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Valley Bank commercial lender on crisis: ‘If you’re not communicating with clients, someone else is’

Margie Manning



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Just a few weeks into his new job as senior vice president of Valley Bank’s Pinellas County commercial banking team, Jeff Armstrong has had to quickly pivot to help clients deal with the fallout from the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

In some cases, the bank is offering interest and principal payment deferrals up to 90 days, waived overdraft charges, waived penalties for early CD withdrawals for emergency needs, increased debit and credit card limits and increased loan limits.

Many banks are taking similar steps, following guidance from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which has encouraged financial institutions to take “prudent steps” to help customers and communities impacted by Covid-19.

Jeff Armstrong

Compassion is the word that Armstrong said came to mind when asked about how Valley was working with business owners who are customers of the bank.

“How can we support our clients in supplying liquidity and flexibility in terms so they in turn can take care of their workers,” he said.

Valley Bank, the principal subsidiary of Valley National Bancorp (Nasdaq: VLY) a $37.5 billion asset bank based in Wayne, New Jersey, last year was named a “preferred lender” by the U.S. Small Business Administration, which gives the bank the ability to process SBA loans quickly. The SBA earlier this week opened its disaster loan process for Florida small businesses adversely impacted by Covid-19.

“We’re proactively reaching out to take care of our clients and those we’ve been looking to do business with, to communicate and collaborate and let them know SBA is a great platform for them to take advantage of,” Armstrong said. “There are less equity requirements. There are reduced rate opportunities and they spread out rates to help with amortization or cash flow management for the clients. Especially now as cash is starting to become very precious and drying up in some of the financial markets, having some flexibility on down payments and spreading out payment terms and relief on interest rates are all compelling for our borrowers right now.”

Armstrong is a veteran banker who spent more than a decade as market director and senior vice president at The Bank of Tampa. Most recently, prior to joining Valley Bank, he was director of acquisitions for Sembler Investments in St. Petersburg.

At Valley, he oversees a team of six relationship managers who cover an extensive presence in Pinellas County, where the bank has seven offices. As of June 30, 2019, the most recent date for which information is available from the FDIC, Valley had just over $1 billion in deposits in Pinellas County, or a 2.2 percent deposit market share.

Valley entered the Tampa-St. Petersburg market in early 2018 with the acquisition of USAmeriBank. The bank has a strong presence in north Pinellas County and one branch in St. Petersburg. Armstrong sees expansion opportunities in mid-Pinellas County, especially among the large concentration of manufacturers in Pinellas Park and Largo.

Amid the effort to stay on top of Covid-19 concerns, it feels “a bit like triage,” Armstrong said, as he puts time, energy and resources into areas that have the greatest need.

“It’s times like this that prove we stand with our colleagues and clients. We talk the talk during good times, but the real test isn’t pricing and terms necessarily. It’s us standing by our clients during difficult times,” Armstrong said.

“I think we’re all being tested in so many different ways. I think relationships actually will come out stronger and there might be new relationships out there, because if you’re not communicating with your clients and you’re not caring for them, someone else is.”

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