Greenville becomes nerve center for growing United Community Bank

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Lynn Harton, president and chief operating officer of United Community Bank, is one of the seven out of 10 top executives of the Georgia-based bank based in Greenville.

Jefferson Harralson
Jefferson Harralson

A regional bank with a big presence in Greenville is growing again.

United Community Bank, based in Blairsville, Ga., announced plans to absorb Horry County State Bank, which operates eight branches in the Myrtle Beach area, for its fourth merger or acquisition over the past two years.

The bank has also added Jefferson Harralson as its new CFO, to be based in Greenville.

Last year, United gobbled up another small bank on the South Carolina coast, the seven-branch Tidelands Bank of Mount Pleasant.

In 2015, it bought the 10-branch First National Bank in eastern Tennessee and absorbed Greenville-based The Palmetto Bank and its 25 branches across the Upstate.

Today, United presides over 134 branches in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee from its headquarters in Blairsville, a tiny mountain town where it was founded 67 years ago.

Greenville, however, is becoming an increasingly important location for the highly profitable bank. The bank’s chief executive officer, Jimmy Tallent, sits in Blairsville. But seven of its top 10 executives are located in Greenville, including Lynn Harton, president and chief operating officer, and new CFO Harralson.

In August, a well-known Greenvillian, attorney David Wilkins, former speaker of the South Carolina House and former U.S. ambassador to Canada, joined United’s board.

Out of about 2,000 United employees, more than 350 work in the Upstate. In Blairsville, nearly 380 people work for the bank.

Harton said United will occupy about 90,000 square feet of office space in downtown Greenville once it closes on the purchase of a three-story office building at 125 E. Broad St.

He said the bank plans to put about 150 employees in the building, most of them already working downtown at RiverPlace.

The building will house mortgage, consumer credit, and loan operations, Harton said.

United’s other downtown Greenville office locations are the One complex at the corner of Main and Washington streets and the former Palmetto Bank headquarters at the corner of East North and Church streets.

The bank reported earning more than $100 million in 2016, an increase of more than 40 percent from 2015, on revenues of about $404 million.

First quarter earnings are scheduled to be released on April 26.

Going forward, Harton said he expects United to collect an additional $500 to $700 million a year in revenue, not counting the effect of any mergers or acquisitions.

Long-term, he wants the bank to have a presence in Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee; Raleigh, Charlotte, and Wilmington, North Carolina; and Jacksonville, Fla.

Harton said he also hopes to boost the bank’s existing business in Atlanta, Savannah, and the Upstate.

“We’re trying to deliver that best of both worlds, the customer service of a small bank but the quality and the talent of a larger bank,” he told UBJ.

Harralson, the new CFO, worked 15 years at Keefe, Bruyette, and Woods, a New York investment bank, and is well known in the industry as an analyst, according to local bankers.

“I think he’ll bring some unique skills to their company,” said Art Seaver, CEO of Greenville-based Southern First Bank.

In the past, United’s CFO had been based in Blairsville. Harralson, however, will work in Greenville and report to Harton.

Talking about the potential for future mergers and acquisitions, Harralson said he’ll try to ensure that United does the right deals at the right price.

“If you can get that organic growth and use that momentum to have a great stock price and use that stock price to have one well-priced deal a year, then you can really provide shareholder value,” he said.

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