With its experienced and well respected CEO Ricky Nessmith preparing for retirement, Statesboro-based Farmers and Merchants bank has turned to another seasoned banker to take the helm for the next several years.
Recently named CEO and president Brett Morgan comes to Farmers and Merchants with a wealth of experience including 33 years with First Alabama Bancshares/Regions Bank in southern Alabama before moving to Carrollton, Ga., to ultimately serve as CEO of First Georgia Banking Company.
Morgan said the move to Carrollton pulled him out of retirement, allowing him and his wife to be closer to their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. The move did not come without difficulty as the bank was considered distressed at the time Morgan was hired.
"I initially came to First Georgia Banking Company after the bank had experienced rapid growth, expanding to 12 offices," he said. "My primary role was to work on standardizing lending procedures and processes, as well as reviewing existing loan policy. The CEO of the bank resigned, and I was asked to take his place. Unfortunately, the situation was such that the bank simply couldn't work its way out from under the position that it was in, and the FDIC forced its closure in May 2011."
As has been published previously in the Statesboro Herald, Farmers and Merchants is operating under a Consent Order issued by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) on Feb. 24, 2012. The Order was issued as the result of an examination of the bank by regulatory agencies in August 2011. Under this Order, the bank agreed to strengthen its financial condition through written plans that target improvements in capital, liquidity, earnings and asset quality.
According to Nessmith, the bank has been doing just that over the last several months, posting a profit in each of the first two quarters of this year as evidenced by the bank's call report issued by the FDIC. Nessmith said the hiring of Morgan is part of a plan drawn up by the bank to address his desire to retire.
"I have been with the bank since 1995, and have served as its president since 2002," he said. "Three years ago, I had a heart attack and surgery that resulted in four bypasses being performed. I knew it was time for me to retire, but the board wanted to make sure that the bank had the right person to lead it forward. We hired a consultant that brought several candidates to us, and Brett was clearly the best choice."
Morgan said he did a thorough analysis of the bank's condition, loan portfolio and deposits and felt very comfortable that the institution was on the right path.
"The board was very open with me, and I feel that they are doing the things that need to be done to meet the directives of the FDIC, to serve the bank's customers, its shareholders and this community," he said. "I am very confident that the financial condition of the bank will continue to improve, however, the economy will dictate how quickly the bank can completely recover."
As with other banks across the state, Farmers and Merchants has been forced to "shrink" to become profitable again, reducing the amount of brokered deposits it has on hand and "cleaning up" its loan portfolio. It now has assets totaling approximately $190,000,000.
"We, like most other banks in Georgia, have had to return to the basics," Nessmith said. "We have a great core business with great core deposits. We feel very comfortable that we have identified all of the potential issues with the loans that we have on the books and are prepared to continue posting a profit. Obviously, the economy is very important and something that we cannot control."
Nessmith said Morgan's experience is a perfect match for the bank and what Farmers and Merchants needs over the next several years.
"I have promised the board that I would be here for at least five years, if not longer," Morgan said. "This is a great community, and I feel very confident that the board and the bank's officers have done what they needed to for the bank to return to the level of profitability that it experienced prior to the collapse of the economy. I would not have accepted the job if I didn't believe that. This is where I intend to conclude my banking career."
Nessmith, who served FMB as executive vice president for seven years and as president and CEO for 10 years, will assume an expanded leadership role as COO and vice-chairman of the Board of Directors. Nessmith will continue as president of FMB Equibanc, Inc., the holding company of the bank.