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Banking: The Big Picture

Mark Bensabat
Consumers don't want debt either
Credit card use is in decline, the Fed reports. The July survey found demand for consumer debt at best unchanged. "They're de-leveraging, just like business is."

— JPMorgan Chase's Mark Bensabat
[Photo: Brook Pifer]

The patient has a pulse but
is a long way from healthy.

"It's certainly starting to feel like in parts of Florida things are starting to get better," says Wells Fargo's Shelley Freeman, but "in parts of Florida, things are still very challenging." The Fed beige book reports economic activity in the southern U.S. slowed in early summer. Retailers were less optimistic. Tourism operators worried about the impact of the oil spill. Employers preferred stretching existing staff and bringing in temps rather than making permanent hires.

Credit is available, but ...
The Fed's July survey of senior loan officers found lending conditions easing but mostly at large banks. Smaller banks were more wary. Eased standards and terms came particularly in categories seeing competition from other banks and non-bank lenders.

The survey found the first easing for small firms since 2006. Easing is relative. At eight of 10 banks, conditions were unchanged.

But creditworthy borrowers don't want more debt. The caveat here is the definition of creditworthy, as many formerly creditworthy companies no longer are deemed so. That said, most banks saw no increase in business loan demand, the July survey showed. "Business loan demand was also muted" in the southern United States, according to the beige book report for the Atlanta region.

Bank of America's Michael Fields cites a National Federation of Independent Business' August survey showing 91% of companies say their financing needs are being met or they don't want to borrow. The percentage of companies planning capital expenditures is near a 35-year low. "What businesses need are customers, giving them a reason to hire and make capital expenditures and borrow to support those activities," the NFIB says.

Tom Kuntz
"My sense is we're starting to come back. We're not coming back fast, but we are coming back. I wouldn't try to tell you things are great because they're not. But they are getting better."

— SunTrust's Tom Kuntz
[Photo: Mark Wemple]

Comeback signs
Regions Bank's Brett Couch has seen a slight increase in loan demand from businesses. But it's what he calls opportunistic borrowing — companies buying facilities or other companies they see as a good value with prices down — rather than borrowing to accommodate expected growth.

Meanwhile, Bank of America's Fields says line of credit use, a key measure of businesses' appetite for debt relative to their business growth, is stabilizing after having dropped.

Financial employment
Several big banks say they are hiring. But, in general, banks and other depository institutions saw employment drop 4.9% (4,700 jobs) as of July, compared to a year earlier, says Florida's labor stat keeper, the Agency for Workforce Innovation. Overall, employment in the lending business in Florida was down 4.4% in July (6,800 jobs), compared to July 2009.

Dwindling numbers
Florida's dwindling number of banks cumulatively lost $395 million in earnings in the second quarter ended June 30, an improvement from the $1-billion loss in the same period last year. The percentage of money-losing institutions declined to 62% from 71%. The amount of foreclosed real estate that banks held increased to $1.95 billion, up from $1.6 billion. The number of FDIC-insured institutions fell to 265 from 301.

Big Picture I
Two-legged stools fall down. The Great Recession proves that Florida must diversify from tourism, real estate and agriculture.

Big Picture II
The sun still shines. Florida's geographic advantages remain.

Shelley Freeman
Wells Fargo
Florida president of community banking

Summer weekends: Driving from her home in Aventura to the Panhandle. "I'm certainly getting to see a lot of Florida end to end."

Compared to L.A.: Miami's a lot more compact and has less traffic.

Interests: Beach, walking the dog on the beach, theater, movies

Gadget-crazed: BlackBerry, Kindle and iPad

Last book read:
"Every Last One" by Anna Quindlen.

[Photo: Mark Wemple]

With family in Florida and with many a vacation spent with them and at Disney in the last 40 years, Shelley Freeman says she always intended to move here. She even bought property in the Panhandle for some day.

Her plans accelerated drastically with Wells Fargo's acquisition of Wachovia in 2008. In January 2009, she was brought from Los Angeles, where she headed community banking in the metro, to lead Wells' Florida operations.

