USAA, HeritageBank, LaGrange Banking enter Columbus market

USAA now open on Veterans Parkway, LaGrange Banking set for Airport Thruway, HeritageBank has loan office at Brookstone Centre

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 17, 2013 

Three financial institutions are entering the Columbus market, led by San Antonio, Texas-based USAA, with HeritageBank of the South and LaGrange Banking Co. in various stages of doing so.

USAA, an insurance and banking firm dating to 1922, quietly opened the doors of its brand new 5,000-square-foot financial center on Friday, said company spokeswoman Dana Martinez. It’s located at 6501 Veterans Parkway, at the intersection of Whittlesey Road across from Columbus Park Crossing.

Martinez called the recent opening of the center a “soft launch,” with a grand opening and ribbon cutting scheduled for Jan. 10. An open house also is scheduled.

“The biggest thing is we’re just so excited to be there in the local area, to help our members face to face,” she said Tuesday. “We do know that there’s a large population of members that we have (in the area), and there’s an even larger population of potential members who are eligible for USAA, but just may not know who we are or may not know how we can help them.”

USAA is landing in Columbus precisely because of Fort Benning and the surrounding military presence. The company estimates there are 29,000 active-duty soldiers within a 20-mile radius of its new office, with 33,000 additional people falling into the category of retired military or honorably discharged veterans. Their family members also are eligible to use the financial center, which will offer a variety of banking, insurance and retirement services.

“We are known for great service, but as you know, it’s mostly by phone or online,” said Martinez. “So this will allow that face-to-face touch, while still tapping into the technology that we have.”

The Columbus center is the only USAA office in Georgia. There are 19 altogether in 10 states and Washington, D.C., with the company recently becoming the official on-post financial institution at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York.

HeritageBank of the South, meanwhile, is taking a slower approach to a physical brick-and-mortar branch. The Albany, Ga.-based bank said Monday it has opened a commercial and mortgage loan office at 700 Brookstone Centre Parkway.

“Our model of banking that we have used in other markets that has worked well is to open a loan production office and build up the business side of our portfolio in terms of commercial loan growth and mortgages,” said Heritage Bank spokeswoman Mary Beth Hobby. “We start building our brand and our image in a market and as more and more people get a mortgage with us, we transition them over to deposit customers. That’s how we have seen this work successfully in the past.”

She said a full-service branch typically follows the loan operation by about a year, with a Columbus branch likely to be somewhere other than at Brookstone Centre, which is predominantly an office and medical park.

The Columbus loan office will be led by Ryan Posey, the company said, with mortgage bankers Stacy Bishop, Adam Smith, Alice Daugherty and Vicki Hardage joining the staff.

HeritageBank is among the top 25 financial institutions in Georgia in terms of deposits. As of last June, it had $820 million in deposits at its 17 offices in Georgia, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. It also has 10 more offices in Florida and Alabama combined, including two in Auburn and one in Valley.

“We’re slow and steady and that’s how we operate,” said Hobby.

Deliberate also would a quality for LaGrange Banking Co., which survived the Great Recession after starting up in January 2008. The company has two offices in LaGrange, Ga., north of Columbus, and is now preparing to move into a former Wachovia bank office at 2921 Airport Thruway, next to the Burlington store.

“We hope to open sometime in mid-February,” Lenny Bateman, the bank’s president and chief executive officer, said Tuesday.

“It was built as a bank,” he said of the Columbus office. “We think it’s going to serve our purposes perfectly. It’s about a 5,000-square-foot building with working drive-thru lanes and ATMs. We think it’s going to be a great location for us.”

Like HeritageBank has done, LaGrange Banking Co. has operated a loan office on Bradley Park Drive for nearly a year. About 15 percent of its loan portfolio is in the Columbus market, he said.

“It’s an easy way to get into a market,” he said. “Hopefully, you gain enough loan business to help pay for the overhead of the branch. It’s a pretty good model that banks like to follow.”

Once the Airport Thruway office opens, Bateman said, the one on Bradley Park Drive will close. The new branch should employ about eight people within 12 months or so. And he also said it will likely be the only Columbus branch the company will have.

“Going forward, I don’t think that banks are going to be building as much brick and mortar as they have in the past,” he said. “I think they’re going to be focusing more like we are on electronic capabilities to give customers more access through the Internet and cell phones.”

The June snapshot through the FDIC shows LaGrange Banking Co. with just over $107 million in assets. Bateman said his company oversees about $125 million in total assets, making it a classic community bank.

“We are a community bank,” he said. “That’s what we do best is work with consumers and small mom-and-pop, owner-occupied businesses.”

Synovus Bank, according to the FDIC, is the dominant bank locally, with its affiliate, Columbus Bank and Trust, grabbing 63 percent of the market in terms of deposits.

It is followed by Wells Fargo with 12.5 percent of the market, SunTrust with 10 percent and Regions Bank with just under 3 percent.

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