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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 15, 2017 1 year ago

Market Move

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A $1.5 billion Tampa bank makes an opportunistic move to stretch its geography.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Charlie Murphy has worked at a bank in top executive roles for some 40 years, but he hasn't been a true banker for a while.

The inconsistency? Murphy spent most of the past decade overseeing Sarasota-based Bank of Commerce while it tried to navigate the recession and its aftermath. That meant lots of loan workouts and often futile attempts to raise capital and find partners. It also meant few chances to go networking, find customers and loan money.

Conway, Ark.-based Home BancShares acquired Bank of Commerce in February in a $4.2 million deal, part of a bankruptcy filing from Bank of Commerce's holding company. Bank of Commerce had roughly $182.5 million in total assets when it was acquired, but lingering capital and nonperforming assets on the books handicapped the bank from taking part in the economic rebound.

The end of Bank of Commerce, founded in 1999, was a crushing — and costly — blow to Murphy personally, the bank's board and shareholders. But Murphy is now back with another opportunity: head of the recently launched Sarasota market for Bank of Tampa.

“This is right up my alley,” Murphy says. “I'm really looking forward to getting back to real banking.”

Bank of Tampa announced the move into Sarasota in July, with a loan production office. Murphy quickly set up temporary offices, in former Bank of Commerce space in downtown Sarasota. A 4,000-square-foot, full-service Bank of Tampa office for Sarasota is projected to open by the end of 2017. The investment in the new location, from $700,000 to $800,000, includes up to eight hires to start with, say bank officials, including three lending officers.

Bank of Tampa CEO Bill West says the move to open shop 60 miles south of the company's headquarters is opportunistic. It comes on the heels of mergers and acquisitions involving nearly every other remaining area community bank. After those deals, there are two locally based community banks left in the two-county market: Sarasota-based Sabal Palm Bank, with $155.3 million in assets through June 30, and Premier Community Bank of Florida, formerly 1st Manatee Bank, with $170.6 million in assets.

Even with the market gap in community banks, West, with of Bank of Tampa since 1993 and CEO since 2008, takes nothing for granted. “We don't expect it to be easy here,” West says. “We know this area still has a lot of banks, but we do think there is some space for us.”

Adds West: “We want to be a local bank in Sarasota, not a Tampa bank in the Sarasota market.”

Bank of Tampa, somewhat conservatively, has grown into one of the largest community banks in the region since it was founded 1984. It had $1.57 billion in assets through June 30, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data. Sarasota is Bank of Tampa's 11th office, and the 12th location, in Clearwater, is expected to open early next year. The bank has 230 employees, and had $56.7 million in revenue in 2016.

West says Bank of Tampa, privately owned by 400 shareholders, a group that includes staff, directors and employees, approaches its business differently than a traditional community bank. The bank targets owner-managed businesses and professional firms for clients, says West, with a high-touch, high-level of service approach more Northern Trust than the bank around the corner. The bank, for example, has at least 400 law firm clients. Adds West: “We are like a private bank for business owners and private professionals.”

Reinvigorated under Bank of Tampa, Murphy plans to get involved, again, in some organizations he hasn't been active in for several years, due to the ongoing survival mode at Bank of Commerce. He also hopes to grow geographically within the Sarasota-Manatee region, possibly to Lakewood Ranch in east Manatee County. “My goal,” Murphy says, “is to be able to call Bill and say were out of space.”

(This story was updated to reflect the correct date Bill West was named CEO of Bank of Tampa.)

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