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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 21, 2018 8 months ago

Meet Regions' new kid on the block

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Nationally and locally, the bank has experienced volatility, but a new, enthusiastic market leader is poised to tackle its challenges head-on.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Michael Jones is quick to admit that Regions Bank has lost a great deal of local institutional knowledge in recent months as top executives have departed.

In July, Steve Stagg, Jones’ predecessor as Tampa market executive, went to work for Beach Community Bank, while Marty Lanahan, Regions’ west Florida area president — and a prominent banker known statewide — stepped down in April.

“They had opportunities,” says Jones, “and I certainly don’t begrudge them trying to take care of their families and pursue opportunities that they think are good for them. It opened up an opportunity for me, and they remain my friends.”

“Look, good people are always great capital. That’s what drives our organizations." Michael Jones, Regions Bank's Tampa market executive

Jones, 54, sees C-suite churn as emblematic of how competitive the struggle has become to attract talent in Florida’s low-unemployment banking sector.

“Look, good people are always great capital,” he says. “That’s what drives our organizations. You can have all the products and technology in the world, but if you don't have good people to sit down with your clients, you're not going to execute at a very high level.”

Jones, though, brings plenty of institutional knowledge to his new post. A native of Alabama, he joined Birmingham-based AmSouth Bank in 1998. In 2006, Regions acquired AmSouth for $9.8 billion in stock, and Jones stayed on. Regions shuttled him to St. Louis to run a commercial and corporate banking team for about seven years, but he eventually wound up back in Birmingham in a similar role serving the bank’s central Alabama market.

Regions, Jones says, was looking to place someone in Tampa who possesses a deep understanding of the bank's culture, what it stands for and how it could contribute to greater levels of success in the area, where Regions has about 30 branches. “For a bank our size in a market this size, that’s good coverage,” he says.

In August, Jones was named commercial banking lender and market executive for Regions Bank in Tampa, Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties.

“They offered me the opportunity, and we jumped at it,” Jones adds. “My wife and I are empty nesters, so you didn't have to twist my arm. Hopefully, this will be my last stop.”

With a background that includes real estate and law enforcement, Jones should be a no-nonsense, steady hand on the helm for Regions. But it’s going to take more than that to beat a growing field of banking competitors looking to capitalize on the Tampa Bay region’s booming economy. Jones has been in the area for only a few weeks, but already he sees a “vibrant community” with an ample supply of privately held, middle-market businesses to target.

“There’s a lot of diversity in the market here,” he says. “St. Louis is a similar-sized city but doesn’t have the vibrant feel that Tampa has.”

Regions’ strategy to capture new clients, Jones says, is to offer all or nearly all of the services of big banks with the personalized touch of a community bank. “We don’t want to just be an order-taker at the counter or sit around waiting for a client to call us,” he explains. “We want to proactively get out in front of them and understand what their business is, help them understand how we can meet their needs and advise them as to how they can be more successful.”

Another arena in which Regions, which had $124.5 billion in total assets as of June 30, plans to compete with more vigor is small business banking. Rather than leave that to community banks, Jones says Regions has developed a plan to go after “micro businesses” via digital outreach. “We’re touching them more and getting more feedback. Then, when they need a bank in front of them, we can deploy a local banker. Middle market and small businesses are just tremendous opportunities for us.”

Regions saw its revenue dip from $5.11 billion in 2014 to $5.07 billion in 2015, but it righted the ship over the past two years, going from $5.34 billion in 2016 to $5.57 billion in ’17. Jones partially attributes the volatility to businesses stockpiling cash and putting off expansion or improvements because of economic uncertainty.

“We’ve come off of a rough stretch, clearly,” says Jones. “The economy has been growing, but it’s been slow growth. We haven’t had that big bounce-back that we felt before, in other times when we came back from recession. I think a lot of our clients and a lot of other companies out there are still sitting on the fence, waiting for that time when they feel confident that now’s the time to invest in further growth.”

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