Wells is adding bankers "as quick as we can." She tells prospects: "Working for Wells Fargo is like playing centerfield for the New York Yankees ... and I'm a Yankees fan, by the way. I probably shouldn't say that. It's a great brand, a great company and a great place to work."

Freeman joined Wells in 1996 after a career in marketing and high net worth services with Lehman Bros. For San Francisco-based Wells, she ran marketing and other functions in private client services and was regional president in Los Angeles. She remains national co-leader of the bank's affluent customer support strategy.

Freeman is encouraged that Wells' Florida checking accounts grew a net 7.3% in the second quarter. Next year, Wachovia branches in Florida will take the Wells name. The company recently signed a lease for its community banking state headquarters in Miami at the towering new Met2 office building, to be renamed the Wells Fargo Center.

Freeman, 52, says she has no doubts about Florida's future. "As things get better in other places, things will get better in Florida. Florida is the place people have come for generations to fulfill their dreams. That's not going to change."

And, she adds, "They'll buy our inexpensive real estate at prices they haven't seen in a long time."

Thomas G. Kuntz
Thomas G. Kuntz
SunTrust Banks
corporate executive vice president, geographic banking executive

SunTrust Bank, Florida
chairman, president, CEO

Competition: "It's always been competitive. There's never been a time when I would have said, ‘This is good. This is easy.' It's always hard, but that's why we work hard."

Father of the brides: One twin daughter just married, and the other is getting married. "We spend a lot of time talking about weddings right now."

The job: "I've got the best job in the world. I spend a lot of time in a lot of nice places."

[Photo: Brook Pifer]
Coming out of Rollins College in 1978, New York native Thomas G. Kuntz took a job as a management associate with what's now SunTrust Bank. Figuring the bank was nice enough to hire him, he set a goal of staying at least a year.

He exceeded that goal 32 times over. For SunTrust, he's lived in Orlando, Tampa and south Florida, run regions and international and national and corporate divisions. In the last two years, he has been promoted twice. First, the Winter Park resident was put in charge of companywide commercial banking. As of April, he was assigned responsibility for the Atlanta-based bank's 16 geographic regions, covering 1,700 branches in 11 states running from Baltimore west to Memphis and south to Homestead, including retail, commercial and business banking, and private wealth management. That's in addition to heading SunTrust Bank, Florida. He's also the immediate past vice chairman of Enterprise Florida. (Vice chairman is the top private sector post at the state economic development group; the governor always is the chairman.)

Kuntz says SunTrust is expanding its Small Business Administration lending. And he's nothing if not optimistic. Witness his views on all the new federal financial regulation: "Yes, there's going to be change, but it probably presents us with the single greatest opportunity in my 32 years to distinguish ourselves," says Kuntz, 54.

Brett D. Couch
Regions Bank
president, Florida

Always wanted to be: A banker. "I did. Growing up in a small town, the two banks in town were certainly so much a part of the community. Banking is a great way to be involved in your community at so many levels."

Lessons: "My dad taught me how to take ideas and turn them into reality, and my mom (who taught high school business education) taught me all parts of the business have to work for it to work."

Michigan will be calling: After Couch moved his family back to Alabama, the Tide won a national championship. After they moved to Tennessee, the Volunteers won the national championship. After they moved to Mississippi, Ole Miss won 10 games. After moving to Florida, the Gators have won two national football championships.

[Photo: Mark Wemple]
Early in his career, Brett D. Couch was telling his father — a farmer and small-businessman who did everything from making corrugated boxes to boats — how tough banking was. A few days later, Couch received a package from his father. Inside, he found a miniature hay baler and a note: "If banking gets too tough, we could really use you back on the farm."

"I've actually got (the baler) in my hand right now," says Couch, by phone from Tampa, where he runs Florida for Birmingham, Ala.-based Regions Bank.
A native of 5,000-population, Fayette, Ala., and a University of Alabama graduate, Couch spent five years at the beginning of his career with SunTrust in Atlanta before returning to Alabama to what's now Regions. In his nearly 20 years with the bank, he has worked in Alabama and Tennessee and has been Regions president for west Florida and Mississippi.

