'We have money, and we're loaning money'
Bank's Expansion Means Money is Going Further
by Tom Ensey
It’s a new year. And Aliant Bank spent the whole last quarter of 2009 getting ready for it.
In the wake of the recession that battered many financial institutions to their knees, the 109-year-old bank that began in Alexander City is poised for aggressive expansion into new Alabama markets targeting Huntsville, Mobile and Auburn-Opelika.
The Russell family started the bank before they started Russell Corp., and John Russell Thomas, a direct descendant, is the chairman of the organization that now has 15 branches in three regions that include Montgomery, Birmingham and Alexander City. The bank has grown to be a major player in state finance by being “conservative, not by buying other banks,” said Pete Knight, the president of the Montgomery region. “We’ve grown from within.”
The bank has about $1 billion in assets, Knight said.
“We can do pretty much what the market demands,” he said. “We can make a $15 million loan without asking for help from other banks. We have the technology to compete with other banks. We love small businesses, and try to be (the small business owner’s) partner, not just his bank.”
Aliant has the technology to handle a bank twice its current size, Knight said. That – coupled with downsizing of other banks, which has made experienced, talented bankers available to hire – has presented a unique “opportunity for banks like us,” Knight said.
The bank’s current president and chief executive officer, Eric Hamilton, came to Aliant about 2 1/2 years ago from Colonial Bank. He worked all over the state with Colonial, and knows bankers in Mobile, Huntsville and other markets.
“He has matched up with our personality great,” Knight said. “His ability to identify talent in these markets gives us the confidence level to go for it.”
Knight said Aliant has always been a needs-based bank more than a product-pushing bank. That has made it immune to what he called “big bank problems.”
“We’re a community bank that focuses on loans and deposits,” he said. “We’re not into investment swaps or any of that.”
He said the River Region is poised for expansion as well.
“As bad as it’s been here, it’s better than it has been in other parts of the state, the Southeast and the country,” he said. “We have money and we’re loaning money.”
The Central Alabama market has traditionally been Aliant’s best, and Knight believes it’s going to stay that way as the bank grows and the economy improves. Aliant will work to expand its market share here, as well as in Birmingham and Alex City.
“We’re not planning on a lot of brick and mortar projects in the River Region,” he said. “But we believe there’s as much opportunity to grow here as anywhere.”
Aliant tries to fit the community rather than make the community fit the bank, he said. “We hire the people first, then we build the buildings,” he said.
The same philosophy that has allowed the bank to become a stable, dependable corporate citizen in the River Region will help it expand into the new markets.
The people who work for Aliant tend to stay there. There have been only two presidents of the Central Alabama region since it joined with the First Montgomery Bank. Two members of the board, Bill Richardson and Jerry Kyser, have served for 34 years. There are branch managers in the River Region who have been at the same bank for 10 years, a rarity in the business these days.
Knight said he’s more excited about this year than any other year he’s worked for Aliant.
“We’ve got a good game plan out there to make it happen,” he said.