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Tampa-St. Pete businesses benefit as most local banks increase lending

Margie Manning



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Loan portfolios increased or remained relatively flat in 2019 at the half-dozen locally based community banks with operations in Pinellas County.

All but one of the banks also increased their profits last year, according to new regulatory reports filed with federal banking officials.

Banks with healthy profits can more easily provide capital and make loans to local business clients, who in turn use that funding to grow their companies, make real estate or equipment purchases, or hire workers.

The biggest lending increase was at Pilot Bank (OTCQX: PLBN), a Tampa-based bank with $430.4 million in total assets as of Dec. 31. Last year was the first full year of operations for the St. Petersburg branch that Pilot opened in October 2018.

At Flagship Bank in Clearwater, where the loan portfolio shrunk by 3.6 percent year-over-year, there’s a new ownership group, made up of veteran bankers from the Tampa-St. Pete area. The acquisition by West Florida Bank Corp. took place in October 2019 and it’s normal for a bank to see its loan portfolio decline prior to an acquisition, Bob McGivney, vice chairman and CEO, previously told the St. Pete Catalyst.

Flagship, with $155 million in assets as of Dec. 31, added almost $6 million in loans in the fourth quarter of 2019, after the new owners were in place.

Q4 2019 also was the strongest quarter of the year for lending at First Citrus Bank (OTC: FCIT), based in Tampa and with $418 million in assets. Additions to the lending team are beginning to create traction in the loan portfolio, according to a news release from First Citrus, which plans to open a St. Petersburg office this year.

First Home Bank in St. Petersburg crossed the half-billion asset threshold in 2019, ending the year with $531 million in assets. First Home Bank had a significant increase in loans in its residential mortgage division and its small business lending division.

“Record years in both residential and SBA production resulted in the corporation’s strong financial performance in 2019. After significant investments in the division over the prior two years, we are delighted to see the residential mortgage division become a critical component of the corporation’s revenue. At the same time, our SBA division, now branded as CreditBench, remains a key driver of net income,” First Home Bank CEO Anthony Leo said in a news release.

Last year also was a big year in SBA lending for The Bank of Tampa. During the federal government’s 2018-2019 fiscal year, the bank’s SBA team helped 18 companies in the greater Tampa Bay area obtain nearly $20 million in SBA 7(a) financing. The Bank of Tampa is ranked as the second largest SBA 7(a) lender in the area, a news release said.

With $1.9 billion in assets, The Bank of Tampa is the largest community bank headquartered in the area, and had the largest net income in 2019, $21.8 million, up 7.8 percent from 2018. Most of the other banks saw profit gains as well.

The only bank not to post a net increase in 2019 was Flagship. Its 2018 net income had been bolstered by a termination fee received when a deal for Flagship to buy BankMobile from Customers Bancorp Inc. fell apart.

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