by Amy Martinez
Updated 5 yearss ago
In a year of national agitation over income inequality, Trevor Burgess, WAGE president and CEO of C1 Bank in St. Petersburg, decided to simply do what he calls the right thing: He established a new "living wage" policy under which no one who works for him will make less than $30,000 a year.
"It was actually a personal journey," Burgess says. "In late 2013, I was looking at how well the bank was doing, and I asked to see a run from our HR department of all the salaries of all our employees. What quickly stood out for me is we had 26 people who were making under $30,000 a year."
Burgess, a 42-year-old alumnus of Morgan Stanley in New York, formed C1 during the recession with three other investors through the purchase of Community Bank of Manatee. The bank made $42 million in interest from loans in 2013, up from $32 million the year before, while total assets increased to $1.3 billion from $938 million. Assets per employee rose 13% to $5.2 million.
To determine a "fair" living wage, Burgess used an online cost-of-living calculator from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. On April 1, C1 began paying its permanent full-time employees no less than $14 an hour vs. a state minimum wage of $8.05. Its three lowest paid employees — all single mothers — went from making $23,000 annually to about $30,000. In all, 26 of the bank's 217 employees received raises.
"The back story is my parents were divorced. I was raised by a single mother. She was a secretary," Burgess says. "I was happy for our shareholders to make a little less if all of our employees could make a living wage."
The move was not solely altruistic, however. Burgess, who was paid more than $600,000 in salary and bonus in 2013, believes that by providing a livable wage, C1 will win over civic-minded customers and attract and retain the best employees, especially tellers. The national median pay for tellers is about $25,000, and for Burgess a higher wage fits C1's "clients first, community first" branding strategy.
"The role of all of our employees is to provide a superior level of service and Counsel," Burgess says. "I try to hire smarter people who can provide advice and not just read a script off a computer screen."
Burgess' initiative hasn't set off a groundswell of similar moves at big banks, but at least one other bank has followed suit. In the fall, First Green Bank in central Florida began paying a minimum of $14.40 an hour, boosting pay for 11 of its 66 employees. Burgess says he's heard from multiple business owners who quietly instituted their own living wage programs "because it's the right thing to do."
What's more, the pay pledge has captured local government's attention. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who has proposed a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour for city workers, honored C1 and Burgess with a "Living the Vision" award in October. Meanwhile, Burgess took C1 public, raising about $45 million last August.
"Banks have gotten a bad rap through this whole recession, some of it deserved," Burgess says. "But community banking can be really additive and positive for the communities it serves."