MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) According to its web - According to its website, Regions Financial Corporation is one of the largest bank holding companies in the United States and focuses on the southern region.
Brian Willman was promoted to Regions Area President for south Alabama and the Florida panhandle after his predecessor Joe Davis retired in April 2012. Willman recently shared about the future of our local economy and what led him to follow his father into banking.
DESIRE TO WORK WITH NUMBERS AND PEOPLE
"My father was in banking for 30 years in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I never thought that I would be a banker after seeing his career. I thought to myself that was the last thing I wanted to do. But after I got to school at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and realized that I had a desire to work with numbers, and also people especially, then I kind of gravitated towards banking," remembered Willman.
Nearly 20 years later Willman, has made banking his career. Willman also credits one of his economy and finance teachers for helping him realize that banking would allow him to use two of his talents.
"Banking is a people business. We serve customers. It's not just an office job; you're obviously out and in the communities. For me, banking was kind of a natural fit of numbers. Now, I didn't want to be in a cubicle 40 hours a week crunching numbers all day. I wanted to be out meeting people and using my social skills, that kind of married the two," Willman said.
CORPORATE BANKING AND WALL STREET
He said corporate banking and finance, New York and Wall Street describe his early years in banking. Willman said it was great and rewarding, including extensive of hours and cross country travel.
Post September 11, 2001, Willman said he realized air travel was not all it was cracked up to be. With two children, he and his wife took another look at the requirements of his job.
"I started re-evaluating work/life balance. And I thought, you know, banking is great and Wall Street and New York; but I also wanted to be able to coach my son's baseball team and be home for dinner. I took a little bit of a turn to more of the community banking, business banking type, in smaller community markets," Willman said. "It's still very rewarding; it's still very challenging. You can still cultivate a nice career but also enjoy your life while you're doing it."
Some big banks and the financial industry accused of proprietary trading, overseas trading operations and secondary mortgages, were also suspects in triggering the 2008 recession.
"There's probably some truth to that, lending was really, I would say, too risky. We were making loans as an industry to borrowers that we knew probably long term it was not the appropriate product for them. We kind of lost sight of that 8 to ten years ago. It was all about how fast can we grow loans and mortgages," Willman recalled. "That was a real eye opener for me. I had never experienced a boom like that and certainly hadn't experienced a bust like we have the last four or five years. I think that has come back to haunt the industry."
SERVING THE COMMUNITY
Willman said Regions got lumped in with the Wall Street banks. He said, however, Regions as a southeastern regional bank is focused on loans, deposits and wealth management.
"What we advise, the products that we offer to our customers, that they understand it; and that it's something that they need not something that is just good for the bank. If it's not a two-way street, then I think you're going down a very slippery slope; and I think you know that's probably what got us into some of that mess," Willman said.
He said it was a learning experience for the industry as well as Regions.
"All banks have learned a great lesson too. We are looking to reinvest in our communities. We have capital to lend. We want to grow the bank; we want to serve their financial needs," Willman said.
He said Regions, along with government implemented programs, saved several from foreclosure.
"The HARP Program, the home affordable refinance program that the government instituted, we've helped almost 6,000 homeowners refinance close to a billion dollars worth of their mortgages, "Willman said.
GROWING THE ECONOMY
He said Airbus could help a faster recovery of the local economy. He said he's seen similar instances before.
"We're positioned very well. There's a lot of areas that would love to have that type of investment that's going to be happening over the next three to four years. I think it's a game changer. Boeing's Dreamliner facility outside of Charleston, South Carolina, did incredible things for that market by bringing additional investment and larger supplier base," he said.
He said customer service and relationship building are top priorities for Regions.
"There's a lot of competition out there, and we realize that in most banking what we offer is a commodity. It's a service. I challenge our employees to know that the customer is first. We have to be out there
taking care of our clients. It comes down to relationship, and it comes down to this is going to help you either run your life or your business better," stated Willman.
Regions is the number one market share bank in our area and there are 96 branch offices in Willman's area of responsibility.
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