Synovus Financial in Columbus, Ga., is eager to show it can again be a formidable competitor in the Southeast.
The company, once plagued by questions about how it would boost profit, gave analysts a blueprint for doing just that during its quarterly earnings call. The plan includes more lending and a marketing campaign highlighting the company's ability to provide new technology for customers.
Management's tone stood in stark contrast to a year earlier when it was intent on paying off nearly $1 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
"Our team is certainly pleased with what has happened over the last year," Kessel Stelling, the $27 billion-asset company's chairman and chief executive, said during Tuesday's conference call.
"Our ability to attract and retain talent certainly increased," he added. "We're getting more looks with customers based on the strength of our company and our balance sheet. The team is really energized about the past year but more importantly about taking the next steps as we work to improve profitability across all business lines."
Bank executives in recent earnings calls have offered mixed views on the economy, their markets and the potential for loan growth. Management at Synovus was bullish, highlighting that it has had strong growth across its markets, especially in Atlanta; Nashville, Tenn.; Tampa, Fla.; and Savannah, Ga.
Despite the optimism, Synovus recognizes that it still lags behind others in profitability, said Chris Marinac, an analyst at FIG Partners. Executives were more assertive outlining how they plan to address closing the gap.
"No question, they've come a long way," Marinac said. "Investors see the profits slowly moving up, but some patience is required."
Synovus reported its fifth straight quarter of loan growth with a strong showing in its commercial-and-industrial and retail portfolios, giving management confidence to increase the maximum guidance for loan growth to 6% from 5%. Though it might seem nuanced, the update is indicative of the work Synovus has done, Stelling said.
"It is based on the maturing of the investments we've made, the overall performance of our bankers, the attitudes and really the opportunities we are seeing both in existing and new strategies that we are deploying," he said.
The investments include improved integration of specialty lenders with the company's core operations and efforts to hire talent in areas such as insurance and wealth management.
Synovus has ramped up mortgage lending in key markets, leading to meaningful growth in areas like Atlanta, Tampa and Birmingham, Ala. Synovus recorded a 15% rise in consumer mortgages and a nearly 16% jump in home equity lines from the first quarter.
The company has also invested in technology and marketing. It is finishing a rollout of virtual ATMs this month. It plans to launch enhanced mobile banking with person-to-person and account-to-account payment options later this year. The marketing campaign is initially designed to raise awareness of the Synovus brand; a second phase, which will include television, print and digital ads, should begin in August.
Acquisitions are also possible, though they are more likely over the long term, Stelling said. Management is focused on improving returns on assets and equity and strengthening the company's stock price so that completing a deal will be easier, he said.
"We continue to believe [Synovus] has a sense of urgency to improve and that its significant investments are starting to translate into revenue growth," Jefferson Harralson, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, wrote in a note to clients.
Synovus is also cutting costs. The company is two-thirds through with a $30 million efficiency initiative, Chief Financial Officer Thomas Prescott said. Synovus plans to close 13 branches in the fourth quarter.
The company's earnings rose 44% from a year earlier, to $44.3 million.
Investors will want to see sustained loan growth that excludes shared national credits, Marinac said. Management also needs to manage the net interest margin while continue to find ways to cut expenses.
"Most banks have good loan pipelines," Marinac said. "It will be a matter of how many loans they close."