The Spark: Happenings in Upstate Biz with Trevor Anderson

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Just as it occurs in life, culture in business doesn’t just evolve overnight.

In the banking industry, where economic headwinds, regulations, consumer behavior, and other factors are constantly changing the landscape, particularly for community banks, personality and core principles have become paramount.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., you know, that organization that props up the U.S. financial system, reported the number of insured commercial banks in the country decreased almost 4 percent in 2017 to 4,919 institutions, compared with 5,116 during the previous year.

Since 1980, the number of FDIC-insured banks has fallen nearly 66 percent from 14,434 institutions.

Suffice to say, there’s a race on, not to see which banks will grow the largest, but which ones will still be around within a decade or so.

And one Upstate institution appears to be on the right track.

“Our business is survival of the fittest,” says Lynn Harton, CEO of Georgia-based United Community Bank (UCB). “It’s intensely competitive. …The question is, who are those winners going to be?”

Full disclosure: This reporter doesn’t bank with UCB.

It’s like a vegan trying to describe the taste of a thick, juicy steak. You don’t really know until you’ve tried it.

And there are a lot of community banks in the Upstate that are succeeding. However, few have enjoyed growth like UCB in such a short span of time.

Founded in 1950, UCB entered South Carolina in 2012. At the time, the bank had zero market share, zero locations, and only one employee — Harton — in the state.

Since establishing its Greenville corporate office in 2013, UCB’s operations in South Carolina have grown to 540 employees and 39 branches, including nearly 25 locations in the Upstate.

The bank’s total deposits in the state were $1.7 billion and UCB ranked No. 9 in market share in South Carolina in 2017.

UCB’s corporate footprint in downtown Greenville has expanded to about 90,000 square feet.

In addition to Harton, the bank’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, chief information officer, president of mortgage services, president of commercial banking solutions, chief credit officer, and chief audit officer are all based in Greenville.

The Upstate has become the epicenter for UCB’s entire enchilada, which includes more than 2,050 employees, $12.3 billion in assets, and 151 branches in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Tennessee.

UCB is building a new multimillion-dollar Spartanburg market headquarters that is expected to transform one of the city’s major gateways to downtown.

In each of the past four years, J.D. Power has ranked UCB first in customer satisfaction in the Southeast.

The bank has made Forbes’ 100 Best Banks in America list for five consecutive years.

The list of achievements goes on.

But when you boil it down, UCB’s success in South Carolina stems from a culture that prizes forward thinking, community relationships, and openness to change. It also encompasses its CEO’s belief in Greenville and the Upstate.

For example, UCB has partnered with Clemson University to develop its Leadership Academy, an internal talent development program that grooms 15 of the bank’s emerging leaders annually.

The bank supports the Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville’s Ice on Main, and a range of other community organizations and events across the region and state.

Although technology has made it more convenient than ever for customers to conduct banking business online, Harton says the bank remains committed to the best customer service possible.

“Our model of a community bank is one that is focused on the community in which it operates,” says Harton. “We can be organized like a small bank, care like a small bank, but have the resources of [a larger bank].”

Sorry about all of the food puns, but the proof may, in fact, be in the pudding.

“Lynn Harton has been instrumental in so many ways in supporting Greenville’s business and cultural development,” says Greenville developer Phil Hughes. “Without Lynn, Greenville wouldn’t be what it is today. And, with Lynn and United’s substantial local presence and support, Greenville is sure to continue its quality growth and vibrancy.”

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