Tried and Trusted

A Trusted Team—Members of Community Bank & Trust of Florida’s trust department (from left): Ann Tallman, vice president and trust officer; Monty Ergle, vice president and portfolio manager; Lee Ebanks, vice president and senior trust officer; Jim Anthony, executive vice president of wealth management; Emily Humphreys-Beher, assistant vice president and trust officer; Doris Peck, assistant vice president and trust officer; and Melissa Clark, trust assistant.

A Trusted Team—Members of Community Bank & Trust of Florida’s trust department (from left): Ann Tallman, vice president and trust officer; Monty Ergle, vice president and portfolio manager; Lee Ebanks, vice president and senior trust officer; Jim Anthony, executive vice president of wealth management; Emily Humphreys-Beher, assistant vice president and trust officer; Doris Peck, assistant vice president and trust officer; and Melissa Clark, trust assistant.

A Florida community bank builds a specialty in trust and wealth management

By Karen Epper Hoffman

It has been said for years that community banks have all but lost the trust and wealth management business to larger competitors and nonbank rivals. But Community Bank & Trust of Florida is just one shining example that that assessment is wrong. Trust and wealth management is a business line that considerably distinguishes the $620 million-asset community bank.

Based in Ocala, Fla., midway between Jacksonville to the northeast and Tampa to the southwest, Community Bank & Trust of Florida boasts 11 locations spanning three counties, according to Jim Anthony, the bank’s executive vice president in charge of wealth management and retail banking. The bank set its sights on providing wealth management and retail services almost from its start, just 17 years ago.

One of the bank’s founders recruited Anthony from a big-name investment services company more than 13 years ago to come in and start up the community bank’s wealth management business.

Within a year, Anthony, who also had previous banking experience, had lined up insurance and investment offerings through a third-party broker-dealer. The bank soon after obtained regulatory approval for trust powers (chartered through the state) and recruited a team of four other employees with experience and certifications in trust relationships and wealth management. (One recruit to Community Bank & Trust, for example, was a tax attorney who previously headed the trust department at another local bank.)

“The biggest cost to start a trust department is people,” Anthony says. “You cannot start a business like this without experienced, credentialed people. And the cost of attracting talented people in this business is significant.”

From the beginning

Currently, Community Bank & Trust boasts almost 700 wealth management accounts overall, with 250 accounts in the trust area alone. The bank manages $190 million in assets in wealth management overall, $145 million of it in trusts, according to Anthony.

From the beginning, Community Bank & Trust’s founders Hugh Dailey and David Denyer—CEO, president and senior executive vice president and chief financial officer, respectively—wanted to “deliver investment and trust services with the same level of personal attention that community banks are known for,” Anthony says.

Dailey and Denyer knew that by offering these services—which have been in growing demand in Florida as baby boomers reach their twilight years and look to pass on their assets—the bank would not only help keep existing customers’ accounts under one roof, it would help draw new customers as well.

“The biggest cost to start a trust department is people. You cannot start a business like this without experienced, credentialed people.”
—Jim Anthony, Community Bank & Trust of Florida

Nonetheless, the bank had to overcome some hurdles, Anthony points out. Aside from undergoing the state approval process to be allowed to offer trust services, it took the burgeoning bank a good part of a year to get its IT systems and processes in place to handle trust services, he says. “It was a challenging process.”

Early lessons

Also, there was the issue of credibility. Being a young community bank at the time and new to trust services, Community Bank & Trust was depending largely on the experience and background of the wealth management employees it had recruited to bring in business and help compete effectively with bigger institutions that had been in the business much longer. “Our folks already had a track record,” Anthony says, “but we had to leverage that track record and grow by building on successes.”

On the flip side, Community Bank & Trust has benefited from the consolidations and closings experienced by its larger rivals in the trust business. As these competitors close branches in Ocala and other less urban areas, those trust customers have become more willing to look elsewhere for a private banker who is perhaps closer. Also, many of the bigger institutions have raised the minimum level of assets for wealth management customers—in many cases from $500,000 to $1 million or higher—forcing many customers to consider alternatives, Anthony says.

For its part, Community Bank & Trust has kept its minimum to $500,000, but it is flexible and has made exceptions for good and loyal customers. At this time, the bank is one of the only locally owned banks in its market that offers trust services.

Anthony says he would not be surprised if more community banks look to offer trust services to their customers despite the barriers to entry, including the investment in experienced employees, in hardware and software, and in obtaining the trust charter and powers. Trust services represent a growing market where banks can realize steady opportunities for fees to offset shrinking net interest margins.


Karen Epper Hoffman is a freelance financial writer in Washington state.

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