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VOL. 124 | NO. 220 | Monday, November 9, 2009

Banks Make Strengthening Moves

By Andy Meek

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A few months ago, First Horizon National Corp.’s then-chief investor relations officer was named by an industry magazine as the best IR officer among banks with a market capitalization less than $5 billion.

Since then, the Memphis-based bank holding company – and parent of First Tennessee Bank – has moved Dave Miller into a new role as executive vice president of retail banking. The shuffle was born of some recent top-level changes at First Horizon, in which several executives have moved into new offices as the bank named new heads of important lines of business.

Time for change

Banks, financial service companies and investment houses large and small are making similar changes, whether they involve restructuring mortgage lending groups, scouring for new financial advisers to hire or rounding out specialty divisions such as capital markets.

The changes at First Horizon were meant to streamline and crystallize the focus of the company’s core businesses across its Tennessee markets. Miller, who spent several years before his time in investor relations in a role similar to what he’ll be doing now, will head one of the company’s core businesses – retail banking.

“Since I previously spent 12 years in consumer strategy and marketing in this business, I am excited about the opportunity to help move our retail bank forward,” Miller said about his job change. “We have great competitive advantages that we can continue to leverage in growing relationships with households and small businesses.”

The financial services industry as a whole is no longer in a batten the hatches, hunker down and sandbag piling mode.

Some banks still have work to do, with Bank of Bartlett serving as a local example. The family-run bank has agreed to take steps imposed by its regulator, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, with the goal of strengthening the bank’s balance sheet and improving capital levels.

Bank of Bartlett President Harold Byrd recently told The Daily News the bank plans to raise capital in the near future.

Golden opportunities?

Meanwhile, local banks and financial institutions are making a variety of moves to position themselves to end 2009 and kick off the new year in the strongest positions they can. Some of those moves – particularly the new hires – suggest the industry has rounded a corner and optimism is back.

At least it seems to be for the players and institutions with cash to spend and which didn’t lose their shirts or make big bets in soured corners of the economy.

The Memphis-based investment banking firm Duncan-Williams Inc. has added three executives to its equity capital markets division. On the company’s Web page, a wish to bring on new hires is addressed with the prominently displayed message: “The only thing growing faster than us is our need for great professionals.”

Larry Cervetti, formerly a financial adviser at Bank of America, has joined DWI’s Memphis office as senior vice president. Another recent addition to the Memphis office is Vice President Darren Jones, who has seven years of experience in institutional equity sales.

Dirk van Erp has joined DWI’s San Francisco office as senior vice president. He formerly was marketing representative for Insight Capital and was a managing director for Janney Montgomery Scott.

In their third-quarter letter to shareholders sent out a few days ago, the Memphis-based managers of the Longleaf Partners family of mutual funds said they see a golden opportunity to scoop up new talent in the wake of upheaval in the industry since last year.

“The industry turmoil of the last year has provided a qualified pool of people interested in long-term career opportunities,” wrote Southeastern Asset Management Inc. president Staley Cates and chairman and CEO Mason Hawkins. “We view this as a unique chance to add resources to Southeastern that will be part of our team for decades.”

Southeastern wants to hire two entry-level analysts. One would be based in Memphis and the other either in London or Singapore.

Southeastern also wants to add an experienced institutional client manager to work in Memphis and focus on client relationships for the Longleaf mutual funds over the next 20-plus years.

“Our management partners are committed to growing shareholder value,” Cates and Hawkins wrote to shareholders. “In a number of cases, they have moved aggressively to strengthen their competitive advantages in this challenging environment.”

Executives with Miss.-based BancorpSouth and Renasant Bank, both of which have a handful of branches in Shelby County, have talked recently about seeing an opportunity to pick off customers and talent from competitors.

On the company’s third-quarter conference call with analysts, BancorpSouth Chairman and CEO Aubrey Patterson said his bank will continue to attract “strong bankers.”

“We believe in empowerment in our city presidents, our market management and putting decision making as much as we can at the local level and maintaining the strong credit quality controls that permit that to be effective and profitable,” Patterson said. “Most notably, in fact, some of our best growth is coming from markets where we have been able to build our franchise extensions with the assistance of these strong commercial bankers with local strong standing.”

PROPERTY SALES 21 82 6,474
MORTGAGES 7 53 4,088
BUILDING PERMITS 240 353 15,714
BANKRUPTCIES 38 58 3,328