T. Stephen Johnson is hoping his new Florida bank venture can capitalize on NationsBank Corp.'s acquisition last month of Barnett Banks Inc.
Mr. Johnson is a director and organizer of Florida Banks Inc., Jacksonville. The company, formed in December 1996, intends to acquire or start banks throughout the Sunshine State and run them under the name Florida National Bank.
"Barnett has been the bank for small and midsize businesses in Florida," he said. "We think there is an opportunity to get some of that business."
Mr. Johnson is also chairman of T. Stephen Johnson & Associates, a financial consulting firm in Roswell, Ga., and of Net Bank Inc. in Roswell, whose Atlanta Internet Bank bank gathers deposits nationwide over the Internet.
He noted that after Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank bought Bank South Corp. of Atlanta in 1996, "some of the community banks around town doubled in size in one year."
For example, Milton National Bank in Roswell has grown to $131 million of assets from $75 million at the end of 1995, and First Colony Bank of Alpharetta has built itself to $122 million of assets from $74 million.
"We think the same thing will happen in Florida," Mr. Johnson said.
Florida Banks is already building its empire. On Jan. 23 it said it had hired Charles E. Hughes Jr., formerly president of SouthTrust Bank of Florida, as president and chief executive officer.
On the same day it announced it would buy $60 million-asset First National Bank of Tampa. Florida Banks also plans to have a presence in Jacksonville, Orlando, West Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale, Mr. Johnson said.
Florida Banks will target small-business customers who might not want to bank with NationsBank, Mr. Johnson said.
"People want that one-on-one touch," said Mr. Hughes, the new CEO. "The ability to walk into a bank and know that the banker knows who you are - that is still important to a lot of people. We think that by providing that to the customers we can grow the bank very quickly."
But one consultant said he would be surprised if Florida National Bank is around for the long haul.
"This strikes me as more of an investment play," said Kenneth H. Thomas, a Miami-based bank consultant. "I would think they are looking to establish a statewide bank, ultimately with up to $1 billion of assets, to sell out."
Mr. Johnson said the organizers have no plans to sell Florida National.
"A banker said to me once, 'If you don't run your bank like you are going to own it forever, you probably will,'" he said. "We plan to operate this bank like we will own it forever."