After more than 40 years in banking, William Klich believes he has had enough.
But he's going out on a high note, serving as Florida president of Branch Banking and Trust Co. and recently completing a term as chairman of the Florida Bankers Association.
Both those positions were significant in that he shepherded the integration of Colonial Bank's Florida operations into BB&T, taking it from a large player in Florida to one of the state's top five banks. At the FBA helm, he led the group through what he terms as “the most aggressive period of regulation” the banking industry has ever withstood from the federal government, at least in modern history.
The biggest challenge, Klich says, was trying to convince lawmakers and others that banks in Florida weren't even remotely the same as those on Wall Street that were blamed for driving the nation into recession. Unfortunately, Florida got caught up in that collapse, with 14 bank failures statewide last year and just as many already in the first half of this year.
Before turning out the lights at his St. Petersburg office for the last time June 30, Klich granted an exit interview to the Business Review. The following is an edited version of his comments.
What are your immediate plans for retirement?
We have a second home in North Carolina and I'll probably spend some time up there at some point. But I'm just going to not make any decisions and take it easy for a while. I'll still have a relationship with BB&T and take on some special projects and things for them down the road.
Do you think you are leaving BB&T in good standing?
I'm fortunate to have worked with some very fine banks and BB&T is one of the strongest regional banks in the country. BB&T intends to continue growing its franchise in Florida despite the economic woes we are facing on state, national and global fronts. We will continue to look for appropriate acquisitions down the road. BB&T is very bullish on Florida, and I'm the cheerleader of the pack being a Florida native and being here my whole career. Florida's best days may lay ahead.
Are there any particular accomplishments as FBA chair that you are proud of?
One of the big accomplishments is that we were able to help our bankers get through as much as we could. We've done some good work with the FDIC and tried to differentiate our Main Street banks as much as we could from the Wall Street banks. Everybody is in the financial services business, but they use the word “bank” and it comes back home to roost.
We've tried to stay ahead of the challenges to our economy. For instance, our Panhandle bankers are the first to experience the wash-through of the oil spill. The businesses being impacted all have bank accounts and loans. We have tried to advocate that BP help some of those businesses and banks.
Another big accomplishment is that we all made it through the year. There were certain Fridays when Florida banks were on the list to be taken over by someone else in an assisted closure. Overall, we tried to let everybody know that Florida banks were willing to lend and trying to help their communities as they have forever.
What are your thoughts on the overall future of banking in Florida?
It's hard for anybody to call when the sun is going to peak over the horizon. There's been two years of this now. Florida is not just one market, and some of our state markets have seen some return to strength in real estate sales.
I do think you will see some more consolidation among banks, which is a common response in any business when revenues are tougher to come by. Community banks are already getting together and gaining some efficiencies and operating leverage.
I remain optimistic and believe well-run banks with solid game plans will survive.
What do you see happening with FDIC loss sharing on bank takeovers going forward?
The FDIC is bidding more and that should tell us that somebody thinks the market is going to return. There are quite a few more bidders for the banks that are assisted takeovers.
You're also going to see us go back to traditional mergers and acquisitions, but the pricing will be different. You're not going to see the multiple book values or earnings paid by the acquiring bank. Banks of all sizes will look to consolidate expenses and improve efficiency.
Bankers have always been annoyed with credit unions, but lately some credit union mergers appear to erase prior limitations for membership. How do you feel about that?
The thing that personally bothers me about credit unions is that they pay no taxes and were set up for an entirely different reason. Having said that, they have no way to raise capital and that's why you're seeing so many of them merging. The common-bond lines have been blurred for years and nobody has really paid attention to them.
Banks don't have a problem competing with anybody. Just give us a level playing field. If credit unions don't pay taxes, don't give them federal assistance. They have their own deposit fund just like we have ours.
Any other parting thoughts beyond what you expressed at this year's FBA convention and your own BB&T retirement party?
It's been a wonderful time for me. It's been a great time to be here. The growth we experienced in the last four decades fueled the financial services industry, which helped my career. I'm nothing but positive about Florida, it's my home state and I'll retire here.