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State Bank Of GA: Banking On Relationships


A new community bank that prides itself in being a high-tech, high-touch bank opened doors in Fayetteville, Georgia in November 2007. The State Bank of Georgia (SBG), a state charted FDIC insured bank is located on the major east-west corridor between Fayetteville and Peachtree City, one of the main growth corridors in the county.

Organized by a diverse group of 21 business professionals, SBG is a reflection of the international flavor that Atlanta has, says bank president and CEO Jerry Stapleton.

“Our board of directors represents a cultural cross-section of our community, and is a reflection of the international flavor that Atlanta has.”

The board includes several Indian-Americans, including bank chairman Dr. Chandler Sharma.

While most banks start off with a marginal unit or store front, SBG was fortunate to find the perfect building to house the bank off Gingercake Road in Fayetteville. From the tastefully done interiors of this building, an energetic group of 14 professionals promote “relationship banking”.

“Our people are trained to learn about you and your family, and to analyze your needs,” says Stapleton. “We are not order takers. We actually do care, and provide personal attention to each customer.”

As an example, he talks about his relationship with his dry cleaners.

“I have been dealing with the same drycleaners- a small mom and pop operation- for 20 years. There have been occasions when they have lost my shirt or messed up my pants. But I still keep going back, because when I walk in, they greet me by my first name, and ask me about my family. That’s important to me.”

Stapleton says he applies the same concept to banking. “What a wonderful concept. Everybody who walks into the bank, we call them by their first name.”

The bank has a sunset rule where all phone calls and emails receive a response before the end of the day.

“I am as accessible as anybody else at the bank,” adds Stapleton.

Chief Lending Officer Mike Teal says that when a customer calls SBG, he speaks to a person, as opposed to larger banks where you end up talking to a machine.

“Our bank personnel understand all elements of banking and have the experience to deal with any situation and to direct people to the best solution for their needs,” he adds.

The top five bank officers have a total of 158 years of banking experience.

Says Stapleton: "We know what it takes to compete in an arena of mega-banks. We have recruited the finest talent in banking, because we knew that to be successful we had to have good people. We have seasoned commercial and consumer lenders as well as seasoned mortgage lenders."

One of the advantages of opening a new bank is bringing in new technology. SBG has state-of-the-art technology and offers electronic and internet banking. Their "remote capture" machine, which is getting popular, allows customers to bank from anywhere. At $25 a month (and a one time set-up fee of $30), businesses can run their checks through a little machine that's smaller than a printer, in the convenience of their office, without ever having to come to the bank.

The idea to open a multi-cultural bank was born out of a “kitchen table” discussion. Chief Financial Officer Kevin Sharpe, a former regulator in the Dept of Banking & Finance, and past CFO at the Capital City Bank felt that there was a need for a minority owned bank in the area. He got together a group of 2-3 people, who brought in other people from different communities. Along the way, it made sense to change the thinking to a culturally diverse bank rather than a minority bank.

SBG’s marketing strategy is to be a little bit better than other community banks, says Lydia Morris, senior retail & marketing manager. She prides herself in remembering every customer’s name.
“Every customer is just as important,” she says. “A lot of banks have gotten away from that [relationship banking].”

The bank plans to open another branch and loan production offices throughout Atlanta in the foreseeable future.

Stapleton is positive about the future of banking, in spite of number of community banks jostling for attention amidst fears of recession.

“Whether small or big, all banks are pretty well capitalized, so they can weather the storm,” he says. “As long as Atlanta continues to grow, there will continue to be new banks, and plenty of business.”


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