Synovus Financial in Columbus, Ga., beat earnings expectations in the first quarter as it continued to reap the rewards of its strategic decisions to branch out in consumer lending and scale back its commercial real estate lending.

The $31.5 billion-asset company said Tuesday that its net income available to shareholders increased 45.2% from last year’s first quarter to $100.6 million. Its earnings per share of 84 cents were a nickel higher than the mean estimate of analysts polled by FactSet Research Systems.

Revenue increased 12% year over year to $341.3 million, bolstered by a 14.3% gain in net interest income that was driven by a widening net interest margin and a 3.4% increase in total average loans to $24.9 billion.

Consumer lending was particularly robust, with total consumer loans increasing 17.4% year over year to just under $6 billion. Much of that growth was fueled by a 74% increase in the category that includes student loans Synovus acquires from the online lender SoFi and home improvement and other consumer loans it originates at the point of sale through a partnership with the fintech GreenSky.

The gain in consumer loans more than offset what was only a modest increase in commercial and industrial loans and an 8.5% decline in commercial real estate loan balances.

Credit quality also improved, with total nonperforming loans declining 24.2% from last year’s first quarter to $120.1 million, or 0.48% of total loans.

Noninterest income declined overall but, excluding one-time items, it increased 6.2% to $70.1 million. The growth was driven largely by a 13% increase in fiduciary and asset management fees and brokerage and insurance revenue.

The strong profit growth led to significant improvement in the company’s key performance ratios. Return on assets increased 39 basis points year over year to 1.36%; return on average common equity climbed 465 basis points to 14.62%; and the efficiency ratio fell from 64.84% to 57.16%.

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Alan Kline

Alan Kline

Alan Kline is a senior editor at American Banker overseeing its consumer finance and national/regional banking coverage. He also helps direct coverage of the annual Most Powerful Women in Banking rankings.