Flashback: Banking in the Local Wealth Niche
Juan Blackwell became president of The Bank of Mobile in 1986, when bank consolidations spurred old money titans to create their own local brands.
In the first year of publication of Business Alabama, 1986, we were reporting anxious times for Alabama banks. In February, the Legislature had finally passed an interstate banking bill, allowing Alabama banks to merge outside the state.
It was long overdue, as far as the state’s big banks were concerned. Most states in the Southeast had adopted interstate banking several years earlier.
Anxieties of a different kind struck others, who figured their banking interests would be diminished in a wave of bank consolidations. Among these were some of the wealthiest customers and investors of the banks being realigned, and these local bank partisans got busy creating new banks.
The first of these new banks was The Bank of Mobile, which set up shop in March of 1986. Its investors were a cross-section of established wealth. Among the directors were William J. Hearin, publisher of the Mobile Press-Register; John R. Miller, president of T.R. Miller Mill Co.; Thomas E. McMillan Jr., president of Smackco Ltd. oil exploration company; A.F. Delchamps, chairman of Delchamps Inc., and J. Robert Boykin, president of Tensaw Land and Timber Co.
Beyond the “emotionalism” of local loyalties, said Bank of Mobile President Juan Blackwell, his investors had “reflected on what had happened in U.S. banking over the years, during which large holding companies had come in,” said Blackwell. “There were around 400 new banks formed in 1984, for instance, at an average capitalization of around $2 million to $5 million.”
First Commercial Bank of Birmingham, launched in September 1986, was also backed by an impressive gathering of established wealth. Its first board of directors included Dixon Brooke, general manager of EBSCO Subscription Services; developer Jim Wilson; Larry Drummond, president of Drummond Coal Co.; Mike Goodrich, vice president of BE&K, and Mike Thompson, vice president of sales for Thompson Tractor Co.
“We’re looking to serve the ‘over-the-mountain’ customer,” said Tom Broughton, president of First Commercial. “Our clientele includes a lot of people who own their own businesses, established businesses doing from $1 million to $50 million in sales per year.”
The Bank of Mobile merged with Brewton’s First National Bank in 1993 and was renamed BankTrust.
Trustmark Financial, based in Jackson, Miss., bought BankTrust in February, 2013, while Synovus Bank, based in Columbus, Ga., bought First Commercial in 1992.