Centennial, Bank of Ozarks See Gold in Southeastern Expansion

by George Waldon  on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012 12:00 am  

Southeastern moves have taken two of the largest banks in Arkansas to new heights and opened new doors of opportunity. Largely fueled by FDIC-assisted transactions, Conway’s Centennial Bank and Little Rock’s Bank of the Ozarks have carved out sizable expansions in Florida and Georgia while creating beachheads in other parts of the region.

In the space of two years, Centennial Bank went from operating a geographically isolated banking network in the Florida Keys to a growing financial concern in the realm of sun, sand and surf.

Thanks to six FDIC-assisted transactions, the lender went from operating the fourth-largest banking franchise in the Keys to building the 36th-largest banking franchise in Florida.

(And on Friday, after this cover story had gone to press, Centennial announced another FDIC-assisted bank buy, picking up three Tampa-area branches of Heritage Bank.)

Centennial’s 44 full-service locations today service total deposits of $1.2 billion, dwarfing the position it held in Florida at the start of 2010: No. 147 with $241 million in total deposits. The string of Centennial ac-quisitions stretches from the Sunshine State’s archipelago northward through Mickey Mouse’s Magic Kingdom to the Gulf Coast’s Red-neck Riviera.

“There was a method to our madness and why we’re doing what we’re doing,” said Johnny Allison, chairman and founder of Centennial’s parent company, Home BancShares Inc.

The Florida operations now rival the company’s foundational operations in Arkansas: 46 full-service branches with more than $1.7 billion in total assets. The day is coming soon when Centennial’s largest market will no longer be its home state.

Allison is big on Florida. He wants his company positioned to ride a profitable upswing as the state rebounds from the economic downturn and its money-making luster is restored.

His interest in the Gulf Coast area spilled over into southern Alabama with a conventional purchase of Vision Bank branches and assets from Park National Corp. of Newark, Ohio.

Included in the deal that closed in February was a seven-branch network in Baldwin County, Ala., located between Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla.

Overnight, Centennial became the fifth-largest banking franchise in Baldwin County, with $310 million in deposits and a 9.7 percent stake in the market.

The Vision Bank deal also ex-panded its FDIC-assisted entry into Panama City’s Bay County.



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