'Once-in-a-generation' opportunity: Why Tennessee bank covets Atlanta

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Pinnacle Financial Partners in Nashville, Tenn., sees a lot of it home market when it looks at Atlanta.

The $28 billion-asset company announced plans in December to enter Atlanta after hiring a lending team led by former Synovus executive Rob Garcia. Pinnacle executives said during their quarterly conference call that the conditions are right for it to take share from some of the city's biggest banks.

Atlanta, by far, is Pinnacle's most attractive market for expansion, Terry Turner, the company's president and CEO, said during the call, adding that market leaders such as Truist Financial, Bank of America and Wells Fargo "seem incredibly vulnerable," creating a "once in a generation" opportunity.

The competitive landscape in Atlanta is in a "dramatic state of turmoil and diminished brand loyalty across the board," Turner said. Pinnacle aims to grab a share of business from the nearly 24,000 companies in the city that have annual sales of $1 million to $500 million.

Turner drew parallels between Atlanta and Nashville, which was dominated by BofA, SunTrust and AmSouth when Pinnacle opened in 2000. Deposit market share for those banks fell from 71% in mid-2001 to 48% last June, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Pinnacle holds about a fifth of the city's deposits.

Pinnacle has what it takes to meet its target of reaching $3 billion in assets in Atlanta over the next five years, said Stephen Scouten, an analyst at Piper Sandler. He said the company will largely use the same playbook that worked in Nashville, led by hiring talent from bigger banks.

"It’s basically their core strategy of the bank — hire the best talent and create a great place to work so they stay and serve customers at a higher level than peers, " Scouten said.

Pinnacle said it hired 85 revenue producers in 2019, following up on the 107 people it brought on a year earlier. The company, which has hired four revenue producers in Atlanta in recent weeks, believe it has a strong pipeline to add more, Turner said.

Turner said Pinnacle plans to hire at least 10 relationship managers each year in Atlanta over the next five years. It will add 15 to 20 revenue producers over that period to serve as treasury management consultants, wealth managers, brokers and mortgage originators. The goal is to financially break even in Atlanta in the third quarter of 2021.

The company also plans to take advantage of merger-related disruption in its other markets. It entered Virginia and Carolinas in June 2017 when it bought BNC Bancorp in High Point, N.C. Turner said he sees a big opportunity to take business from Truist, formed last month when BB&T bought SunTrust, noting that 90% of Pinnacle's branches are within two miles of Truist locations.

Scouten said his primary concern is that a possible economic slowdown could crimp revenue Pinnacle hopes to bring in from its upfront investments.

"I’m not overly worried about this, but if I had to note something, that would be it," Scouten said.

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