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Polk County Banks, Credit Unions Desire the Best Banking Relationships Possible

February 21, 2023 News

With so many banks and credit unions in Polk County, all offering excellent services, bankers know one thing sets them apart: client relationships. Whether it’s helping them get a loan or get online, local banks work hard to gain their customers’ trust. 

But there’s much more.  

Citizens Bank & Trust 

President & CEO Greg Littleton believes the most important service his bank provides is “overall trust and confidence. I believe our customers rely on us for very basic banking needs. But I believe even more they have to believe that we will be there for them when there is an issue. They have to believe that we will always try to do the right thing. They have to believe that if we make a mistake that we will own it and do our best to fix it.  Most banks provide the same basic types of products. I believe it’s what is behind those products and services that is most important to our customers.” 

The bank boasts a management team and board of directors filled with well-known names in the community. Littleton said he thinks they all work there or serve because they believe in Citizens’ mission. “They see that what our bank has is different and special.” It’s the way Citizens provides those basic services, “the way we respond to people, the service that we insist upon and the relationships that we build,” that sets it apart.  

Citizens has 16 locations and approximately $1.2 billion in deposits. 

Up next? “We are currently in the process of building a new facility in Plant City.  We are open there now in a temporary location and are anxious to get our permanent location finished.  That should be sometime late summer or fall of 2023.” 

Greg Littleton, President & CEO

Bank of Central Florida

CEO & Chairman of the Board Paul Noris said his full-service bank offers loan and deposit accounts. “Our digital offering, both online and mobile, continues to be very important to our clients. We are constantly evolving our digital product offering and will be working on a website refresh in 2023.”   

In addition to two Lakeland locations, Noris said, Bank of Central Florida has branches in Plant City, Winter Haven and Tampa:  

  • The Winter Haven branch opened three years ago but relocated in November 2022 to a location with a drive-thru. “We have made consistent progress in Winter Haven but would expect improvement with the additional capital commitment in that market.” 
  • The bank has been in the Tampa market for two years but recently opened its first retail office at 1 Dale Mabry. “We have been pleased with the progress to date and continue to increase our staff in that market.”   

The bank has just over $1 billion in deposits and 93 full-time employees. It expects that number will grow to 100 by the end of 2023. 

What’s next? “We continue to focus on our strategic plan, Vision 2025, which is to create an institution with offices along the Interstate 4 corridor from Orlando to Tampa Bay. We believe we have validated our operating model with the success we have had in Polk County and look forward to serving new communities as we expand.” 

Paul Noris, CEO & Chairman

Valley Bank

Market Manager Stephanie Colon said her bank offers exceptional client service. “Providing a ‘Ritz Carlton’ service approach is how we pride ourselves. We know that every bank has the majority of the same services, but client service that exceeds expectations is a rare find these days. We really believe in being ‘Everything to Someone.’ ” 

Building relationships with clients is the most rewarding part of banking today, she said. “We really find joy in helping clients succeed with their financial goals and dreams. If we can provide a loan for a home buyer, we have helped that client achieve their home-buying goal. The same goes for a commercial client who needs equipment, working capital or funding for a new building. We are helping people achieve their dreams and aspirations, and that is what gets us excited at Valley.” 

Valley has about $50 billion in assets, 3,900 employees and 225 locations in Florida, Alabama, New Jersey and New York. 

Up next? “We are moving forward with technology options and providing accessibility.” It also plans to work with cannabis companies. Because cannabis is still an illegal drug federally, and banks are federally regulated, most banks won’t work with cannabis companies, Colon said. “However, we do, with heavy compliance and internal regulation.  We have asked for permission to bank these companies to keep them safe and their money safe and were granted permission.” 

Stephanice Colon, Market Manager


SouthState Bank

Dale Dreyer, executive vice president and president of the Central Region, said the most important service is client advisement. Focusing on client experience differentiates SouthState from other banks. 

“Today that may mean meeting with customers to discuss how to maximize the yield on their deposits or it could mean providing several options on how to finance a loan to expand someone’s business or to buy a person’s dream home.” 

The most important role of a banker is earning the reputation of being a trusted adviser, he said. “It is a fiduciary responsibility to always act in the best interest of the client and provide the best information available to assist them in making important decisions. I always tell my teammates to treat everyone like you would want someone to treat your grandmother or grandfather.” 

The bank’s motto is “Banking Forward.” To Dreyer that means “helping people plan and solve for future challenges. When analyzing someone’s financial statements, we are always looking backward. A great banker can take that historical trend information and discuss current and future challenges in someone’s industry sector, the impact of inflation, the economy in general or what is happening in today’s rapidly rising interest rate environment and come up with innovative solutions. Banking Forward means helping enhance the financial performance of our clients. It also means improving their efficiency by using our wide variety of products and services.” 

At the end of the third quarter 2022, SouthState had deposits of $37.7 billion. It has more than 5,000 employees at 252 branches in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. Each branch averages $150 million in assets. 

