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Three questions

By JEFF HARRINGTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2003

Robert "Bobby" Lowder: Chairman, president and chief executive, Colonial BancGroup Inc. of Montgomery, Ala.

Q. You created a large franchise in Florida largely through acquiring other banks. Now your bank plans to build 25 branches in Florida over the next three years. Why the change in strategy?

We acquired our first bank in Orlando in July of 1996 and since that time, we've acquired 16 banks (in Florida). We had to acquire banks to get into the strong areas we wanted to. Once you get established, it's much easier to go out and hire some good people and build a brand that way.

What's happened in Florida is there's just less and less possibility of acquisitions. I don't think somebody could come into Florida today and buy 16 banks like we have. There's still some traditional, independent banks. But most of those have set their course that they're going to remain independent so they're really not possibilities.

* * *

Q. What critical mass do you need in a given area to shift from buying to building?

A minimum of $500-million in assets for each region, and we're certainly above that now in all of our regions. In South Florida, we have in excess of $2-billion; in the bay area, it's over $800-million; the southwest Florida region is over $500-million; and Central Florida is about $1.5-billion.

* * *

Q. Is there a formula for deciding how many branches to build in each state or each region?

We look at each region just like they were a separate branch. Our people in those regions look at the areas they'd like to expand to . . . pockets we're not in; places where the neighborhoods are growing. . . . Where can we meet our existing customer needs the best and add customers to our family? If we put up a branch here, how much in deposits and loans could we grow in three years?

We like all of our branches in a year's time to draw a profit, and we've been able to do that in Florida.

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