Synovus plans to open bank branch in Orlando

Synovus Financial Corp., which has been closing bank branches in recent years as part of a broader restructuring, now is ready to open a new office in the city that is best known as the home of Mickey Mouse.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. confirmed Monday that the Columbus-based bank submitted an application May 23 to open a branch at CNL Center 1, 450 South Orange Ave., in Orlando. A comment period on the application closes June 11.

“The FDIC, as the primary federal regulator, has to weigh various issues before the bank opens another branch,” Greg Hernandez, with the FDIC’s communications office, said via email. “There are Community Reinvestment Act provisions that must be considered. The business plan of the bank is reviewed, etc. After the examiners review these items, the approval process can be days or weeks.”

The Orlando Business Journal reported Friday that Synovus had filed the application for the branch in Orlando’s downtown area. CNL Center 1 is a 14-story office building that was constructed in 1999. The journal noted Synovus had operated a branch in Winter Park, an Orlando suburb, in 2008, but later closed it.

A statement released Monday by Synovus spokesman Greg Hudgison said the company opened a loan production office in Orlando about a year ago to “create synergies” and “complement the bank’s activities” in the region.

“The opening of a branch represents a natural progression to support the loan production office and is a component of Synovus’ measured approach to addressing the needs of customers in the area,” the statement said.

Hudgison would not comment if the pending Orlando branch is a harbinger of a major banking move into the market, which is a major tourist destination. Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom draws more than 17 million visitors each year, while Universal Studios accomodates roughly 6 million people annually.

Florida was one of the markets in which Synovus was hurt financially during the Great Recession. A number of customers there defaulted on development loans amid the national housing market meltdown and ensuing banking sector crisis.

Synovus Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kessel Stelling has said in previous interviews that the company could close more branches as it transitions to a world in which consumers do more banking via the Internet and smartphones, and less at traditional brick-and-mortar offices. But he also said the opening of new, smaller branches are possible.

“We’ll continue to look for ways to rationalize the branch structure,” Stelling said following the company’s annual meeting in late April. “So it could mean closing some. It could mean consolidating some. It could also mean building some — building a branch of the future, which we do think has more technology in it and less square footage in it. Historically, banks have built big branches, and that’s not what banks need to do in the future.”

Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data show Synovus with 52 offices in Florida as of last June, the latest information available through a yearly financial snapshot. Its nearly $2.3 billion in deposits would give it about one-half percent of the state’s market share, ranking it No. 25 there.

Synovus has a heavy presence in the coastal Florida metro areas of Jacksonville, Tampa and St. Petersburg, as well as along the Florida Panhandle. It stretches from Pensacola east to Fort Walton and Destin, and into Tallahassee. It has no branches in Miami, Florida’s largest city.

Locally, Synovus division CB&T has closed three branches in Columbus since 2011, on Second Avenue, Thirteenth Avenue and Miller Road. CB&T of East Alabama also closed a branch on U.S. Highway 80 in the Ladonia area of Phenix City.

Overall, Synovus operates 28 bank divisions, with 274 branches, in the Southeastern states of Georgia, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. The company oversees about $26 billion in assets.