A New Bank With Old-fashioned Service
Locally owned Cortez Community Bank is at the forefront of a statewide trend: It promises community, not corporate, treatment of customers.
by Kelly Virella
Published February 10, 2004


BROOKSVILLE – Around 10 a.m. Monday, the parking lot of the new Cortez Community Bank looked like it might be set up to receive a dignitary.

But the 50 people gathered at the S Broad Street bank were there for another reason - the grand opening of Hernando County's first locally owned bank. The ceremony kicked off the second week of business for Cortez Community Bank and heralded the newly chartered bank's creed: doing business the old-fashioned way.

"We're going to take you back to the time when banking service meant something," said Don Page, president and chief executive of the bank.

The bank will be open Monday through Saturday and post deposits until 3:30 p.m. for customer convenience. It also will open up its drive-up window earlier than most banks, at 7:30 a.m.

Unlike large banks, which often need to get approval for business loans from another office, all Cortez's decisions about business loans will be made locally; decisions will be based on more than data, Page said. Bank officers will visit the business and "kick the tires," Page said.

"How can someone in Atlanta do a fair underwriting procedure when they haven't seen the business?" Page asked. "We can be creative and innovative in our financing."

Cortez is the brain child of Thomas Hogan Jr., a Brooksville lawyer and semiretired Lykes Bros. executive, and developer Derrill McAteer.

In one week since it opened, the bank had 45 new accounts, half with small businesses. The new customers had deposited $3.5-million and filed applications for $1.5-million in loans, Page said.

Mariann and Thomas Downey came in around noon Monday to ask about opening an account for their 16-year-old granddaughter.

The Bushnell couple bank with Hernando County Bank, AmSouth and a third bank in New York, but they would be willing to buy a CD from Cortez if the interest rate is competitive.

Cortez's local ownership doesn't matter to them; a friendly banking staff does.

"As long as they say hello to you," said Mariann Downey, 63.

"At the first bank we went to when we first moved here years ago, they wouldn't even talk to us," Thomas Downey, 79, said.

Cortez has raised about $8-million in capital from shareholders, who are still signing up to beat the bank's March 1 deadline, Page said.

A check for purchasing $50,000 worth of shares arrived in Monday's mail. Two Port Richey women came in to buy stock in the next hour.

Cortez is part of a statewide boom in new banks, in which many are promising a return to old-fashioned service, said Ken Thomas, president of K.H. Thomas Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in finding locations for new bank branches in Florida.

Recent mergers have made room for new banks, and Florida's projected population growth has made it a very strong banking market, said Ben Bishop, president of Allen C. Ewing & Co., a Jacksonville-based investment bank.

The growth in community banks is great, but most of the community banks that are opening now soon will be gobbled up by big banks, Bishop and Thomas said.

"After three to five years, they'll probably sell," said Thomas. "They'll say they want to stay here, but in the back of their minds, they're thinking about merging. It's just part of the cycle."

Cortez is already planning for expansion. It hopes to open a new branch in Spring Hill by September, but its growth - even if it leads to a merger - will never tarnish its service, Page said.

"If somebody comes to us with an offer that's really great, we'll put it before the shareholders and they'll decide," he said.

"But the bank is always going to be run as if it's going to be independent forever."


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