Up next? Since being founded in Winter Haven in 1999, and now the largest bank with headquarters in Florida, SouthState has experienced significant growth, Dreyer said. “The banking industry, like so many other industries, has experienced rapid consolidation. SouthState Bank acquired a number of regional banks and grew organically during this period. SouthState Bank is one of a very few publicly traded companies headquartered in Polk County. The bank needed to reach a certain scale to remain independent, operate efficiently and offer clients a wide variety of products and services with a multitude of delivery channels.”

Dale Dreyer, Executive Vice President

The growth has resulted in strong shareholder returns and garnered the bank some coveted awards:  

  • 2022 Forbes Best in State Bank – Florida #1 and South Carolina #3 
  • 2022 Forbes America’s Best Banks 
  • 2022 American Banker’s Best Banks to Work 
  • 2021 S&P Global Top 50 Public Banks 

“Despite these awards,” he said, “we are focused on improving the client and employee experience by enhanced technology and streamlined processes to make it even easier for our over 1.1 million clients to do business with us, whether digitally or in person.” 

Suncoast Credit Union

The most important thing for the credit union is the same as always — serving its members. “We’re always looking for new ways to serve our members and enhance their banking experience,” said Alisha Martin, vice president of Business Development. For example, she said:  

  • “Digital banking features allow our members to conveniently bank whenever and wherever. 
  • “Our members also have access to personalized insights that provide reporting into their spending habits to see a full picture of their finances. 
  • “Our Interactive Teller Machines (ITMs) let us provide extended and weekend hours for teller services.” 

It also gives back to the community. “Since the Suncoast Credit Union Foundation’s inception, more than $36 million has been donated to support initiatives related to the education, health and emotional well-being of children in our area. This includes over $50,000 to support K-12 education in Polk County,” Martin said. “In addition to our foundation, we also support a wide variety of businesses and organizations that make our community stronger — from corporate sponsorships to encouraging and enabling our employees to volunteer for causes they’re passionate about.” 

The credit union’s motto is “keeps banking simple” in an industry “filled with detailed requirements and complicated processes when it comes to products and services,” Martin said. “Our approach is that everything we do is with our members in mind, from our lower rates on loans to our many free services. ‘It’s simple’ refers to this – and that Suncoast products and services are designed to improve our members’ lives, allowing them to focus on what matters most to them, and we do that by making banking one less worry for them. Whether you’re choosing a financial institution for your personal or business banking, it is an important decision. As a credit union, we’re dedicated to meeting the needs of our members and providing the best possible benefits – we think we help to make the decision pretty easy.” 

The largest credit union with headquarters in Florida, Suncoast has 75 full-service branches with 2,400 employees. It serves more than 1 million people in 40 Florida counties and has more than $15 billion in assets nationally. 

Up next? “At Suncoast Credit Union we are constantly looking for new ways to serve and meet the needs of our members. Whether that’s within our product and service offerings, helping to improve financial health and wellness in our communities or expanding opportunities to reach new members,” Martin said. “We are committed to continuing to make an even greater impact on the lives of our members.  

Alisha Martin, Vice President of Business Development

Prime Meridian Bank 

Polk County Market President Scott Folsom said his bank also focuses on its clients. 

“With all the changes going on with our economy and what people are experiencing these days – such as changing interest rates and inflation – our secret is to stay true to who we are as a community bank and focus on the client. If we do this, good things will continue to happen for our bank and our community.” 

The bank’s slogan includes that it is “redefining community banking.” Folsom said employees are doing that by putting new twists on the old-school approach. “Our people are passionate about what they do.  We answer the phone when clients call and stay with them until we have answered their questions or fulfilled their request.  When guests visit our lobby, we offer fresh-baked cookies, coffee and bottled water. We want to bring warmth and an inviting personality of a community bank along with efficiency and operational excellence.” 

He said the bank’s passion is hospitality. “We invest in good old-fashioned shoe leather and are happy to visit with you – in your office – to better understand what and how your business works. We want to build our bank through honesty, partnership and service.” 

Prime Meridian has more than $755 million in deposits in four locations: Lakeland, two in Tallahassee, and one Crawfordville. It employs 106 people. 

Up next? “In Lakeland, the game plan for the next three to five years is to continue to build our bank brand and to grow ‘bigger and more’ – literally in terms of our client base, our loans and our deposits.  We want to continue to grow, but we’re not chasing dots on a map. We’re looking for good, like-minded people and clients who believe in community banking and that culture matters. I cannot overemphasize that.” 

Scott Folsom, Market President

Hancock Whitney

Hancock Whitney’s Business Financial Center, located on Lemon Street in Lakeland, offers everything from checking/savings accounts, mortgage, currency exchange and insurance for individuals to investment services and equipment financing for small businesses to international banking and derivatives for commercial customers – and so much more.  

It also has two branches in South Tampa.  

Hancock Whitney is devoted to the communities in which it operates. According to its website, it is: “Guided by a promise to help our clients and communities grow and thrive, our visionary founders understood the need for a strong community partner. A partner that could provide resources through people, money, expertise and banking relationships to make our cities and towns better. Our commitment to engage with our communities and measure success not only on balance sheets, but in the vibrancy of our neighborhoods, is why we are still standing strong and stable today.” 

In 2021, it invested $525 million in community development and more than $5 million in community contributions, and supported more than 140 organizations with financial education, among other things, its website says. 

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