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Banking's New Color

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  • | 10:00 a.m. May 16, 2014
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Trevor Burgess does not want C1 Bank to be mistaken for the average bank.

Walking into C1 Bank, you'll immediately notice there are no mahogany walls, no offices and no secretaries. The modern design and artsy flair looks more like an office you'd find at a big tech company in Silicon Valley than what you'd expect from a community bank in Florida. Employees follow a strict dress code of either a suit or a C1 Bank shirt.

Burgess, C1 Bank's 40-year-old chief executive officer, says he wanted the bank's office to be open like his previous stomping grounds — the trading floor on Wall Street. The openness not only speaks to the company's culture, but also improves productivity and accountability, he insists.

“If you do the same thing as everyone else, you'll have the same results as everyone else,” Burgess says, “and the average bank hasn't fared too well.”

Going against the grain works for Burgess, who's seen his bank grow from $270 million in late 2009 when he bought his first bank with backing from investors, to $1.4 billion in assets with 28 branches in Florida. The bank is the 18th largest in Florida and is in the top 1% of fastest-growing banks in the country, according to company releases.

Inspired by companies like Apple, C1 accounts are kept simple. You can choose from two options: a value account or a complex account. Customers can work with associates to open a new account through an iPad application in less than a few minutes. The company also is implementing ATMs that resemble self-service check-in kiosks at airports. The bank even has its own technology development department to help improve efficiencies, called C1 Labs.

“Materially we are 40% larger, with the same amount of people,” Burgess says. With 219 employees, the company focuses on hiring through its Management Training Program, a partnership with University of South Florida with a $500,000 annual price tag. The six-month program allows six to nine graduates each year to work at the bank and earn a chance at full-time employment.

Focusing on businesses looking to borrow between $2 million and $20 million, C1 addresses a market that doesn't have many community bank options in the state of Florida. Burgess says his biggest competition comes from “nameless, faceless” banks such as Regions, Wells Fargo, BB&T and Bank of America. C1's new loans have grown from $83.9 million in 2010 to $418 million last year.

Burgess believes his experience on Wall Street raising money for more than 100 companies gave him the exposure he needed to see different business plans, executives and styles. “I felt if I was given the right opportunity, I could really make something of it.”

So between him, his business partner, Marcelo Lima, and two other former clients, they raised $70 million, and attracted $30 million from friends and family to start a bank during the recession.
They bought four banks, “all with severe or extremely severe problems,” Burgess says. He learned by “cleaning up” the mistakes of others, he says.

Burgess says he's also learned a lot about business from his friend and mentor, Steve Ells, Chipotle's CEO. The No. 1 lesson he's taken is the importance of paying attention to details. He's said he's seen Ells clean the front window of a Chipotle location to show employees the importance of every piece of the customer experience.

Burgess says he does the same, trying to take as much time as possible visiting his 28 branches. “I'm no 30,000-foot guy,” Burgess says. “We can have a contest here and I'll know more on every client than anybody else.”

C1 has made headlines multiple times in the past few years for its untraditional policies.

Last month Burgess enacted a company-wide minimum wage of $14 an hour, almost double that of Florida's minimum wage. He bumped pay for 26 employees, saying it not only was the right thing to do, but it's a good way to attract and retain talent and improve service levels.

For a few employees, that meant a $6,000 salary raise overnight. Despite the additional expense, Burgess says the company probably came out ahead with the move because it received a number of new clients after announcing the change.

He also opened a bank branch in Wynwood in Miami, featuring Andy Warhol prints and a funky layout that can be converted into event space. It's a move that Burgess says he'd like to make in additional locations to stand out from the rest, along with his other ideas like building a bank on wheels, the C1 Bank Mobile, to travel around festivals and sporting events.

It's all about differentiating the bank from its competition, Burgess says. “We're trying to make banking a little more fun again.”

Year Revenue Growth

2011 $32.3 million
2012 $53.3 million 65.1%
2013 $70.1 million 31.7%

2011 153
2012 210
2013 219


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