SunTrust Bank will transfer a half dozen wealth management positions to Nashville for "operating efficiency reasons," the company confirmed on Friday.
The transfers aren't layoffs, and the affected employees will be allowed to apply for any other open positions within SunTrust if they choose not to move to Nashville, spokesman Hugh Suhr said.
"We will continue to maintain a healthy wealth management presence in Chattanooga," Suhr said.
Even with the bank's move of six wealth management positions to Nashville this week, customer service won't be affected, Suhr said.
"The impacted positions are advisory roles that interact via phone and/or email, so it will be transparent to clients and in no way lessens our commitment to serving the financial needs of this important market," he wrote in an e-mail.
SunTrust, which until 2010 was the largest Chattanooga-area bank as measured by deposits, occupies one of the largest downtown buildings and once boasted 80 percent of the trust and asset management business in the city, said former executive Peter Cooper, who now heads the Community Foundation of Chattanooga.
But while SunTrust moved to save money by centralizing operations away from Chattanooga, rival First Tennessee Bank grew larger in local deposits, according to FDIC reports.
"They (SunTrust) keep moving further and further away from being a local bank," Cooper said. "First Tennessee Bank isn't doing that and is growing quite nicely, and it has replaced them as the largest bank in the city."
Cooper said SunTrust's centralization strategy is part of a larger effort that has been under way since before he stepped down from SunTrust in 1990.
"Probably their first move in '87 was when they took 15 people out at that time, and after I left they kept whittling it down and taking more sections out," Cooper said.
The bank's eighth floor, he said, used to have 30 workers but more recently was closer to just six. In fact, SunTrust doesn't own the building anymore, after selling it to The Simpson Organization in 2007, according to the real estate company's website.
The landmark Chattanooga tower, completed in 1968, has more than 18,411 square feet of empty space, according to Simpson.
SunTrust, which was formed when Florida-based Sun Bank and the Trust Company of Georgia merged in 1985, entered the Chattanooga market in 1995 when SunTrust bought Nashville-based Third National Bank, the parent company of what was then American National Bank in Chattanooga.