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Small Banks Aim to Snag Business from BB&T's Pennsylvania Push

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Pennsylvania banks are eager to take advantage of BB&T's double dip into the state.

Bankers always tout market disruptions, such as acquisitions, as a prime opportunity to lure highly talented lenders and anxious customers. BB&T's recent purchase of Susquehanna Bancshares in Lititz, Pa., and its pending acquisition of National Penn Bancshares in Allentown, Pa., has the potential of providing such a chance.

BB&T, for its part, isn't sitting idle. The $210 billion-asset company, which has scores of deals under its belt over the past two decades, is working to effectively communicate with employees and clients to improve its odds of a seamless transition.

One thing is certain: Bankers must be persistent and aggressive if they hope to poach business from the state's newcomer.

"You have to go after customers and stay after them," T. Alexander Spratt, president and chief executive of consulting firm Ardmore Banking Advisors in Ardmore, Pa., said. "Going after them once after a merger doesn't cut it."

Banks keen on taking market share during an integration must show that they "care about the customers and that their particular bank has proven that over time," Spratt added. Doing so requires "a strategy and consistency to call on those customers to make sure" a particular bank is top of mind.

Another way to poach clients involves targeting the lenders who manage the relationships. Often, a large pool of banks end up pursuing a limited number of bankers, said Alan Kaplan, founder and chief executive of the Kaplan Partners in Philadelphia. Since BB&T announced the National Penn deal, Kaplan said his firm has held "a number conversations with bank CEOs who want a prospective on the market."

Snagging the best lenders also means being aggressive, particularly when it comes to making a prospective hire aware of a suitor's strategy and values, industry experts said. In many instances, money takes a backseat to a bank's ability to support its lenders.

"It is going to be a challenge for the better-run community banks to get some quality lending talent," Kaplan said. "Many people will have the same idea, and one choice for these employees is to stay with a good company like BB&T. There will be some disruption … as there always is, but it's not going to be a massive exodus. It's hard to make that happen."

Community banks can be optimistic, though.

Malvern Bancorp is hopeful it can dislodge some talent and pick up business, said Anthony Weagley, the Paoli, Pa., company's president and chief executive. The $618 million-asset company, which is in "team building mode," recently decided to enter New Jersey after hiring William Boylan, a former commercial lender at ConnectOne Bancorp.

Malvern is planning to conduct a job fair to take advantage of market disruption and to build upon its growth plan for New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. Weagley said he believes Malvern can succeed because its culture empowers lenders to make decisions, while offering a passionate, high energy environment.

"Money is a motivator, but people are looking to feed their spirit," Weagley said. "When you see a player like BB&T come into the market, people get dislodged. Branches are closed. You have more bureaucracy. That feeds into us."

The amount of lender and customer movement largely depends on the buyer's ability to successfully integrate an acquisition, said Stephen Scouten, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill. Some deals, such as Union Bankshares' 2014 purchase of StellarOne, suffer more dislocation than others, he said. (Park Sterling in Charlotte, N.C., for instance, was able to develop operations in Richmond, Va., by hiring eight people who previously worked at StellarOne or Union.)

"For BB&T, it is probably less of a threat," Scouten said. "They have a great reputation for training people, and they do a good job of locking up people they want to keep."

BB&T is proactive in its approach in keeping personnel and clients, said Scott Gamble, the Winston-Salem, N.C., company's regional president for the Greater Delaware Valley. Kelly King, BB&T's chairman and chief executive, typically flies out to meet with employees immediately after announcing deals, including Susquehanna and National Penn.

Gamble, who came from Susquehanna and once worked at National Penn, believes BB&T's banking model, where each market has a regional president who oversees all business lines, should help with the transition.

Employees who join BB&T through an acquisition receive extensive training, Gamble said. Other BB&T regions send employees to newly acquired institutions to help train employees on the company's products.

So far it seems as though BB&T has been able to limit attrition from the Susquehanna deal, which closed last month, industry observers noted. BB&T did decide shortly after completing the deal that it would not keep most of Susquehanna's small-business lending group.

"I'm convinced that if someone wants to jump to another institution, you can always find a couple more dollars," Gamble said. "But if you look at all of the benefits BB&T can offer to an associate, it becomes compelling very quickly that this is a place you want to work for."

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