American Banker's Community Banking team is tasked each December with identifying five bankers it believes will make news in the coming year.
With 2015 drawing to a close, we felt obligated to assess how our picks from a year ago fared. By and large the chief executives that we singled out made headlines. Michael Scudder at First Midwest Bancorp announced two M&A deals, while John Poelker set in motion the breakup of the troubled CertusBank.
Other members of our 2015 watch list held an initial public offering, artfully resolved an enforcement action or diversified into some fee-based, nonbank services.
Overall, they showed just how important it is for bankers to keep finding ways to expand in an environment of complex regulation and historically low interest rates. A lot can change in a short time, though, for these executives and the five CEOs we have selected for our 2016 list (more on those in the days ahead).
For now, here is a recap of how our 2015 bankers performed in the last year.
Jack Kopnisky, Sterling Bancorp
Jack Kopnisky, the CEO of Sterling Bancorp, caught our attention late last year when his Monetebello, N.Y., company agreed to buy Hudson Valley Holding in Yonkers, N.Y.
The $539 million acquisition, which closed in June, still ranks in banking's top 15 in terms of deal value over the past two years. It followed the 2013 merger of Provident New York Bancorp and Sterling and allowed Sterling to cross over $10 billion in assets. (Technically, Provident took the Sterling name.)
Sterling got ahead of the consolidation game in New York. In October, New York Community Bancorp agreed to buy Astoria Financial, while First Niagara Financial Group agreed to sell itself to KeyCorp.
Kopnisky has continued to make acquisitions, though he focused on buying add-on operations this year.
Sterling in March bought Damian Services Corp., a Chicago company that provides payroll-related services to staffing firms, including processing, tax preparation and invoicing. Two months later, it bought a traditional factoring business from First Capital Holdings in New York.
George Martinez, Allegiance Bancshares
George Martinez, the CEO of Allegiance Bancshares, was expected to take his company public this year, which he did in early October. The $2 billion-asset company raised nearly $55 million from its initial public offering, selling 2.6 million shares at $21 each. Those shares have risen 13% since then.
There had been concerns that falling oil prices would compel Martinez to delay the IPO, which his company, founded in 2007, had contemplated for more than two years. As analysts often point out, however, energy loans make up just 2.4% of the Houston company's total loan portfolio.
Though Martinez seems content with organic growth, he has shown an inclination for M&A. Allegiance last year bought the $540 million-asset Farmers & Merchants Bancshares. So Allegiance will remain on American Banker's radar screen in coming years.
John Poelker, CertusBank
Certus hired Poelker, an experienced bank consultant who had previously wound down several troubled Georgia companies, as its CEO in April 2014 after its board fired the prior management team. The former leadership had overseen a period of massive losses and heavy spending that had prompted a storm of criticism from some investors.
Poelker had crafted a turnaround plan that involved closing or selling branches, selling off side businesses and cutting staff to lower expenses. Certus agreed to sell its small-business lending unit and all of its North Carolina branches before Poelker's departure.
Those moves still did not stop the bleeding; Certus lost $21 million in the first half of 2015 after losing $166 million in the three previous years. By June, the $1.4 billion-asset Certus had agreed to sell or shut down all of its remaining branches, essentially putting an end to the once promising company.
Dan Rollins, BancorpSouth
A year ago, Dan Rollins, BancorpSouth's CEO, was determined to quickly resolve Bank Secrecy Act compliance issues and escape a regulatory order that had delayed two bank acquisitions.
The September 2014 consent order forced the $13.8 billion-asset company to significantly bulk up its compliance department. Rollins moved dozens of employees from other departments to focus solely on BSA matters, while his company expects to spend $3 million annually to maintain systems and practices it put in place.
For some industry observers, the order also put a damper on midcap-bank M&A.
Kudos to Rollins, though.
BancorpSouth was released from the consent order in April, wrapping up the matter at a pace rarely seen for banks of its size.
Rollins still has more work ahead of him. BancorpSouth has yet to complete its planned acquisitions of Ouachita Bancshares in Monroe, La., and Central Community Corp. in Temple, Texas, though the company said over the summer that it hoped to close the deals by the end of this year.
Michael Scudder, First Midwest Bancorp
First Midwest is all but assured to cross over $10 billion in assets next year, which brings with it heavier regulatory requirements.
The $9.9 billion-asset company is just a few loans away from reaching a size where it faces mandatory stress-testing and caps on interchange fees. There was a belief by some that Michael Scudder, the Itasca, Ill., company's CEO, could follow the lead of other banks and pursue a big deal to jump over the threshold.
Instead, First Midwest has strung together a number of smaller deals. It completed the purchase of the $570 million-asset Great Lakes Financial late last year. This year, the company agreed to buy the $108 million-asset People's Bank of Arlington Heights in Illinois and the $680 million-asset NI Bancshares in Sycamore, Ill.
"I'm not very good at running backwards," Scudder told American Banker in November, explaining his reasoning for not waiting for a big deal. "We are going to continue to drive forward.