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Sea Island keeps eye on the future

Boro's biggest bank looks to expand in Southeast Georgia

    With an eye towards the future, Sea Island Bank in Statesboro has made an immediate impact in the Savannah market while continuing to build on its Statesboro and Metter market shares.
    Since opening its first Savannah office three years ago, the Sea Island Bank has crafted a 3 percent market share in Chatham County with deposits in excess of $160 million in that county alone.
    Sea Island's president, Wayne Akins, is very humble when speaking about recent success and continued growth.
    "I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish in a relatively short period of time," Akins said. "We wanted to move into the Savannah market for a number of years, but we had to put the right team together before we did that. When Jerry Barton, a long time Savannah bank executive, agreed to come on board, I knew the time was right for us to put an office there. It has worked out beyond our expectations."
    Not only has Statesboro's largest bank been successful in entering the Savannah market, it has made a very quiet climb to second position in Candler County. As of July 2006, the FDIC reports that Sea Island has the second largest market share in Candler County with $37 million in deposits.
    Sea Island's Metter city executive and senior vice president, Billy Patterson, said he feels the corporate culture of the bank has translated into the success that the Metter branch has had.
    "Sea Island is really good to its employees," Patterson said. "It is a great place to work, and I enjoy coming in every day. When you really enjoy your job, you tend to provide much better customer service. We focus on our customers first. We really, really try."
    Even though the bank merged with financial giant Synovus in 1991, it has continued to operate under its own charter with its own board of directors. Akins said as with all of the banks under the Synovus umbrella, Sea Island continues to operate as a community bank.
    "We believe that you have to empower people to make decisions in their jobs so that they are able to provide the best possible customer service that they can," Akins said. "You have to let people use their talents and be creative when necessary."
    "Our affiliation with Synovus allows us to do that," he said. "We have their financial strength behind us and their products to offer our clients. They allow us to work with our clients, to make decisions."
    Since Sea Island Bank shareholders voted to merge the bank with Synovus in 1991, the value of the Synovus stock which Sea Island shareholders received at the time of the merger has soared.
    At the time of the merger, the Sea Island Bank had 416,854 shares outstanding with a market value of approximately  $13 million. As of March 1, 2007, the market value of those shares, now Synovus stock, had increased to over $240 million.
    Founded by seven Statesboro businessmen in 1901, the Sea Island bank has spent decades developing a corporate culture that is employee based and customer friendly. That culture has remained and continued to flourish through transition.
    Miriam Deal began working for the bank in 1964 and still continues to do so on a part-time basis.
    "This is such a family oriented bank," Deal said. "To me, the merger with Synovus has really meant that we have more products to offer and more money to loan. The basic beliefs of the bank have remained the same - God, family, and then job. I've worked here for 43 years. It has been a great place to work."
    Akins is proud of the Sea Island team recognizing the critical role that they fill.
    "Product innovation in the banking business is very tough," Akins said. "It is not an advantage that lasts. Eventually your competition will do the same thing."
    "Therefore, a bank that tries to rely strictly on product innovation will not thrive if they don't couple that with developing and keeping their employees. Employees are literally the key to any bank's long term success. A company or business is only as good as the people that work for it."
    "I certainly can't speak to the culture of other banks and financial institutions, but here I believe everyone genuinely cares about one another and enjoys the fellowship with their colleagues," Akins said. "The way that we treat and feel about one another is reflected in our customer service."
    Wayne Deloach, co-owner of Performance Auction and Realty in Statesboro and Southeastern Auto Auction in Savannah, has been banking with Sea Island for years. He is very pleased that they now have a presence in Savannah.
    "In Savannah, we had to put our money into another bank because we felt it was a safety issue to transport it to Statesboro after each auto auction," Deloach said. "Now we are able to make our deposits right here in Savannah."
    "It is just great, because we have been with Sea Island so long that they know what we need before we know. Each time we wanted to expand, they were right there. They made it very easy."

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