Florida-based Barnett Banks Inc. is trading its southwest Georgia banking subsidiary for more branches in its home state.

The move reflects a decision to focus on opportunity at home.

Barnett, which is based in Jacksonville, said last week that it had negotiated a deal with SouthTrust Corp. to swap banking offices.

SouthTrust, which is based in Birmingham, Ala., would take over Barnett's seven branches in Columbus, Ga., and Barnett would gain five SouthTrust offices in Florida. In addition to getting the offices in Orlando, Sarasota, Naples, Kissimmee, and Ormond Beach, Barnett would receive an undisclosed amount of cash from SouthTrust.

The move by Barnett runs counter to interstate expansion efforts by most regional banking companies. But Barnett officials said the Florida market is growing so rapidly and offers such opportunity for revenue growth that it doesn't make sense to expend resources outside the state.

Indeed, Barnett's retreat from southwest Georgia is the second such move by the $40 billion-asset company, which sold its Atlanta-based banking subsidiary in 1993. Outside of a handful of southern Georgia offices, Barnett's entire retail franchise is in Florida.

Following the deal with SouthTrust, which is expected to close in the third quarter, Barnett would continue to maintain seven offices in Brunswick, Ga., as well as three others along the Florida border. The three on the border make sense for Barnett to keep because of their proximity to Florida and their similar demographics, company officials said.

For the most part, though, the deal with SouthTrust cements Barnett's decision to commit itself to growing its retail franchise in Florida and forgoing other states.

"What we're doing is getting out of that Columbus market and going into central Florida and filling in some core market areas," said Gordon Turner, a Barnett spokesperson. "That reflects our strategy of committing our resources to our retail franchise in Florida."

The Florida emphasis is part of Barnett's two-pronged strategy: While focusing on growth in-state, it is also seeking to develop a nationwide presence in a variety of consumer lending businesses.

Darren R. Short, an analyst with Robinson-Humphrey Co., said the move to cut loose some Georgia operations makes sense for Barnett. "They did not have a very good experience in Georgia," he said. "And Columbus, that part of the state bears little resemblance to Florida. There were very little opportunities to leverage off their core competencies there."

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