Community Banking, Community Success
“The biggest thing a community bank does is take the time to listen to its customers and respond individually.”
For Guy Williams, president and CEO of Gulf Coast Bank & Trust Company, this is the foundation upon which his institution is based. From its beginning, Gulf Coast has put all its eggs in the community bank basket, and the strategy has been exceptionally successful.
The bank traces its roots back to 1883 and the old American Savings Bank. A Williams-led group of investors purchased American Savings in 1990 and recreated it as Gulf Coast Bank, with a hyper-focus on local businesses and individuals.
Despite its name, Gulf Coast initially operated only in the New Orleans area, and to this day, has expanded its branch locations only to Baton Rouge and the Northshore.
“When you’re only in one market, you can afford to customize and do things individually,” said Williams. “You have the ability to individualize your attention.”
As examples of this, Williams cited the personal financial plans Gulf Coast has prepared for many of its customers. “Whether you’re looking to buy a house, start a business, plan for retirement, get out of debt, we will help you develop a plan. It’s a free service, and we have a great track record of success.”
In line with this, Gulf Coast makes a large number of loans to first-time homeowners. “One of the things that makes us happiest,” said Williams, “is to see someone buy their first home.”
On the business side, the bank is the largest Small Business Association (SBA) lender in Louisiana; and during the pandemic, Gulf Coast was one of the largest PPP lenders in the United States. “These loans generated very little revenue for the bank,” noted Williams, “but they were critical for keeping local businesses open.”
Another commercial service Gulf Coast provides is free business valuations. Many business owners have no real idea of how much their enterprise is worth when it comes time to sell, and can be susceptible to offers that sound good but are actually well under market value. In one instance, a Gulf Coast client was ready to accept an offer of $2 million, but after working with the Bank, eventually sold his business for $8 million.
“That’s a life-changing difference for the owner and his family,” said Williams.
Gulf Coast’s commitment to community extends beyond its banking services, investing in community in a variety of ways.
“A bank’s headquarters is where the intellectual capital is as well as the financial capital,” said Williams. “This means that the bank’s leaders are available to the community to be leaders in nonprofit and civic organizations.”
Williams himself sits on several community organization and foundation boards, and most of Gulf Coast’s executives similarly serve. They bring financial expertise, management experience and community connections to these nonprofits, important support for their missions.
Of course, community groups also need financial support, and Gulf Coast Bank gives to a variety of nonprofits. Of even greater benefit is the Bank’s annual Auctions in August. Schools, community groups and nonprofits round up items from their supporters, which are then auctioned off. Conducted in the branches and online, Gulf Coast manages all the auction details, then turns all the proceeds over to the participating organizations.
“For some of these groups, it’s their biggest fundraiser of the year,” said Williams, who added that more than $1 million has been raised for local charities through Auctions in August. “At the same time, it helps raise their visibility in the community.”
This fall, Gulf Coast will be doing another community-focused promotion, urging its customers to shop at local merchants ahead of the upcoming holiday seasons. “It’s just another way a community bank can support its local merchants,” Willams noted, adding that larger, national banks have to be careful about not conflicting with the interests of their national business customers.
From its modest beginnings, Gulf Coast Bank has grown to almost $2.3 billion in assets today – and in lifting itself, has lifted countless community members along the way.