Bank of St. Croix could expand service on the island if federal regulators approve its sale, said the president of the mainland-based lender hoping to buy the locally owned bank.
Donald Neel, president and CEO of Evansville, Ind.-based United Fidelity Bank, praised Bank of St. Croix and its management in an interview with the Source on Wednesday, saying if the sale goes through Crucians could be using mobile-phone banking by this time next year, amongst other improvements.
“They have access to internet banking now, but they’ll also have access to mobile phone banking as well, not initially, but once we complete the data conversion, which will probably be the second or third quarter of 2017 if the transaction is approved,” Neel said. “We’re taking steps to make sure that all of our customers can use most ATMs across the country with no surcharge. We don’t have 100 percent penetration yet but we’re working on that to make it convenient for all of our customers.”
Onerous ATM fees, Neel said, are “no way to treat a community, I can tell you that.”
St. Croix has not had a mainland-based lender since First Bank Puerto Rico purchased Citibank and J.P. Morgan Chase operations in the early 2000s.
Neel said the sale came about because Bank of St. Croix was looking to add capital in order to expand its services. With United Fidelity Bank’s presence, the local lender will be able to do more, as well as more of the same.
“They were looking for a partner that could give them some assistance to grow. They had the management expertise but needed the capital to grow,” he said. “With our capital and their expertise we think that will be an excellent partnership.”
Many other things will not change, Neel said. The bank’s name will remain the same, as will most, if not all, of its staff. “They’ll still see the same people. They’ll still have the same type of products.”
The sale could also bring more Small Business Administration loans. These federally assisted loans help borrowers work with lenders to make real estate and other fixed-asset purchases. Both banks have the ability to make these loans but United Fidelity Bank does so more frequently than Bank of St. Croix.
United Fidelity Bank has asked its federal regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of Currency, to approve the purchase by Dec. 17, but there is no guarantee the regulator will comply with the suggested schedule.
It’s not the only purchase pending for United Fidelity Bank. The institution is also in the process of buying the Fort Meyers, Fla., branch of Reliance Bank. They’ve asked the federal regulators to approve that purchase Thursday.
In recent years United Fidelity purchased three failed banks through FDIC: one in Cincinnati, one in Chicago, and one in Denver, Neel said.
“We’re interested in acquiring well-run community banks wherever they are. Bank of St. Croix has excellent management, excellent asset quality, and we think that the island is a very good market for a community bank,” he said. “We’re a one-to-four family loan lender. We also like to work with small to medium size commercial businesses and see how we can help them out.”
Neel said he has been to the territory and was very impressed with its natural and cultural beauty.
“The people were so friendly. It reminded me of some of the markets we’re in here where everybody knows each other and the bankers all know their customers. And that’s exactly the kind of situation we look for,” he said.
“We have offices in markets that are both smaller and larger population than the island,” he added. “We look for niches where the market and the bank are familiar with each other. Like I said, those are the kinds of situations we look for.”