Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York might not offer the same growth opportunities as some other parts of the country, but that didn’t prevent Bank Services member S&T Bancorp from reporting record earnings in the third quarter of this year. Well managed institutions usually find a way to perform even when the conditions are less than optimal, or they’re located in slower growing markets. With $6.7 billion in assets, S&T is headquartered in Indiana, Pennsylvania, a small college town located about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. It is an area that depends on manufacturing, service companies and Indiana University of Pennsylvania—the community’s largest employer—for jobs. Natural gas exploration in the Marcellus Shale formation, which runs through the region, also has been an ascending industry.
In recent years, S&T has expanded its lending activities into Ohio and Western New York, while also expanding its branch network west to the outer rim of Pittsburgh and east to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Todd D. Brice, who has served as president and chief executive officer since 2008, talked recently with Bank Director Editor in Chief Jack Milligan about a range of issues, including loan growth in S&T’s three-state region.
What’s happening in the loan market in your three-state area?
Brice: I think it’s pretty steady. We’ve made some pretty significant investments over the last four years or so to diversify the company. Our roots are in Western Pennsylvania, but in 2012, we opened up a loan production office in Akron, Ohio, and in ’14 we jumped down to Columbus, Ohio, with another team of bankers. Last year we acquired Integrity Bank in the Harrisburg/Lancaster market, which was about an $800 million institution. That got us into the Central Pennsylvania market. We also opened up a loan production office in Rochester, New York.
What we’re finding out is that each market provides different opportunities, and it gives us the ability to shift. If you’re seeing a softness in one market, you can focus attention in another market. I think one of the hallmarks of our company has been our ability to grow organically over our history, and then augment that with select M&A.
Were these lending teams recruited away from other organizations?
Brice: Yes. In Akron, we originally had three people; today we have eight people in that office. In Columbus we started out with four people and we have eight. Western New York is a market that we’ve been lending into probably for 15 years. Our philosophy is not so much just to get into a market, but get into it with the right people. We were finally able to land a gentleman to lead the team up there, and then he was able to go out and recruit other high caliber bankers to the organization. All the bankers that we brought on board have very extensive experience in their respective markets.
In markets like Columbus and Akron, would it be logical to follow up those loan production offices with acquisitions at some point, if you found something that made sense?
Brice: We just haven’t found the right fit for us. I think if you look at our history, we’ve been pretty disciplined, and try and stick to a model that has seemed to work for us, but we’ll continue to keep our eyes open.
In Akron, we haven’t been able to find the right partner so we decided to open a full-service branch that will use a private banking-type model.
Are you worried about a recession?
Brice: I think you’re always worried about a slowdown. That’s why we’ve made significant investments over the last six years on the risk management side of the business. We monitor the loan portfolio in a number of different ways to try and keep an eye on concentrations, by product type or by markets, so if there is a downturn we can weather it a little better than some of the other folks.
The consumer financial services market is increasingly becoming mobile in its focus. Does that present challenges for S&T, or do you feel like that doesn’t really impact you because you’re [more of a commercial] bank?
Brice: Mobile is an important distribution channel for us. I won’t say we’re going to be the first to market with a new technology, but we have a good partner in FIS and they get us up to speed pretty quickly, so we feel we have a pretty competitive suite of products. We just did an analysis on how we rank in different categories, whether it be online, mobile, bill pay, online account openings on deposit side and loan side, online financial management tools, text alerts, mobile deposit, remote deposit capture. We think that we compare favorably with our competitors, but it’s something we definitely need to keep an eye on going forward because while commercial banking gets a lot of the spotlight, consumer has been a very strong line of business for us for many years. We’re a 114-year-old company and we’ve built up a nice little franchise over that period of time.
Is the demand for mobile-based products, or mobile-based services, as strong in a smaller market like Indiana, Pennsylvania, as it would be in a larger urban area?
Brice: Some of the things you’re seeing in the metropolitan markets, like branches that rely more on technology than people, I would say some of the rural markets we’re in are probably not quite ready for that. We are looking at taking that approach in some of our urban markets. Everybody has a mobile phone and they want to stay connected, so it’s important for us to make sure that we have those products to offer them. Fifty percent of our customer base use our online baking product, and another 15 percent also use our mobile banking product, which compares favorable to the utilization rates of our competitors.
The bank reported record third quarter earnings in October. What were the two or three things that helped drive that performance?
Brice: We had a lot of things go our way. We were up 20 percent over the second quarter and another 9 percent over the third quarter of last year. Our average loan book was up about $100 million for the quarter. That helped to grow [net] interest income by about $1.7 million. Another area that we focus on pretty extensively is expense management. We were down approximately $400,000 quarter over quarter. We had a recovery on a prior loan that helped us out, but also our data processing costs are down about $600,000 a quarter. We renegotiated a contract which was effective July 1.
Then we had a nice little lift on fee income which was up about a $1 million quarter over quarter. Some of that was driven by mortgage activity and also increased debit card income. Credit costs were down about $2.3 million quarter over quarter. We had a little bit of a spike in the first quarter in credit losses, but we’re seeing that kind of come back into line.
How does the fourth quarter look?
Brice: I like how we’re positioned. I think we’ve demonstrated that we have a good team of bankers that is able to go out and grow the business organically. I like the markets that we’re in; they are going to provide varying degrees of opportunity. I think long-term, we’ll keep our eyes open. We don’t feel we have to go out and do anything immediately on the M&A side. If the right opportunity pops up, we’ll certainly take a look, but we’re going to be disciplined on how we evaluate it.
What do you expect from your board? How can the board be helpful to you?
Brice: When you look at the makeup of the board, we have three former bank CEOs. All of them have extensive knowledge of the industry, so they are great mentors, great sounding boards, and they give me a different perspective on how I would evaluate things from time to time. Our other board members who are not former bankers bring different skill sets, whether it’s specific industry knowledge or an understanding of the markets we operate in. I think we have a very effective board. They challenge management, but at the same time, they support us to make sure our management team is doing a good job for our shareholders.
Last question: What is your dream vacation?
Brice: I like to spend some time in the Del Mar, California, area. You get down by the beach in August and it’s 75 degrees in the afternoon and 65 at night. It’s just a nice little quiet getaway. My wife and I and the kids like to get out there from time to time.
You’ll have to do an acquisition in Southern California so you have a reason to go there.
Brice: (laughs) If I did that, then I’d have to go out there and work! That’s why I like to get out there and get away.