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Business Observer Thursday, Jun. 18, 2009 11 years ago

A slice of banking past

Bob Sumner has led FNB Pasco through tough times in banking and now wants to lead it into expansion.

Bob Sumner has led FNB Pasco through tough times in banking and now wants to lead it into expansion.

Bob Sumner enjoys banking more than his previous career, as a private attorney and prosecutor in Dade City.

He also knows it is an industry that is changing, even in this traditional setting — the historic, southern charm of Dade City.

Sumner, 75, is a fifth-generation resident here and knows about the value of relationships and community. He uses that knowledge as president of First National Bank of Pasco, a community bank with branches in Dade City and Zephyrhills.

It is one of the strongest-performing banks on the Gulf Coast, formed by local businesspeople with deep roots in the community. It has carved a niche doing loans for mobile home buyers, especially seniors. But it also serves small businesses and consumers.

It is a slice of banking past. Small businesses that want to get a loan are escorted to a private room. Tellers are waiting in the lobby with coffee for customers. Even Sumner himself talks with some business customers about loans.

As president, does he have time?

“Not really,” Sumner says, “but I enjoy having a personal relationship with the people who come in. I enjoy going to yard sales and talking to people.”

FNB Pasco is proud of all of this. But the bank also wants to grow.

Sumner finds a lot of Gulf Coast real estate still too expensive and some areas, such as Land O' Lakes and New Port Richey, with too many banks. But he continues to look.

FNB Pasco has its main branch in Dade City and two smaller branches in Zephyrhills. Banking today is driven a lot by convenience. Banks plan locations precisely, paying attention to highway exits and what side of the road traffic is traveling.

“Relatives are calling me all the time on locations,” Sumner says.

Sumner also wants to appeal to younger customers, the future of banking. He knows FNB Pasco has made progress here, but needs to make more strides.

“That's the future of it, if you are going to grow,” he says. “But our bank hasn't mastered that. It's tricky. It is different than old-fashioned banking. You have to understand the market and the people.”

Web and relationships
Sumner is also aware that part of banking expansion today is through Internet banking, especially among younger customers, who do a lot of Internet research and know specifically what they want from a bank.

“In our highly mobile society, so many customers like to do all of their banking on the Internet,” Sumner says. “They use it for deposits and funds transfers. They are looking at the Internet for the best banking products for them.”

The bank had nearby Saint Leo University do a study of its Web site and found that customers valued the bank's reputation and ratings above other elements.

“It's funny, people reviewed it and said it was not who you are and what you can do for me,” Sumner says. “They were interested to see if you have a great reputation. Here we are in Pasco and to grow, we have to make an
Internet site as personal as possible.”

Speed is also important for today's banking customers, especially younger ones.

“Younger folks have no patience,” Sumner says. “They are texting all the time. Even in the same house. This is different for me. I'm an old man.”

The other X-factor in banking is something closer to the bank's roots: friendly service and long relationships. Even larger banks try to deliver it to capture and retain customers. Sumner talks about having employees with “happy faces.”

“As a bank customer, I want to be recognized and appreciated, and be not just a number,” Sumner says. “Relationships are important for any bank. They have to have trust in you and faith in you. They are getting your money.”

The problem with banks and other businesses is that they cut staff and the quality of the product suffers, Sumner says. Mass production becomes more important than quality and banks need to guard against it.

“The crunch comes down and there's still work to be done,” he says. “The product goes down in quality. Then you have frustrated people. Staff doesn't try as hard. They try to meet the goal, which changes from quality to mass production.”

Sumner's strategy at FNB Pasco is to keep a full staff to keep customers and the staff happy. That's especially important today with small businesses, which need help with loans to get through the tight economy.

“Long-term, society will have to get back to that, back to the point where quality is more important than production,” Sumner says.

Sumner has seen the acquisition pattern in banking first hand.

He was director of The Bank of Pasco County, which was eventually sold to First Union. Sumner also was a director at First National Bank of the South, which SouthTrust bought.

“It seems like a community bank becomes successful and a large bank pays a lot and acquires it,” Sumner says. “As soon as they acquire it, they cut personnel. There is less flexibility in decision making. If they need money, they pump up interest rates.”

Large banks argue that they are very concerned with public service and train staff to be friendly and responsive. But Sumner says his bank offers multiple tellers, which recognize customers when they come in, greet them and fully and accurately explain different bank services and products.

“I saw a survey not too long ago that said 60% of people opening new accounts felt the bank was trying to steer them to a product that was best for the bank, not the customer,” he says.

In the future, Sumner sees more consolidation in the banking industry, but FNB Pasco plans to remain independent.

“We're starting our own strategic plan for the coming years,” he says. “Most of the other banks are broke out there. There are 265 banks in Florida. Over half of them lost money last year and in 2007. And things are not getting better.”

Sumner said the FDIC plans to close about 300 banks in the country this year and next. Some of those branches might be a good fit for FNB Pasco.

“We will look at that and could acquire some of those,” Sumner says.

Slow growth for Pasco

Overbuilding and slow job growth will mean slower growth for Pasco County in the next few years, says Bob Sumner, president of the First National Bank of Pasco.

There are more housing lots approved for development than there are houses in Pasco now, Sumner says. North of Zephyrhills on U.S. 301 there are hundreds of home lots, with streets and a community park, but no homes have been built.

“That's a tremendous number of lots and I don't see a large increase in population,” he says. “It will take three to five years to get rid of the inventory that we have.”

Sumner says he doesn't see a lot of new industrial growth in Pasco soon or a lot of new job growth.

“We'll continue to be a bedroom community to Tampa,” he says. “We'll still rely on what the larger counties do for our success.”

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