HUNTERSVILLE – Having a community bank located close to Charlotte, one of the nation’s largest banking districts, hasn’t hurt business for lake-based banks.
Charlotte-based banking giant Bank of America reported a small $340 million quarterly profit last fall. The profit margins don’t reach that high for community banks around the lake, but that doesn't mean they’re not succeeding.
“I think some of the big banks are doing (better than people think),” said Jim Marshall, the president of Mooresville-based Blueharbor Bank.
“They’re viable competition, but there’s always going to be a place for a community bank because some people like a personal touch with their banking. (Community banks) are able to offer that more than big banks can.”
The personal touch community banks like Blueharbor and Cornelius-based Aquesta Bank offer lake residents is a major reason why they not only survived the economic downturn, but they’re doing well because they focus on small business.
“If you don’t have a lot of 0’s after your name, (big banks) will do a loan for you, but it won’t be tailored to your situation,” Aquesta President Jim Engel said.
“There would be little to no relationship associated with it. (Community banks) are for the local people and we have local knowledge. We want to help small businesses grow.”
But good business and solid customer bases don’t always translate to growth, Engel said.
“There was a time, a number of years ago, where (it was feasible) to form new banks,” he said. “But that’s highly unlikely for the foreseeable future. There can be new branches, but I don’t see any new banks starting up.”
“The days of new charter banks opening are few and far between,” he said.
So how do community banks succeed in a climate that doesn’t include expansion? One method is to look at the positive in the lack of new banks sprouting up: There’s less competition. The competition associated with attracting customers is centralized between the local community banks already around the lake, and local credit unions.
While the number of lake-area small banks isn’t expected to grow, the ones already in place play a vital role in Lake Norman’s growth.
“If you don’t have community banks, the small business entrepreneur (can have) a difficult time getting the financing they need for their small business,” Engel said.
“Their ability to be successful will be damaged. There are towns where all they have is a community bank. They allow small communities to thrive and grow.”
Marshall said there’s a balance to be struck between appreciating the notoriety that comes from being near a major finance district, but as a lake-area bank, distinguishing small banks from Charlotte and the big-city banking industry.
“Community banks offer competitive services,” he said. “We know our customers by name. Banking’s very simple. It’s not a complicated method. You handle transactions and you work with people. We’re in a good growth area for community banks.”
Marshall and Engel said the personal touch community banks try to provide to those around them doesn't stop with knowing a name and a face.
“They participate in community events and support the people who bank with them,” Marshall said.
“I believe community banks help build better communities.”