Bank Giant Grows in Alabama
Charlotte-based giant Bank of America expanded in 2014 to target the state’s rapid growth in midsize businesses. They claim a 37 percent increase in business in their second year.
It was an offer Brooks Emory felt he could not turn down.
When Bank of America Merrill Lynch approached him with a job offer in 2014 to help build up its commercial banking footprint in Birmingham, he had already racked up close to 15 years in the industry.
His steady rise in the banking world started in the early 2000s at the former SouthTrust Bank, where he worked as a loan review analyst. After three years, he moved to AmSouth Bank to become an assistant vice president. He then made two more job switches; he became a vice president of commercial relationship management, first at Red Mountain Bank in 2006 and then at Cadence Bank in 2011. That is when Bank of America Merrill Lynch called.
“I wasn’t really looking to make a change,” says Emory, “but I was intrigued. It was an interesting opportunity, and I was happy to talk with them, and after I met the people and heard about the opportunity, it was a real no-brainer. They have excellent people, and it was an excellent chance to bring resources to some great businesses here in the market.
“It’s a real opportunity to make a splash with a big company and bring some resources to a market that I’m strongly and personally invested in.”
Today, Emory is a vice president and senior relationship manager for Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Birmingham market, a city that happens to be one of the largest banking hubs in the nation. His office is located in the Colonial Brookwood Village Center in Homewood, a suburb just outside of Birmingham.
Emory points out, however, that the bank’s long-term strategic goals cannot be isolated to a specific municipality or metropolitan statistical area, as it covers the entire state of Alabama and into neighboring states as well.
“Alan Schweer established a commercial banking presence for Bank of America in Alabama more than 25 years ago in the larger corporate space,” he says. “I was brought in three years ago to expand our commercial banking efforts and build on the outstanding foundation already in place for larger companies. At that time, there were three commercial bankers, including myself.”
The bank has since added members to the commercial team, says Emory, not only in Birmingham, but also in Huntsville and Mobile, including several people just within the last year. The bank now has nine team members covering the market.
“The reception has gone extremely well,” he says. “I started a little over three years ago with just myself sitting here along with my other corporate partners who had been here, and if we had not gotten the momentum and the reception we had, we would not have gone through the expansion.”
Bank of America, which is headquartered in Charlotte, is one of the largest banks in the United States, with approximately 46 million consumer and small business customers and 34 million active accounts.
The bank, however, has no brick-and-mortar consumer banking retail branches in Alabama. On the other hand, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, a subsidiary of the bank since 2009, has 11 offices throughout the state.
While Emory could not say whether Bank of America Merrill Lynch has plans to one day build physical banking retail branches in Alabama going forward, he says recent advances in technologies, such as mobile banking, means consumer and commercial customers these days can conduct their transactions online from their computers and smartphones 24 hours a day from anywhere without the restrictions that come with banking at a physical branch.
Emory says Alabama has proven to be fertile ground for the bank’s commercial efforts with the explosive growth of mid-sized businesses in the state.
“It’s really a strategic market for our bank,” he says. “It’s what we call a strategic growth market, and we have a strong legacy in manufacturing and family-owned businesses. We just felt like there was an opportunity for Bank of America to be the resource for those companies and businesses.”
Emory and his team target businesses with at least $5 million in revenue, he says. That includes companies in sectors such as technology, manufacturing, food and beverage, health care, as well as small business. To attract new business clients, Emory says they offer a boutique delivery of commercial banking, which is a more personable model.
“We have target people we’re speaking with in the pipeline,” says Emory, “so a typical day usually includes touching base and managing existing portfolios, as well as actively pursuing new opportunities and finding new ways to be a resource to the businesses in the market and getting the word out.”
He and his team are able to offer their business clients financial solutions such as lending and treasury management across the entire Bank of America Merrill Lynch platform. However, the race to capture commercial clients in the Birmingham market and around Alabama is highly competitive, he says, especially with the establishment of so many newer community banks in the state in recent years.
One major advantage Bank of America Merrill Lynch has, however, is its focus on hiring homegrown talent who already have contacts in Birmingham, says Emory, who is a Birmingham native.
“Using that network of contacts as well as working with our Merrill Lynch partners, you create a pipeline of opportunities and you get out there and tell the story and become a resource to people and a reliable banking partner,” Emory says. “That’s kind of how you do it in an across-the-board industry fashion and that’s definitely working for us here.”
Despite the challenges, Bank of America Merrill Lynch has steadily grown its commercial business in Alabama, he says. The bank reported on July 1, 2016, that year-to-date, it made $412,891,601 in new loans to commercial businesses in Alabama, representing a 37 percent year-over-year increase. The previous year, 2015, it issued $17.8 million in new credit to small businesses in Alabama.
“Every year has been an exceeding of our corporate goals set forth by the team,” he says.
Emory, who is married with two sons ages 6 and 4, has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama and an MBA from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He says that early on, he decided to follow a different career path than his family.
“My family is all in real estate,” he says. “I’m the banker, so I grew up in an environment of building things, and that’s the way I see the banking side. I’m trying to help people to build things and sustain things and ensure success for the next generation.”
Gail Short and Cary Norton are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Birmingham.