‘Soundness, profitability and growth’

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For more than eight decades, South State Bank has used those principles to build relationships throughout three states

 

The story of South State Bank encompasses the history of several other banks that have been acquired through the years. It was founded as First National Bank in Orangeburg in 1933 and opened the following year, capitalized by farmers who banded together to dig out of the Great Depression. Last year the bank brought its five different entities under one name. That included two 80-year-old banks: South Carolina Bank and Trust, and First Federal.

Founded in 1933, at a time when the Great Depression had seen many financial institutions close their doors, South Carolina Bank and Trust was started by seven farsighted men who were determined to bring banking services to Orangeburg, SC. The bank was originally named First National Bank in Orangeburg. Robert Lide, a prominent Orangeburg attorney, and businessmen Wallace C. Bethea, D.A. Gardner, W.L. Glover, E.V. Mirmow, Dwight Moseley, and Dr. C.A. Mobley were the organizers. Each pledged a minimum stock purchase of $1,000 and together raised $62,500 through the sale of stock, which required concerted effort, and borrowed a matching amount from the federal government’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation.

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A Columbia customer born in 1914 remembers when the bank was formed. “My father had some of the original stock he received when the bank was opened. He had some money in a bank that failed during the depression. Mr. Bill Glover told him that a new bank was being formed and asked him to accept stock in the new bank in lieu of the money. My dad accepted and we’ve had stock in South Carolina Bank and Trust ever since. I opened my first account at the new bank in 1934.”

As a result of their determination, South Carolina Bank and Trust opened its doors as First National Bank in Orangeburg on January 2, 1934. Located in the old Edisto National Bank building at 170 Russell Street in Orangeburg, the company featured just six employees under President Robert Lide.

The company’s first expansion outside of South Carolina was in 2007 with the acquisition of The Scottish Bank in North Carolina, which it renamed NCBT. In 2010, the bank entered the Georgia market with its acquisition of Community Bank & Trust, a failed bank in northeastern Georgia founded in 1900. In 2011, the acquisition of two strong healthy banks, Peoples Bancorporation in the Upstate and The Savannah Bancorp in coastal Georgia, allowed the bank to further expand into new markets. In 2014, the bank rebranded to its new name, South State Bank, to bring SCBT, NCBT, Community Bank & Trust and The Savannah Bank under one name.

The first big acquisition was Community Bank and Trust, a failed bank in northeastern Georgia, followed by Habersham Bank in that same market, which closed in 2011. Community banks People’s Bank and The Savannah Bank were also acquired, though they had not failed. Finally, South State Bank became the new name for SCBT, NCBT, Community Bank & Trust and The Savannah Bank in 2014.

 

Heading Upstate

 

Since 1933, South State Bank has expanded into communities in 19 South Carolina counties, 12 Georgia counties and four North Carolina counties. The bank operated in South Carolina’s Lowcountry for its first 60 years and began to look for statewide opportunities 20 years ago.

SouthStateBankPulloutJohn Windley, president of South State Bank, said a pivotal moment in the bank’s history was the formation of First National Corporation in 1985. Another important moment in the company’s history was its entry into the Greenville market. Windley joined the company in 2002 to spearhead the entry and form his leadership team, recruiting Mike Coggin, Upstate Regional president. Both had worked with Citizens & Southern National bank and remained on board through acquisitions by NationsBank, and then Bank of America.

“John hired me, Jimmy Lindsey, Shields Cochran, Tom Ledbetter and Morris Hardigree to start the Greenville region and we are all still in leadership roles in the company today,” Coggin said. “The region was profitable in under a year, which is rare in the banking industry.”

The group set up shop on the third floor of the Ogletree Deakins law firm building. They had no customers in the market, but they put their sign out and began drumming up business.

“The Peoples Bancorporation merger in December of 2011 really rounded out our presence in the Upstate, adding offices in Pickens, Anderson and Oconee counties,” Coggin said.

Later the bank’s acquisition of Community Bank & Trust in Georgia was the most profitable quarter in the company’s history.

“Across our company, we have 15 employees who have been with the company for over 40 years, including five with over 45 years of service. Specifically in the Upstate and Foothills regions, we have two employees with over 26 years with the bank, and five who have been here over 20 years,” Coggin said.

 

Facing challenges

 

The company fared well during a period that saw many financial institutions of all sizes in trouble.

“Our bank never got involved in a lot of the risky lending practices that were happening in the industry, and these conservative methods helped us survive and thrive during the recent banking crisis and economic downturn,” Coggin said. “In fact, we were one of the few companies to continue to turn a profit during the down time.”

Windley said important values haven’t changed in the bank’s 80 years.

“We were founded on the principles of soundness, profitability and growth, and we still use those to govern our decisions today,” Windley said. “For over 80 years, we’ve been creating relationships built on trust with our employees, customers and communities.”

At the same time, because of the nature of the bank’s growth, 80 percent of its employees have been with the company fewer than five years. Recognitions like service awards are an important part of acknowledging achievements and maintaining a sense of community.

 

Good times

 

Some of the proudest moments in the bank’s history have occurred in recent years.

“In 2013, our company completed the largest bank merger in South Carolina history, bringing together two 80-year-old financial institutions,” said Windley. “Being able to execute a merger of this magnitude with minimal customer impact is quite an accomplishment and a testimony to the quality of our team.”

The company’s stock has consistently outperformed peers in the Southeast Bank Index and the NASDAQ Composite Index for the past five years, Windley said. He credited the bank’s successes to sticking with traditional banking in areas such as mortgage, wealth and retail. Yet measuring growth by local markets, rather than by these lines of business, has been an important tool for growth, he said.

“There’s ownership in local markets and decision-making in local markets,” he said. This has allowed the bank to grow to about $8 billion in assets today. With that model, the bank will continue to gain longstanding relationships into the future, he said.

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