From Will Loftin’s perspective as senior vice president and consumer banking executive for Regions Bank, the future looks bright for Mississippi. Loftin is responsible for consumer banking operations in the central and southern parts of Mississippi, representing 80 branches and more than 600 employees. Statewide, Regions has more than 146 branches and over 1,600 employees.
In a recent meeting at the Mississippi Business Journal, he outlined some of the reasons he feels positive about the next several years.
“Mississippi is a very stable market for Regions,” he said. “Our roots are deep, and we have many great employees who have worked with us for years. And Mississippi does have a business-friendly climate.”
As Mississippi’s largest bank, Loftin says that Regions weathered the financial storms of recent years well, and has built a very solid base in both its loan and deposit bases, with more than $7 billion in deposits and $4 billion in loans. He says the bank’s market share is in the “15 percent range” in Mississippi.
Asked what he saw as key growth areas, he indicated that growth in small business services (defined as businesses in the range of 250,000-5,000,000 in sales) is an important part of their growing business segments, as is mortgage loans. In fact, Regions has a large loan servicing operation in Hattiesburg and expects this to grow as the housing market recovers.
The key question, of course: Is the housing marketing recovering?
“Yes, it definitely is on the upswing,” said Loftin. “We’re in a lot better shape today than we were just 12 months ago, and we’re seeing a lot of new mortgage activity.”
As he sees it, the drivers of a reviving housing market are low interest rates, shrinking housing inventories and the simple fact that rents have been increasing steadily.
“In may cases, it’s now cheaper to buy a home than to rent one,” he suggested. He sees an upswing in both new and existing home sales.
Overall, he pointed to very strong business conditions on the Coast, in Hattiesburg, Jackson and Tupelo.
“All of these markets have good things going for them,” he said, “and we see that continuing through the next two to three years.”
What are some of the challenges faced by consumers and banks? Among other things, Loftin pointed to the vital importance of educating consumers in all matters related to finance. To provide support in this area, the bank offers a number of programs.
Recently, Regions has been offering its “Financial Fitness Fridays,” providing information and support that are designed to help consumers better manage their finances. They publish a number of finance-related publications and offer website support.
“All too often, consumers put off important decisions on their finances, and this can land them in hot water,” he said. “We’re doing all we can to help consumers meet their needs.”
He stressed the importance of providing good financial literacy courses in public schools. Regions is supportive of the efforts of the Mississippi Council on Economic Education to provide financial education and teacher training in Mississippi’s public schools, and is also involved directly with a program they call the “green piggy bank” in elementary schools.
“We really need to follow young people through their education with sound financial education,” he said. “Before you know it, they’re in college, taking student loans, getting credit cards, and many have not been educated effectively on how to manage their finances.”
Regions is also concerned about the potential for elder abuse, and is committed to helping older people avoid some of the pitfalls of poorly managed finances, scams and ineffective planning.
What about the new banking and consumer mortgage regulations that are on the horizon?
“We intend to be on top of these changes, and will provide support and information to our customers so that all are better able to understand the potential impact of these changes,” he said. “Certainly, our bank is strong and healthy, and while we can’t forecast what changes may ultimately be adopted in banking regulations, we intend to be prepared and ready to deal with them. Our capital levels are as high as they’ve ever been.”
As a top 20 bank, Regions expects that there are “some great opportunities for us to grow in the coming years, and our presence in Mississippi will continue to be a strong one.”
Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at email@example.com or (601) 364-1021.