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Columbia Business Monthly

United Community Banks Inc. is ready to establish itself in the Midlands

By David Dykes

A year ago United Community Banks Inc.’s Lynn Harton acknowledged that a lack of a presence in the Midlands was a weak spot in the company’s geographic business portfolio. To address the issue, the chairman and chief executive officer for the Blairsville, Ga.-based company was left with a choice: launch operations in the Midlands by hiring a new team or establish a foothold by acquiring or merging with an existing bank in the area.  

UCB chose the former, expanding its South Carolina presence by hiring three well-known Columbia-based bankers from outside the company to launch its Midlands operations. Shannon Stephens, Michael Glenn and Austin McVay will spearhead those operations while introducing the bank’s commercial lending capabilities to the market. UCB has more than 40 locations in South Carolina, spread across the Upstate and the coast. 
“Two things continue to change in the M&A business,” Harton says. “Number one is there are just fewer opportunities out there. If you look in general, you can just count off the number of banks that have been sold in our markets over the last few years and so there are just fewer quality institutions that you want.”

Number two, private equity “is pretty much out of the market,” he adds. Of UCB’s acquisitions in recent years, most were bought from private equity firms. 

UCB is still having “multiple conversations” with other community banks across the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee about possible partnerships, Harton said. But “it’s a longer process now” due to a solid economy, better credit conditions and improved industry performance, he said.

While growing organically is slower, Harton feels it’s the right move for UCB in the Columbia area. However, UCB faces an uphill challenge.

Wells Fargo, Bank of America and BB&T dominate the Columbia area in deposit market share and are the top three across the state, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data.

United Community Banks, a bank holding company with executive offices in Greenville, is one of the southeast region’s largest full-service financial institutions with $12.7 billion in assets, and 149 offices in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Those operate as United Community Bank, the company’s bank subsidiary. 

Harton knows that because of UCB’s smaller size, it will be difficult to approach the larger banks’ market share. Yet, he wants a strong ranking and a bricks-and-mortar Midlands presence because most new account openings occur in branches. He anticipates 25 to 30 percent of new accounts will come from online applications.

Over the next three to five years, Harton hopes UCB will grow in the Columbia area, be known for its customer service, be better branded and a strong digital player.

“We could stand up a separate digital bank and go national if we wanted to, but we don’t want to do that,” he says. “We’re anchored in our communities.”

In the Midlands, he will depend on his new team to be those anchors.

Stephens brings 18 years’ experience to his new role as president in the Midlands, where he will be responsible for all aspects of UCB’s banking operations, growth and market expansion. A former Hilton Head resident, Stephens has lived in Columbia for three years and has led commercial and small business banking teams at other regional banks throughout his career.

Glenn, a Columbia-area native, joins the team as vice president/commercial relationship manager. He has 12 years of industry experience and has worked across multiple disciplines, including retail banking, commercial credit, cash management and commercial lending.

McVay, a Lexington resident, has eight years’ experience and joins the bank as a vice president/commercial relationship.

“I could not ask for a better group of bankers to introduce United Community Bank to the Midlands,” says Dixon Woodward, UCB’s state president of South Carolina and Coastal Georgia. “Shannon, Austin and Michael have more than 35 years of combined experience and understand the importance of building meaningful relationships with their clients.”
UCB subsequently added another commercial banker, Eric Schelble, to the team from outside UCB, and internally promoted the Greenville team’s David Glenn to join its Columbia operations as senior portfolio manager.

“With our executive team situated in the Upstate and our strong foundation along the coast, expansion into the Midlands was a perfect fit,” says Rich Bradshaw, UCB’s chief banking officer.