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Seacoast Bank doubles down on St. Petersburg

Margie Manning

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Seacoast Bank at the former Freedom Bank office at 1200 4th St. N.

Seacoast Bank added two offices and closed one in St. Petersburg over the weekend.

Just days after closing on the purchase of Fourth Street Banking Co. and Freedom Bank, Seacoast was up and running Monday in two former Freedom offices, at 1200 4th St. N., and at 9700 Koger Blvd.

At the same time, Seacoast closed its office at 965 Central Ave. in downtown St. Petersburg.

The transition should be seamless for customers, said Cathy Swanson, who was CEO of Freedom and now is senior vice president and Pinellas County market president for Seacoast.

Seacoast Bank signs went up over the weekend at the former Freedom Bank at 1200 4th St. N.

The deal was finalized Friday and bank employees worked through the weekend to integrate operations and move Freedom accounts to Seacoast. Freedom employees are staying on and the Seacoast employees in downtown St. Pete will work out of the former Freedom offices.

The stock transaction, which closed on Aug. 21, was valued at about $41.7 million. Freedom shareholders got 0.1275 shares of stock of Seacoast Banking Corp. of Florida (Nasdaq: SBCF). Seacoast, an $8.1 billion-asset bank based in Stuart, Florida, previously acquired two Tampa banks, GulfShore Bank and NorthStar Bank, in 2017, and expects to keep expanding its Tampa-St. Petersburg presence, said Allen Brinkman, Seacoast Bank regional president, Tampa Bay and southwest Florida.

Seacoast’s strength is local decision-making and a community bank approach, and Freedom’s values and its “white-glove” approach to clients was very similar, Brinkman said.

“It was an extremely well run bank. I can give kudos to Cathy and her leadership team forhow well they operated the bank. Customers love their bankers, and it was an absolute perfect fit culturally for Seacoast and also to continue to grow our market in Tampa Bay, which we want to continue to invest in,” Brinkman said.

Cathy Swanson, CEO, Freedom Bank

Freedom Bank, with $359 million in deposits and $312 million in loans, was one of just two community banks headquartered in St. Petersburg, and one of 10 in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area. The number of smaller banks has been shrinking, amid technology advances, competitive pressures and compliance costs and other regulatory mandates.

“When we started looking at the future for small community banks and our opportunities down the road, we looked at Seacoast and we thought, here’s an opportunity to be able to continue to provide tremendous service to our customers and yet keep that nice, small community bank feel,” Swanson said. “We felt that was the right way for us to go to provide customers with more products, services and lending capacity, and still have a community bank that’s been around for 90 years and really cares about their customers. So it felt like an easy segue for us to do that.”

Unknown economic territory

Both banks were active in the Payroll Protection Program, part of the federal Covid-19 relief funding package and intended to provide an incentive for small businesses to keep workers on their payrolls.

Apart from PPP, customer demand for lending is limited, as business borrowers face unknown economic territory, Swanson said.

Allen Brinkman

“There is still demand out there but I would not say it’s very robust or aggressive. It’s very measured and thoughtful and I think customers are getting measured and thoughtful responses back from the bank,” Brinkman said.

Both Brinkman and Swanson stressed the importance of bankers listening to customers’ needs and providing guidance and advice.

“This is where banks set themselves apart in my opinion,” Brinkman said. “Good times are easy to operate in for banks and for businesses, but when there’s hard times you start to recognize who your partners are, and I think if you’ve been able to give good advice in the past it becomes more valuable.”

Amid uncertainty, the Tampa Bay market, with a diverse mix of industries, is one of the best markets in Florida from a growth standpoint, Brinkman said.

“We want to invest in Tampa Bay, and Pinellas is an incredible market. If you think about Pinellas and what it offers, especially from a middle-market, small and medium-size business perspective, it has an incredible amount of opportunity,” Brinkman said. “We will always be looking to invest in the area.”

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