ATLANTA - Trust Company of Georgia, in a quest for new revenues, is going decidedly down-market.

The Atlanta-based subsidiary of SunTrust Banks Inc., best known for its corporate banking and personal trust services, is reported to be considering opening branches in grocery stores operated by the Publix chain.

The revelation comes just weeks after Trust Company received regulatory permission to form a consumer finance subsidiary in Atlanta.

A company spokesman declined to comment on the supermarket venture, first reported in the local press, except to confirm that "we have been, and we continue to be, in discussions with Publix Super Markets concerning a possible business alliance."

Publix operates 492 stores in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. The Lakeland, Fla.-based company holds the No. 2 market share in Georgia's capital, where it has 33 stores and trails only the Kroger Co.

Bank South Corp., which announced a merger agreement Tuesday with NationsBank Corp., has an exclusive relationship with Kroger in Atlanta. Bank South is the leading supermarket bank in Georgia, with 60 in-store branches.

Details of the Trust Company-Publix discussions are sketchy, and it could not be determined if SunTrust's Florida subsidiary, SunBanks Inc., would be included in the agreement. A Publix spokeswoman did point out that her company was having discussions with Trust Company in Georgia, as opposed to SunTrust, the Atlanta-based holding company, or SunBanks, which is based in Orlando.

A knowledgeable source said Publix had solicited bids from several other banks in Atlanta before negotiating exclusively with Trust Company.

Experts in the supermarket banking field agreed that the entry of such a large and prominent player as SunTrust would be another significant advance for a banking concept that has been gaining in popularity since the mid- 1980s.

International Banking Technologies, an Atlanta-based consulting company owned by First Financial Management Corp., said 328 branches opened in supermarkets and other stores during the first half this year, bringing the nationwide total to 2,833.

"This is a red-letter day for supermarket banking," said Atlanta consultant Robert Carper. "It's a validation of the concept from someone who is admired in the industry."

Trust Company has no experience in supermarket banking, but it will receive help from Memphis-based National Commerce Bank Services Inc., a major vendor of in-store banking services and a competitor of International Banking Technologies. A National Commerce spokesman declined to comment further.

Publix, like many supermarket companies, is becoming increasingly interested in giving shoppers more reasons to come and linger in the stores. Also, bank branches in the supermarkets would yield rental income.

Since the 1980s, Publix has bypassed the banking industry to place its own automated teller machines in its stores.

Trust Company's dalliance with in-store banking is yet another sign of the changes flowing from a reengineering effort at SunTrust. Since last year, when McKinsey & Co. completed a detailed study of its fee income and cost structure, SunTrust has announced a standardization of name and logo at its subsidiary banks in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee; a credit card cobranding deal with the Professional Golfers Association; the closing of 10 branches in metro Atlanta; and the formation of the consumer finance subsidiary, Personal Express Loans Inc., which will soon open its first office in Atlanta.

Sources close to SunTrust say the company, which has $42 billion of assets and 650 offices in four states, is also exploring various forms of PC-based banking.

These initiatives occur against the backdrop of sluggish revenues in the corporation's traditional lines of business, particularly corporate trust.

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ATLANTA - SunTrust Banks Inc. said this week it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Ponte Vedra Banking Corp., a banking company in northeastern Florida that has $87 million of assets.

Pending completion of the deal early next year, SunTrust said it would consolidate the acquisition - Ponte Vedra National Bank and its four offices - into SunBank/North Florida, a Jacksonville-based subsidiary with $700 million of assets.

SunBanks Inc., SunTrust's Florida holding company, has $20 billion of assets and 370 offices.

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