American Banker recently named its 10 Bankers to Watch in 2015, an exercise that begs the obligatory question: how on the mark were our 2014 picks?

Reviews of predictions are often humbling, but last year's selections did what they were supposed to do — for good or for bad, they made headlines throughout the year.

Bryan Jordan at First Horizon National returned to M&A, and Steve Gardner at Pacific Premier Bancorp did a deal, too, after raising tens of millions of dollars of capital. Robert Wilmers at M&T Bank continued to grapple with high-profile regulatory issues, and Cecelia "Cece" Stewart at Citigroup and Carl Chaney at Hancock Holding left their jobs.

In all, the "Watch" class of 2014 personalized the ongoing adjustment banks are having to make as the regulatory environment remains daunting and economic challenges persist. Let this look back serve as a cautionary note for those who think they have their plans for 2015 all sewn up.

Carl Chaney and John Hairston, Hancock Holding
And then there was one.

Chaney and Hairston, the $19 billion-asset Hancock's co-CEOs at the start of the year, faced pressure throughout 2014 to cut costs and lower the company's efficiency ratio. The Gulfport, Miss., company chipped away at expenses by closing branches. Its efficiency ratio stood at 61.84% at Sept. 30, tantalizingly close to management's 2016 goal of 60%.

Then in November, Hancock unexpectedly announced Chaney's plans to retire at the end of the year. It said that Chaney chose to retire, while acknowledging that having just one CEO — Chaney earned $3.1 million in 2013, including a $707,000 salary — would help it continue to lower overhead.

"It was his call, but it does present the opportunity to achieve some of the efficiencies we had planned and go with a single, more-conventional CEO structure," Hairston said in an interview following the announcement. "In today's banking environment, nimble decision-making translates into earnings per share, and we intend to take full advantage of that."

Ray Davis, Umpqua Financial
Umpqua Financial in Portland, Ore., faced the task of absorbing Sterling Financial and turning itself into a $22 billion-asset regional power. Some wondered if Davis, the company's chief executive, would have problems meeting new capital requirements tied to Basel III or stumble elsewhere.

So far, Umpqua hasn't missed a beat, posting solid earnings that have met or exceeded Wall Street expectations. And there have been no visible speed bumps in terms of capital requirements. Meanwhile, it is girded for battle with its growing competitors: several other banks in the Pacific Northwest, including Banner Corp. and Columbia Banking System, announced noteworthy deals during the year.

Everyone at JPMorgan Chase
A challenging year was foreseen for JPMorgan Chase, though no one could have expected that it would involve a health scare for CEO Jamie Dimon.

Dimon underwent weeks of treatment for throat cancer after a receiving the diagnosis in the summer. He told employees in early December that he was cancer free.

When the news of his illness first broke, questions about succession planning swirled. Without naming names, Dimon had often said that the New York company has a good succession plan in place. Dimon worked through his treatment, but he was understandably occupied and had to rely on other executives. Analysts believe Dimon will be at the helm for several more years, though they say JPMorgan Chase's performance during the second half of 2014 as he was being treated provided confidence in the company's deep bench of executives.

More tough tasks lie ahead for the company. Eyes will remain on Marianne Lake, JPMorgan Chase's chief financial officer, as the company continues to navigate capital requirements laid out by regulators. That includes the Federal Reserve Board's recently released proposal on capital surcharges for the nation's biggest bank. Under the plan, JPMorgan would be alone in paying the highest surcharge. 

Cecilia "Cece" Stewart
Stewart made news early in 2014. Citi announced in March that, after spending three years trying to turn around Citigroup's flagging U.S. consumer and commercial banking operations, Stewart was retiring to "focus her energy on her personal passions and service on several boards." The move allows her to spend more time at her horse farm just outside of Charlotte, N.C.

"It was a very, very difficult choice," Stewart, 56, said in a March interview. "I've done this for 35 years, and I have had an amazing career," adding that leaving was "was 100% my decision."

Her efforts at Citi yielded uneven results. While banker productivity improved and deposit accounts increased, revenues and profit in Citi's North American consumer businesses struggled.