Couch, 47, notes that Regions is fourth in small-business lending in Florida, according to the Small Business Administration. "Our company likes small business, and that's certainly going to be one of the focuses as we continue to be going forward," he says.

The economy is stabilizing in several cities in Florida, he says. "That stabilization is not nearly as much fun as growth," he acknowledges, but "stabilization is the first part of growth."

Michael Fields
• Michael M. Fields
Bank of America
Florida state president, director of government relations, Tallahassee president

Age 63:
"I don't have that date out there when I'm going to sit on the front porch and rock."
Annual trip: To South Dakota with his brother to hunt

Recreation: His beach place between Panama City and Destin, trips to the gym, children, grandchildren

Collegiate career: FSU football. "Linebacker — and I wasn't very good." He's a past chairman of the Seminole Boosters.

Favorite book: "A Land Remembered" by Patrick D. Smith.

Recent reads: "Age of Turbulence" by Alan Greenspan; "Havana Nocturne" by T.J. English. For light reading: Clive Cussler

[Photo: Mark Wemple]

Lewis State Bank. Gulf National Bank. Southern Bank of Tallahassee. C&S National Bank.

The four banks have two things in common. All — and this speaks volumes about the trajectory of Florida banking — wound up part of Bank of America. And Michael M. Fields worked at all of them. "I have been fortunate to do virtually everything in the industry, and I have been blessed by that," Fields says.

As state president for Charlotte-based Bank of America, Fields, 63, provides the strategic leadership for the company's corporate social responsibility work such as grants and community development lending. He's also its lobbyist and its face, elucidating the bank's record on loan modifications, foreclosures, services for low-income and minority people and charitable giving — more than $12 million in grants to Florida non-profits by the bank's foundation in 2009. "Corporate philanthropy is central to Bank of America's vision, and one of the ways we set opportunity in motion for our communities," he says.

Fields says the bank is "aggressively hiring in virtually every space" and, as of August, had 400 jobs open.

At present, customers are "very cautious" about taking on more debt to expand their businesses, Fields says. "Our customers and the state of Florida have been under a huge amount of stress. It appears it's going to be a slow and arduous recovery. As a state, we're going to have to have some patience."

Mark Bensabat
Mark Bensabat
JPMorgan Chase
CEO, middle market banking Florida

Someone told him: "You're not a true Floridian until you've invested in a real estate deal."

Summer vacation: Little Palm and a short cruise

Football: Dolphins and Saints

Baseball: LSU Tigers

Lately: Cooking. Historically: Diving, sailing, fishing, golf

Recent reads: "Last Man Standing: The Ascent of Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase" by Duff McDonald; "The Defector" by Daniel Silva

[Photo: Brook Pifer]

JPMorgan Chase's plans for Florida include 140 new branches in the next several years in south Florida, building on the base it acquired in late 2008 when it took over failed Washington Mutual's operation here. To staff those branches, it is hiring hundreds of new bankers and is adding 600 to build its small-business lending and commercial, private and investment bank business. "All of these are receiving tremendous resources now and in the coming years," says Mark Bensabat, the New York bank's CEO for middle market banking in Florida, which covers companies with $20 million to $500 million in revenue.

Long term, Florida's lack of income tax and state estate tax and being "blessed with a great climate and a great piece of real estate" bode well, says Bensabat, 52. For now, though, commercial real estate and residential mortgages continue to weigh the state down, he says. In other sectors, "there's some foundation, some stabilizing and a base for moving forward," he says. Chase has counseled more than 22,000 mortgage holders since opening 11 centers in Florida to do loan modifications.

A second-generation banker, Bensabat is a fourth-generation New Orleans native. He came to Florida in the seventh grade when his father became head of the old Coral Gables First National Bank. He graduated from Florida State with a bachelor's in economics and an MBA and returned to Louisiana, spending 13 years in New Orleans and 15 years in Baton Rouge at Bank One and First Commerce, which eventually were subsumed into Chase.

Chase sent him to Florida in 2009 after it closed the WaMu deal. "We're new to the market, and we're very pleased with the reception we've gotten," Bensabat says of Chase.