15 Minutes With … Mitch Hunt

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Mitch Hunt on lending in Florida

Mitch Hunt
President and CEO of the $390 Million-Asset FirstAtlantic Bank in Jacksonville, Fla.

IB: Where is FirstAtlantic Bank? What is the community/marketplace like?

Hunt: FirstAtlantic Bank is headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla., but our eight locations are spread across the St. Augustine, Ponte Verde and Orange Park markets. Our markets are dominated by the medical and financial services processing industries, as well as the U.S. Navy. More than 40,000 residents in our market are employed by the Navy. The St. Augustine and Ponte Verde markets are tied largely to tourism.

IB: You’ve worked in both megabanks and community banks. Which do you prefer and why?

Hunt: I’ve enjoyed working in both types of institutions, but the last seven years I’ve spent working in a community bank have been my most pleasurable years in the industry.

Community banks don’t have as many levels of bureaucracy and aren’t constrained by a national strategy. Being able to make things happen quickly and witnessing the impact of our decisions firsthand is the best thing about working in a community bank.

IB: FirstAtlantic Bank opened in August 2007 just as the economy began to slow. How did the downturn impact the bank?

Hunt: The downturn was actually somewhat of a benefit for us. Had we been open in 2005 and 2006, we likely would have made a number of loans that could have potentially hurt us. From that perspective we avoided a major issue that befell other banks in the area.

The other major benefit was that it helped shape what FirstAtlantic Bank is today. Our business model was initially centered on residential mortgage lending and builder lines of credit, but we realized soon after opening that we were going to be unsuccessful trying to execute that strategy. We spun our wheels for about six months while we developed a new strategy banking on small- and mid-sized businesses and professionals.

IB: FirstAtlantic Bank was named one of the top SBA lenders in Florida. What types of small-business clients has the bank been financing? Anything planned for 2014?

Hunt: We finance a number of different types of businesses. We’ve made a fair number of loans in the medical, automotive, retail and hospitality industries. SBA loans are really a gateway product for us. They allow us to build relationships we might not have otherwise been able to achieve due to a lack of collateral or the need for longer terms.

For 2014, we’re actually expanding our SBA program into the Gainesville, Ocala and Daytona markets. These markets are rich in small-business opportunities and are potential new markets for FirstAtlantic in the future. We hope that our newly hired SBA lender can generate some loans and create awareness of FirstAtlantic Bank in these markets.

IB: If you weren’t working as a community banker, what would you like to be doing?

Hunt: I’ve been in banking so long I have a hard time imaging doing something else. I might try to get a captain’s license and ferry boats for a living. I really enjoy sailing and have toyed with that idea as something to keep me busy when I retire from banking.

My wife and I own a 35-foot Catalina sloop that we like taking out in our free time.

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