Walt Moeling remembered as trusted adviser to countless bankers
When you’re a community bank’s lawyer, the job is more than knowing about regulations and stock offerings. It also involves finessing delicate family situations, and few were better at that job than Walt Moeling, according to colleagues.
Moeling, who died on March 4 at age 76, was the outside counsel to hundreds of community banks during his 50-year career. They asked Moeling for advice on mergers, raising capital and regulatory compliance.
They also sought out Moeling for his wisdom on how to deal with tricky problems, like whether succession plans should pass control from one generation to the next or to an outsider, said Joe Brannen, CEO of the Georgia Bankers Association.
“Our industry is really a family industry,” Brannen said. “He had such a way of keeping people calm in the most tense situations. He was able to keep people talking, working through deals.”
A graduate of Duke University, where he played football in the 1960s, Moeling worked for the same firm his entire career. He joined Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy in Atlanta after receiving his law degree from Duke. The firm was later acquired by Bryan Cave, which is now known as Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.
He represented banks of all sizes, as well as insurance companies and securities firms. But Moeling was best known for his work on behalf of community banks, primarily ones based in Georgia.
His client list included Atlanta’s C&S Bank, a predecessor institution to NationsBank and, later, Bank of America; Georgia Bank & Trust Co. in Augusta, which was bought in 2017 by South State in Columbia, S.C.; and Northwest Georgia Bank in Ringgold, which was sold in 2015 to FirstBank in Nashville, Tenn.
Moeling also was counsel to Riverside Bank in Marietta, Ga., which Kessel Stelling founded in 1996. Moeling advised Riverside on its 2006 sale to Synovus Financial in Columbus, Ga., where Stelling eventually became chairman and CEO.
“To me, he was so much more than an attorney,” Stelling said. “He was also a dear friend, a mentor, and a trusted adviser in areas well beyond the legal arena, including great advice and life lessons on being a grandfather.”
Many small banks on Moeling's lengthy client list needed his help only infrequently, like the $309 million-asset Persons Banking Co. in Forsyth, Ga., which was his first client and remained one his entire career.
“Sometimes we would go years between hearing from a bank,” said Rob Klingler, an attorney at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner who worked closely with Moeling. “But then you might talk to them every day for a month.”
Moeling was also well-known for getting in his car and driving throughout Georgia to meet with his clients in person, Klingler said.
“It was all about that face-to-face meeting with his clients,” Klingler said.
During his half-century career, Moeling was involved in both “the best of times and the worst of times” in Georgia banking, Brannen said.
Moeling was general counsel to the Georgia Bankers Association from 2000 to 2016. During the first eight years, 125 de novo banks opened in Georgia. In the last eight years, “we lost 92 banks” to failures, Brannen said.
In 2007, just before the financial crisis hit, Moeling saw that problems were coming, Brannen said.
“He spoke at our annual meeting in 2007 and he said, ‘Folks, there’s some stuff happening that we may not be seeing. Our world is about to change,’ ” Brannen said. “He pretty much predicted a lot of things that actually turned out to happen."