Stewart made a low-key return to the banking industry in October, agreeing to join the board of First Horizon National in Memphis, Tenn.

Bryan Jordan, First Horizon National
In addition to luring Stewart to the board, First Horizon and CEO Jordan were able to show investors that they turned the corner after several years of fixing lingering problems tied to a defunct mortgage operation.

"I think we've made substantial progress" with mortgage issues, Jordan told American Banker in June. "Below the surface, the vast majority of what we've been doing has involved building the banking franchise and our fixed-income business to position ourselves for the long term."

Jordan also opened his wallet to make a couple of notable acquisitions. First Horizon in May agreed to buy 13 branches in middle Tennessee from Bank of America, filling a gap in its home state. Five months later, the company agreed to buy the $453 million-asset TrustAtlantic Financial in Raleigh, N.C., for $80 million in cash and stock.

Robert Wilmers, M&T Bank
Wilmers had a tough year.

M&T in Buffalo, N.Y., is still addressing regulators' compliance concerns that have stalled its pending purchase of Hudson City Bancorp since 2012. And Hudson City continued to shrink its balance sheet in advance of the deal's closure.

Meanwhile, Wilmers' counterpart at Hudson City, longtime CEO Ron Hermance, passed away in September.

The companies, which had expected to close the deal by Dec. 31, recently agreed to extend the target date to April 30.

Unfortunately for M&T, it was thumped by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in October for improperly marketing its checking accounts as free. M&T was ordered to pay $3.1 million in fines and reimbursement to resolve the issue and agreed to a consent order to stop deceptive advertising and revise a number of credit reports.

Steve Gardner, Pacific Premier Bancorp
Pacific Premier CEO Steve Gardner kept a relatively low profile for most of 2014, but he managed to finish the year on a high note. The $1.9 billion-asset company raised nearly $60 million in September through a private placement of subordinated debt, joining a list of community banks that took advantage of low interest rates to fund operations.

Gardner put that money to use quickly. Pacific Premier in October agreed to pay $72 million in cash and stock to buy the $426 million Independence Bank in Newport Beach, Calif. "This acquisition represents an important element of our strategic growth plan and provides us with meaningful operational scale in our core markets," Gardner declared.

Arkadi Kuhlmann, ZenBanx
We may have been a little premature in expecting action from Kuhlmann, the founder of ZenBanx and a former ING Direct chief. He has always had a knack for innovation, but, alas, 2014 was a relatively quiet year for Kuhlmann and his company.

ZenBanx was formed in 2012 with a goal of "bringing fairness to the financial landscape through transparency and continuous innovation," according to its website. However, its chief product, a mobile-based person-to-person payments application, remains in development.

Ryan McInerney, Visa
Ryan McInerney is heading into his second full year as Visa's No. 2 executive and all eyes continue to be on him and CEO Charlie Scharf to see how they aim to maintain Visa's global dominance in an era of increasing disruption in the payments world. It's still too early to know.

The duo will be busy defending Visa from lawsuits by both retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores, and rival Discover over allegations that Visa conspired with banks to fix swipe fees.

Bill Demchak, PNC Financial Services
Sometimes no news is good news.

Given PNC's size and scale, it is unbelievable that CEO Bill Demchak avoided making major headlines this year. The Pittsburgh company endured the same revenue pressures felt by other large regional banks, and it produced few surprises in terms of quarterly results. Nor did it announce any meaningful acquisitions.

Demchak gave his take on PNC during an April Q&A with the media.

"We are a mainstream bank," he said. "It sounds pretty simple, but we're basically a bank that takes deposits, lends money, helps their clients move money around through the payments system and helps them manage their wealth and retirement resources."

He also provided his secret for avoiding massive regulatory scrutiny.

"We are not somebody that is a big proprietary trader," Demchak said. "We are not in 56 different countries. We don't store aluminum in some unlabeled warehouse in the middle of the country. We don't have dark pools and other things that I don't even know what they are. We're a pretty basic bank."

Alan Kline and Robert Barba contributed to this article.

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