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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 11, 2015 2 years ago

Mutual decision

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A bank with a billion-dollar presence from Hawaii to Nebraska aims to gain awareness in the Sunshine State.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Henry Gonzalez's trim and fit physique belies the fact that he's spent the past seven months hitting dozen of luncheons and dinners in and around Tampa and the rest of Florida.

A longtime Tampa area banker, Gonzalez has been heavy on the networking and rubber chicken circuit for one reason: to hammer home the message that Mutual of Omaha — the bank, not the well-known insurance firm — is a viable option in the battle of banks to win loan business.

It's a substantial mission. Even Gonzalez, when approached by Mutual of Omaha executives in May about taking on a leadership role with the lender, admits he wasn't that familiar with the bank. “I initially didn't realize it is as big as it is,” says Gonzalez.

But the bank, a subsidiary of the Omaha, Neb.-based insurance giant, is quite big. On a national scale, it has $6.9 billion in assets and 720 employees, with branches in 11 states, including Arizona, California, Hawaii, Texas and Nebraska. The bank's Florida offices are in Marco Island, Naples and Tampa, and it currently has a $571 million loan portfolio in the state, says a bank spokeswoman.

Gonzalez comes to Mutual of Omaha after leadership roles with the Bank of Tampa and Brandon-based Platinum Bank going back to 1997. Gonzalez has hired a commercial real estate loan executive and a business banker for Mutual of Omaha, with plans to add a commercial and industrial lender in early 2016. The entire unit, located in Naples for a time, now has 10 employees, including a retail office. “We've done a good job getting our name out there,” Gonzalez says.

The goal for 2016, says Gonzalez, is to rapidly increase the bank's book of business in Tampa and across Florida. Markets it hopes to penetrate include health care, owner-occupied buildings and marine and boating-related businesses. Part of Gonzalez's early outreach efforts include multiple meetings with Port Tampa Bay executives, to tap into those opportunities.

Another sector ripe for business, says Gonzalez, is office development, which he says is in “pent-up demand” stage. Gonzalez also says the bank has some business in retail construction, especially single-site outparcel buildings, and will continue to target those markets in 2016.

The pitch Gonzalez and his team make to clients is one several other big banks make: to be a hybrid of a big bank and a community lender, where clients get the best of both worlds. “We are very flat, and our approvals are simple and quick,” says Gonzalez. “We act like a good community bank should, but we have the resources of a big institution.”

Mutual of Omaha Bank was founded in January 2007. The bank expanded to Florida in January 2009 with a branch opening, and a year later it acquired Marco Community Bank, when regulators shuttered that institution. Mutual of Omaha Florida executives back then included longtime Collier County bankers Kevin Hale and John Clark. Both remain with the bank; Hale is the chief risk officer and Clark is senior vice president of private client services.

A fourth-generation Tampa resident, Gonzalez aims to grow his unit of Mutual of Omaha quickly. He has some worries that a few construction and building sectors doing well in the rebound now run the risk of “overheating,” but he's generally optimistic.

Another aspect of banking Gonzalez is watching closely is consolidation. Bank of the Ozarks buying St. Petersburg-based C1 bank is the most recent splash, but Gonzalez predicts it won't be the last. “There seems to be a rumor a week now on what bank is for sale,” Gonzalez says. “That disruption in the marketplace (after a sale) will help banks that can take advantage of it.”

Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon

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