By Barry Waldman
First National Bank, a Pittsburgh-based bank with nearly $34 billion in assets, says it believes its business approach and an emergent market are a perfect marriage in a crowded Charleston banking market.
The bank opened its first retail branch in downtown Charleston in April, at the corner of Calhoun and Meeting streets, and is establishing a regional office on lower Meeting Street and another branch on Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant, while also looking for sites in Summerville, West Ashley and elsewhere.
First National, which is not affiliated with First National Bank of South Carolina, becomes the 33rd banking company in the Charleston market. By comparison, Charlotte has 40 banks for three times the population.
Founded in 1864 outside Pittsburgh, parent company FNB’s Charleston entree is part of a multistate strategy that has grown the company to 400 branches in seven states along the Atlantic Coast. FNB said it proposes to offer a range of products and technology while retaining a personal touch.
Offerings will include robust online and mobile banking platforms, live videoconferencing, a call center, ATMs and the use of artificial intelligence and data analysis.
FNB Chairman and CEO Vincent Delie Jr. said the hybrid of size and proximity to customers provides a “utopia” for clients — the perfect balance between super large banks and community banks.
“We think the Charleston market is a dynamic market and believe the opportunity is there to deliver our model, which is rooted in making local decisions and having the scale and sophistication of a larger bank to deliver the products, services and interactions in a community bank wrapper,” he said.
The Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review banks — those deemed too big to fail — have the market muscle to provide capital, exploit economies of scale and support technological innovation; but their layers of bureaucracy and remote decision-making can inhibit customer service. On the other end of the spectrum, small community banks can offer a personal touch but can struggle to keep up with technology.
FNB, the nation’s 59th largest bank out of more than 5,300, according to the FDIC’s March 2019 rankings, hopes to exploit the space between by aligning functions to weed out bureaucracy, offering a breadth of services and keeping decision-making in the market.
“We bring a depth of product,” Delie said. “We hire people from the local market, bring experts in from larger institutions to bring a level of sophistication and discipline to the table.”
FNB has hired local bankers to executive positions in Charleston, including former Wells Fargo and Wachovia area president Len Hutchison as regional market president. Hutchison is a Clemson graduate with 38 years of Charleston banking leadership experience.
As part of its entree into the market, the bank made a $10,000 donation to Charleston Promise Neighborhood, which provides educational programming and wraparound services to children, schools and families in the high-poverty Charleston Neck area.
The bank contributed $2.2 million to charities across its footprint last year and encourages its staff to volunteer as part of its effort to integrate into a community.
Delie says the insular Charleston of 20 years ago might have been resistant to an out-of-town institution like First National Bank. The explosive growth that has spawned an influx of newcomers into the area has opened up this opportunity.
FNB’s $1.4 billion purchase three years ago of Raleigh-based Yadkin Financial Corp., which owned a $100 million commercial banking portfolio, provided it a toehold into Charleston’s mortgage and commercial banking markets. It has already seen growth in those areas, fueling its confidence about doing business here.
Delie says business owners and retail customers can benefit from doing business with FNB because it gives its employees incentives to deliver a depth of products and services customers need, not to simply churn transactions.
Delie has been visiting family in Charleston for 30 years and knows the market well. He says the expansion into the Lowcountry could set off a request for employee transfers.
FNB also has three retail branches in the Upstate from its takeover of Yadkin Financial.