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Banking pros enthusiastic about launching new venture

Metropolitan BancGroup Inc., a newly formed Mississippi-based holding company, recently entered into a definitive agreement to acquire BancSouth Financial Corporation, parent company of Crystal Springs-based Bank of the South.

In making the announcement, Mike McRee, chairman of BancSouth Financial Corporation, said the board of directors has approved the transaction, which is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year. The transaction is subject to regulatory approval and other customary closing conditions. The parties did not disclose financial terms of the transaction.

McRee has served on the boards of several banks — Merchants and Planters Bank of Hazlehurst (acquired by Trustmark in the early 1980s) and then on the board of directors of Trustmark National Bank before acquiring the majority ownership in The Bank of the South where he is currently chairman.

“I was the founder and majority stockholder in Investek Capital Management, an asset management company that has managed investment portfolios for a number of banks and provided analytical software to assist them in the asset/liability function.

In all, it adds up to some 30 years of banking related experience,” McRee said.

He added, “My rationale for merging with a newly created bank holding company is that, although The Bank of South is very strongly capitalized and other than its home base in Copiah County has a small presence in the Jackson metro market, in order to create a significant impact in metropolitan markets like Jackson and Memphis and we would require more capital and an experienced and expanded management team. Metropolitan BancGroup brings both a capital commitment and seasoned leadership with the skills needed to build a great institution.”

Metropolitan BancGroup is anticipating acquiring either an existing financial institution or bank charter in Tennessee. Metropolitan will apply to be a full-service financial services company. Its primary strategic focus will be in the commercial and private banking market segments, including real estate construction and mortgage lending.

“We are extremely excited to join with Mike and the entire Bank of the South team as we expand into the metropolitan markets of Jackson and Memphis with a robust relationship-based niche strategy driven by talented bankers,” said Curt Gabardi, former market president for Regions Bank in Jackson and Memphis.

Gabardi, who has more than 20 years of experience with Sovran Bank, Union Planters Bank and Regions, added, “Clearly, our point of differentiation will be our people and the consultative approach to each banking relationship. As the financial services arena continues to consolidate and with the commoditization of the banking industry in particular, we feel very passionately this is the right strategy for our current and prospective customers, associates and shareholders.”

The company will have two primary main offices, one in Madison and the other in Memphis.

Growth plans

Gabardi said the company’s growth plan will be to deepen its presence in the Madison-Ridgeland and Rankin County markets. “We believe we’ve identified a new location in Madison as the next logical area to expand the bank’s presence,” he added.

According to Gabardi, the point of distinction will be the bank’s talent and organizational culture. “I’ve always believed that if you have an unwavering focus on the customer, the right results will fall.

“We strongly believe in our niche strategy but no strategy can be successfully sustained without talented associates,” he noted.

Gabardi said, “After I left Regions, I wanted to pursue a new journey, and the opportunity to create a high-touch niche bank that focuses on commercial and private banking relationships.”

“I’ve known Mike a long time and have great respect for his investment prowess. After I shared with him the strategic vision of the new organization, he became very excited and supportive about joining us,” said Gabardi.

Gabardi envisions a banking environment where “people possess the desire and technical skill sets capable of exceeding expectations on the spot. This is a simple business that begins and ends around your people, and that’s where we’ll put a stake in the ground”.

“Our strategy will lead us to focus on two high-growth markets in and around Memphis and Jackson while, at the same time, continue to increase our opportunities in our community banking franchise,” said Gabardi, who will divide his time between Memphis and Jackson.

‘Meaningful presence’

He said, “We’re not attempting to be a large retail bank trying to be all things to all people. We’re going to be very surgical about where we put over brick and mortar.”

“Our aspirations are not to be all over the Southeast but rather develop a meaningful presence where we are one customer at a time,” said Gabardi.

He noted the company is ready to sign a lease for temporary headquarters on Highland Colony Parkway in Madison. A determination is also expected soon about permanent headquarters in Madison.

McRee said, “I believe, given the current trends in mega financial institutions coming into this region, there is a great opportunity for a strongly capitalized service-oriented bank to provide to this area the kind of personalized relationship-driven banking experience that is becoming a rarity these days.”

Bank of the South has three branches in Mississippi — Flowood, Crystal Springs and Jackson.

Danny McDill, president of Bank of the South, will continue to lead the bank’s Copiah County initiatives and will become a senior vice president in the new organization.

Rick Adams, most recently commercial banking executive for Regions Bank in Jackson, joins Metropolitan as chief operating officer and will head commercial banking.

In Memphis, commercial banking will be lead by Phillip May, former commercial banking executive and most recently area credit officer for Regions Bank.

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