Magazine article American Banker

Unlikely Banking Center, Protected by Iffy Economy

Magazine article American Banker

Unlikely Banking Center, Protected by Iffy Economy

Article excerpt

Through a curious mix of foresight and luck, Birmingham became a banking center in spite of itself.

By population it's the 67th-largest metropolitan statistical area in the country, and it is in the middle of a state not known for its economic growth.

The city "has a financial district, while most communities of this size have long since become branch-bank towns," said David Adkisson, the president of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce.

As many states hung on to the unit-bank concept, Alabama was one of the first to allow multibank holding companies. It hammered out reciprocal branching agreements with other states even before the Riegle Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994.

When Maria Campbell was superintendent of the Alabama State Banking Department, she would play what she called "Stump the Band," challenging audiences during her frequent speaking appearances to name the nation's second-largest state banking system.

"Nobody would guess Alabama. And it's still true," said Ms. Campbell, who is now at SB&C Consulting in Montgomery.

Alabama bankers "had to figure out -- and they did in spades -- how to get the maximum return for shareholders in a no-growth to slow-growth economy," Ms. Campbell said.

Out-of-state banks sniffed around during the last consolidation wave.

"When interstate branching came along, you could find the corporate aircraft from every large bank in Birmingham," Ms. …

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