Marine Bank, growing fast during pandemic, plans more expansion


Marine Bank is on a roll. It has been a record year for residential loan production, according to president and CEO Bill Penney, and the bank’s assets have grown dramatically since before the pandemic – up 74 percent from $287 million on Jan. 1, 2020 to $500 million today.

The bank is opening a new, 5,000-square-foot operations center this week to keep up with growth and is undertaking a capital offering to raise $10 million that will be used, in part, to expand operations into St. Lucie County, where Penney plans to open two branch banks “as soon as possible – hopefully in the next six months or so.”

Quail Valley COO Kevin Given, Marine Bank’s longest-serving board member, says he and the rest the board have been “tickled to death” by Penney’s performance as bank president.

“It is a very exciting time for the bank,” Given said.

Marine currently has four locations – two in Vero, one in Sebastian and one in Melbourne – so two new branches will be a 50-percent increase in its physical banking footprint.

Penney and his board of directors first sensed an opportunity in St. Lucie when Harbor Community Bank sold to CenterState Bank several years ago.

“We stayed out of St. Lucie in the past because Harbor was the dominant bank down there,” says Penney. “I knew we wouldn’t get the good customers or locations because they had them locked up, and deservedly so. But when they sold, we took another look.”

Marine’s first strategic move was to bring two well-connected St. Lucie businessmen onto its board, including Hal Roberts, former president and CEO of Harbor Community Bank. Penney also snapped up former Harbor employees and in August opened a loan production office at Town Center in St. Lucie West to get his foot in the door.

One of the new branches will be in St. Lucie West or Tradition in the booming western part of the county, while the other will likely be in downtown Fort Pierce.

“I like the downtown area,” says Penney. “I’ve been in Florida my whole life, up and down the coast, and the old money still tends to be on the east side of town, whether it is Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or elsewhere. The growth is all out west, like what is happening in Tradition, but the old money is still downtown.”

In addition, Penney notes that the arrival in May of Derecktor, a mega-yacht repair operation in the cleaned-up Fort Pierce Port area, and the upcoming $85 million King’s Landing development downtown – which will include a 140-room, $45-million Marriott hotel – should bring a new wave of economic activity to the area.

“All of that development coming downtown will create jobs and bring positive exposure to Fort Pierce,” he says.

Based on what happened in Sebastian, where Marine opened a branch in 2016, and Melbourne where the bank set up shop in 2018, the St. Lucie expansion is likely to be successful.

Penney says the Melbourne branch, where he has two residential loan officers and two commercial loan officers, is doing “very well,” and deposits in Sebastian are up from $13 million at opening to $50 million today, a coup that Penney and his team pulled off where a much larger bank floundered.

Where Valley Bank – which has $41 billion in assets and 200 locations in four states – wasn’t able to make a go of the branch, Penney and his team have succeeded – a testament, he says, to the power of local banking.

“We are the only local bank headquartered in Indian River County and when we open in St. Lucie, we will be the only local bank down there,” Penney says. “Our knowledge of the community and longstanding relationships enable us to provide better service for our customers.”

Marine has expanded its lending capabilities along with its geographical reach, enlarging its Small Business Administration loan department to make more business loans and partnering with mortgage giants like Rocket Mortgage and United Wholesale Mortgage to smooth the path of residential loan customers.

“We were able to close a home loan recently in 16 days, which is pretty neat,” Penney says.

In late 2019, the bank started MB Funding, a commercial real estate brokerage designed to fund loans the bank itself can’t take on because of banking rules.

“We have a pretty tight box with the regulators and anything outside of that, we typically turn it down,” Penney says. “But there are others out there that make those loans, whether it is a private investor, an insurance company, or companies that specialize in a certain type of a loan.

“So, now, when a customer needs a loan we can’t do for whatever reason, we give it to MB Funding, and they go and find a home for it.”

Penney singles out the PPP loan program as the single biggest boon to the bank during the pandemic. While larger banks fumbled with the program’s new and ever-changing loan regulations in the midst of the economic emergency, Penney and his associates pulled out all the stops, shifting most employees to PPP loan processing and working 16-hour days to support local businesses.

“In the end, we originated 1,245 loans for $94 million that saved thousands of local jobs,” Penney says.

That phenomenal performance under intense time pressure as businesses across the country scrambled for a limited amount of money won Marine Bank & Trust many new customers.

“We had so much positive feedback – emails, cards and letters,” Penney recalls. “I remember one Friday night I went home exhausted and had this stack of letters and started reading them and started crying. People wrote that we had saved their careers or saved the business they spent 30 years building and they were so grateful. It made me realize for the first time what we had accomplished.”

On top of that emotional reward, PPP was a moneymaker for the bank, which earned an average of 2 percent of the loan amount in origination fees.

Today, one employee still works on the program, walking customers through the forgiveness phase paperwork, so that the loans are converted to grants that don’t have to be paid back.

“I have been saying for 30 years that local banks are best,” Penney says. “But it took a pandemic to prove it.”

As for the new operations center opening this week – a 5,000-square-foot space in the 2001 building at 9th Avenue and 20th Street the bank leased in a deal brokered by Keith Kite – Penney says it will provide much-needed space for back-office operations such as accounting, human resources and the bank’s wire transfer room.

“We had a 3,000-square-foot operations center, but we flat out outgrew that,” he says.
Asked if the new space will be sufficient to handle the bank’s operations after the expansion into St. Lucie County, Penney told Vero Beach 32963 it should be – “for a while!”

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