run across human resources that are a good fit, he says, sometimes you have to adapt the strategic plan to that particular opportunity.

“It was unexpected,” Hagan says. “But you take your blessings where they pop up.”

More choices 

South of Langford, in Sarasota, there’s another opportunity for growth. In the fall, the bank purchased a new branch site in downtown Sarasota for $1.45 million. The branch is in a prominent spot: the intersection of Main and Palm, at 15 S. Palm Ave., the bottom of the 1350 Main condominium building.

“The bank that owned it didn’t even have a sign up for sale,” Hagan says. “We just called the bank and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse and closed quickly.”

Hagan says it’s another example of the bank adapting its strategy to take advantage of an opportunity. “We weren’t looking at that moment to go buy something, but when the opportunity came, it wasn’t a long decision-making process,” Hagan says. “When the opportunity is there, you grab it. That’s the beauty of our company.” With no large, imposing corporate structure, decision-making can be quick.

“When the opportunity is there, you grab it.” — Kevin Hagan, president, Crews Bank & Trust

“Being a family-owned and -operated company, there’s not those layers of red tape,” Crews adds. “We can get together that same day or same hour and get a decision for customers.” And that goes for larger decisions for the bank as whole, too, like the decision to move forward with a branch opportunity such as the one in Sarasota.

Hagan says Crews Bank & Trust wanted to be in downtown Sarasota so it would be around centers of influence, including attorneys and CPAs. Family and friends of the bankers, in addition to existing customers, also pushed for a Sarasota expansion.

"Sarasota has one of the most defined successful downtown areas,” says Hagan, adding the mix includes several diverse elements, from business and government to social venues like restaurants. Being downtown also shows Crews Bank & Trust’s commitment to the community, Hagan says. “You can’t hide from anybody when you’re downtown," he says, "so you have to deliver.”

The bank is working on a complete renovation of the downtown Sarasota facility, with the goal to open by late summer. It’s in the process of interviewing potential employees and staffing the branch. 

The facility won’t look like a traditional bank, Hagan says. It will have a more modern layout, with sit-down and stand-up teller stations and options for clients to use technology such as iPads. “You want to make it an experience, not just a transaction,” Hagan says.

In addition to a new location, Crews Bank & Trust recently added trust powers and investment management services, another key change. Michael Aloian will head up those efforts.

“There is a need in the markets we serve,” Hagan says, reasoning there’s an underserved niche starting at about $500,000. Some larger organizations won’t work with clients from $500,000 to even $1 million or more, but Crews Bank & Trust’s lower threshold has the chance to provide a needed service for a certain group of clients, he says.

That expansion in services symbolizes one of the bank's overarching goals, to do more for more customers. Jake Crews, for example, says often the choice for customers is to pick between service and technology. “It’s going to be great for our new customers in Sarasota,” he says. “We’re striving to be this premier community bank in Southwest Florida. With Crews Bank & Trust, they won’t have to choose between the two.”

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