Synovus targets Orlando, continues restructuring

Synovus Financial Corp. has put the initial pieces in place for an increasing presence in the Orlando, Fla., market, even as it continues to restructure companywide with branch closures and fewer employees.

The Columbus-based regional bank, parent company of Columbus Bank and Trust, announced last week that it has hired Donald Gaudette as chief executive officer of its Synovus Bank division in Orlando. It has a lone branch office there now staffed with consumer banking staff, as well as corporate real estate and commercial bankers.

Dallis "D" Copeland, Synovus chief community banking officer, said in a statement he will rely on Gaudette to "expand our ability to win business in central Florida." The new CEO has held high-level positions with Hancock Bank, SunTrust Bank and Mercantile Bank in the Orlando market.

Synovus received federal approval earlier this year to open the branch in the city best known as the home of Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, both major tourist attractions. Orlando has a metro area population of more than 2 million.

"We are excited about the growth opportunities in the Orlando market, and we expect to increase our presence in the region as our team expands our retail and commercial customer base in the market," Synovus said in a statement released Thursday by spokesman Greg Hudgison.

Still, the firm said, it does not have a timeline for increasing the number of branches in the Orlando area.

It pointed out it already has a solid presence in several areas of Florida, including the Panhandle, Tallahassee, and the Tampa and Jacksonville areas.

A check of the bank deposit snapshot last June by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. shows Synovus Bank with 52 offices in "The Sunshine State." That's the largest presence outside of Georgia, where it has 121, and higher than the 45 offices in Alabama, 44 in South Carolina and 14 in Tennessee.

In Florida, Synovus is the 25th-largest bank, with $2.3 billion in deposits. Bank of America, Wells Fargo and SunTrust are the top three.

That statewide total compares to nearly $4 billion in deposits in Columbus alone, where the bank holds an iron grip on the local market.

The regional bank, which dates to 1888, has been restructuring its business for several years through the Great Recession and painfully slow U.S. economic recovery.

Financials aside, it is facing a world in which customers are forgoing traditional brick-and-mortar branches for banking through their computers and mobile devices.

The company peaked out at just under 7,400 employees in late 2007 as the nation's housing and banking crises were taking hold of the economy. In its most recent quarterly report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Synovus reported that its headcount as of Sept. 30 was 4,563.

That's down by 162 positions from the same date the year before.

It expects to be down to 4,503 by Dec. 31, which would be a 39 percent decrease from the peak employment total.

"The projected annual decline includes the elimination of approximately 300 positions in connection with branch closings, further refinement of our branch staffing model, as well as other efficiency initiatives, offset somewhat by workforce additions in Corporate Banking, information technology, and centralized customer care centers," the company said in the SEC filing.

It was in 2011 that Synovus began closing branch offices that it considered underperforming, with more than three dozen of its 320-plus branches at the time closed that year, a handful of them in the Columbus-Phenix City market.

In the SEC filing, the bank reported it "continues to rationalize its branch network," shuttering 20 branches this year overall, 13 in October alone, to bring it to 258 companywide.

"We are continuing to work to make sure that we have the right number and mix of bankers and support teams matched with the opportunities in each of our markets," Synovus Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kessel Stelling told stock market analysts on a conference call in October as third-quarter earnings information was released.

"We continue to look for ways to lower corporate real-estate costs by reducing the number of leases, selling underutilized facilities and consolidating properties in certain markets," he said.

The company disclosed several weeks ago it has targeted office space in the Atlanta market for expense savings.