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Banks still adapting to post-Katrina market, opportunities

On the Coast, there are new banking opportunities and a different banking environment post-Hurricane Katrina.

It’s all about being responsive to the community and their needs, said Cheryl Johnson, president, Mississippi Gulf Coast for Regions Bank. That’s why the banking system is building two new branches, one in Gulfport and one in Biloxi, at two of the area’s fastest-growing locations.

Ground was recently broken for a Regions Bank on Cowan Road just north of Pass Road in the vicinity of branches of Hancock Bank and BancorpSouth Bank. “That’s a great area and a wonderful entrance into Gulfport,” Johnson said. “There’s a ton of growth in that area, and we knew we needed a presence there.”

She said plans for the new office were in the works before the hurricane, but post-storm growth is intensifying the project. The hurricane left the lot a mess with many destroyed trees.

“Everything has gone relatively smoothly, and we’re planting 50 new trees after construction, although we were able to save some of the trees,” Johnson said. “We altered the plan of the building to save some trees.”

This branch and the one in Biloxi will have cutting-edge technology with such features as fingerprint recognition for safety deposit boxes. The Biloxi branch will be at the corner of Popps Ferry and Cedar Lake roads.

“Regions Bank has committed $12 million to Gulf Coast projects that includes refurbishing all branches,” she said. “We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished in rebuilding, and are working to move people to a more normal environment.”

Into the market

Trustmark Bank did not have any direct pre-Katrina experience in this market, but opened a branch in D’Iberville in 2006 and plans to open branches in Gulfport and Biloxi.

“We entered the market after the storm because we were servicing several thousand mortgage loans for customers on the Coast,” said Art Stevens, president of Trustmark’s South Region. “As you can imagine, many of these customers were receiving insurance checks that needed to be endorsed by the bank, and our nearest office was in Hattiesburg.”

He said Trustmark’s experience with these customers in the months following the hurricane convinced the bank it needed a more permanent presence on the Coast, which led to opening the D’Iberville office.

‘Lighthouse’ strategy for Hancock

For Hancock Bank, 55 of the 59 locations affected by the hurricane in the four-state area have been refurbished and reoccupied to date. That includes the corporate headquarters in downtown Gulfport, a $45-million restoration.

Construction that was begun at a Pascagoula location before Katrina, withstood the storm’s fury and was completed in the spring of 2006.

“That branch was the first of more than 40 strategically located ‘lighthouse branches’ now key to the company’s disaster recovery plan in areas most vulnerable to a direct hit from a hurricane,” said Paul Maxwell, corporate vice president of communications. “It is pre-equipped with a permanent, automatic generator and other emergency equipment to support essential banking operations during a power failure.”

A state-of-the-art data center is nearing completion north of Interstate 10. This reinforced concrete complex is located at one of the highest elevations in Harrison County and designed to withstand winds exceeding 200 miles per hour. Hancock Bank’s data operations groups and other crucial units will begin to occupy the facility in late summer.

Maxwell said Hancock Bank looks forward to completing restorations and re-openings of the historic branches in downtown Bay St. Louis (where the bank was founded in 1899) and in Pass Christian by mid-to-late summer.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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