The Pinellas County and Hillsborough County markets are very different from a business standpoint.
Those differences have shaped expansion plans for Cogent Bank in the Tampa Bay area.
The bank, headquartered in Orange City in central Florida and with $207 million in assets, has named two veteran bankers as market presidents — Wade Faircloth in Hillsborough and Jackie McIntosh in Pinellas — and they will independently build Cogent Bank within the two business communities, McIntosh told the St. Pete Catalyst.
“I’ve lent in both counties, and the way that you develop business, expand your business, is different,” McIntosh said.
She cited the presence of social clubs, such as the Centre Club and University Club, in Tampa. There are no similar organizations in Pinellas County, she said.
“The markets have been separated by the Bay forever. They are separate markets,” Faircloth said. “We both have networks in our respective counties and that’s where we will grow our bases.”
Cogent Bank is a full-service commercial bank that offers SBA and USDA-backed loans, asset-backed loans and residential mortgages. The bank’s sweet spot is loans between $1 million and $6 million. It has a streamlined credit process for fast turnarounds and high-touch service that will allow it to stand out amid industry consolidation that’s created big bank bureaucracies, Faircloth said.
“All of us are experienced ‘big bank’ bankers and we’ve opted to simplify the process,” McIntosh said.
The bank is building out its infrastructure with a forward vision, she said.
“Some of the pain points I suffered with and my customers suffered with at previous banks was the ability to use cloud-based services for the new wave of technology-oriented customers,” McIntosh said. Many e-commerce companies and those in the online space use accounting software that hasn’t always integrated with traditional banking software, she said. “Through our infrastructure we’re able to service those companies very easily from a technology and treasury management standpoint.”
Cogent was formerly known as Pinnacle Bank, and was one of dozens of Florida banks that struggled during the recession. A 2011 enforcement order that restricted some bank activities was terminated by the Federal Reserve earlier this year.
“We bought an existing charter and recapitalized it a little over a year ago and with that, we decided initially to go into three key markets — Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay,” Faircloth said.
He opened a loan production office in Tampa at the end of 2018, and just moved into a permanent location at 1715 N. Westshore Blvd. The commercial offices are on the third floor of the building, with a retail branch on the first floor expected to open by the end of the year. He’s hired two lenders, a deposit specialist and a loan assistant, and is bringing two more lenders on board now. He’s also hired a branch manager who will be adding staff over the next two months.
McIntosh will open the bank’s first physical location in Pinellas County in Clearwater, with a branch established by the second quarter of 2020. She will expand into St. Petersburg after that. By the end of this year, she expects to have a dozen employees, among them commercial lenders and business development officers, including in the condo and homeowners association space.
The bank’s retail branches will have a sleek, modern feel but retain traditional teller lines.
“It’s tradition meets contemporary,” McIntosh said. “You’ll know it’s a bank. It’s not going to look like a coffee shop.”
“If our customers are coming into the branch they don’t wants to deal with a computer or a machine. They want to talk to an individual and we will have people there to talk to them,” Faircloth said.
While some economists see a recession ahead, both Faircloth and McIntosh are optimistic about the local economy.
Locally, there’s a lot of competition for two key business lines — commercial real estate lending and general purpose commercial and industrial lending.
“On both aspects it’s pretty aggressive out there,” McIntosh said. “Our local economy is doing extremely well right now. There are global concerns, there are other regional concerns, but as far as it being of concern in this market, we’re just not seeing it at this point … We see the small business and middle market areas still doing very well, but we believe it’s under-represented.”
There is a lot of competition on rates, but Cogent Bank has had good deal flow, Faircloth said.
“We’re optimistic about the future, but we also are realistic that maybe where we are at in the cycle is a tough spot right now,” Faircloth said. “But at this point we’re optimistic.”