Only 15 years ago, nine of North Carolina's largest 15 banks were based outside the state's biggest cities. Nine CEOs, nine CFOs, nine chief lending officers and so on spent much of their time hopping around smaller Tar Heel cities like Asheboro and Reidsville, leading or raising money for as many Boy Scout troops, chambers of commerce, Little League teams and other civic groups as time permitted.
Now, after the pending sale of CommunityOne Bank, the number of $1 billion-plus bank CEOs viewing the world through the prism of rural North Carolina is down to four.
First Bancorp is the largest remaining holdout, with 42 people working at its headquarters on the picturesque main street in Southern Pines, the Moore County city with a population of 12,500. The company has $3.3 billion in assets, including 75 offices in 29 N.C. counties and 13 branches in South Carolina and Virginia. More than 85% of the bank's deposits came from outside the state's 10 most populous counties as of Dec. 31.
That won't cut it forever. About half of North Carolina's population growth over the next 20 years is expected to occur in a handful of urban counties, leaving First Bank CEO Richard Moore and President Mike Mayer with an intriguing challenge: Can the company expand into the Charlotte, Triangle and Triad regions effectively without ditching its commitment to smaller towns? It's a microcosm of the issue facing the state as it seeks to avoid splitting into a few "haves" surrounded by lots of "have-nots."
"We have to follow the growth patterns of North Carolina, but we are working very hard to not turn our backs on the rural areas," says Moore, a London School of Economics graduate and former N.C. treasurer who joined the bank as a director in 2010. He grew up in Granville County, son of a World War II vet. Tingley Moore owned a warehouse business, chaired the Methodist church's trustee board and led the local Jaycees. "We can't have a market economy without a healthy and efficient banking system," Richard Moore says. "Our country is blessed to have that, but like so much else going on in our economy, the rural areas are getting weaker and the urban areas are getting stronger." For First Bank to expand in Fairmont in Robeson County, it has to take business away from a rival because there is no underlying growth, Mayer says. But in Charlotte, with annual loan growth topping 10% in recent years, First Bank just needs to keep the same market...