First Volunteer set to convert Gateway bank offices

First Volunteer set to convert Gateway bank offices

September 14th, 2012 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

David Estermeyer, left, and Andy Muth install a new First Volunteer Bank sign at the former Gateway Bank in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. Staff photo by Dave Flessner


First Volunteer Bank

Assets: $653.3 million

Branches: 21

Staff: 240 employees

Headquarters: Chattanooga

Started: 1997

Gateway Bank & Trust

Assets: $249 million

Branches: Three

Staff: 54 employees

Headquarters: Ringgold, Ga.

Started: 1904

Patti Steele has four tickets to Saturday's showdown football contest between Tennessee and Florida, but she won't be headed to Knoxville.

Instead, the First Volunteer Bank president will be headed south along with other members of the bank's 15-member transition team this weekend to complete the conversion of the biggest bank acquisition in the company's 98-year history.

Starting tonight, the Gateway Bank branches in Ringgold, LaFayette and Fort Oglethorpe will be converted to branches of the Chattanooga-based First Volunteer Bank.

By 2 a.m. Saturday, computer files and accounts from $249 million Gateway Bank should be merged with First Volunteer, which maintains its own data processing and back-office operations at its downtown Chattanooga headquarters.

"We'll do a lot of testing over the weekend, but we've been through this enough times to pretty well have this down to a science," Steele said.

After seven bank purchases in the past 13 years, First Volunteer staffers are used to converting accounts, computer systems and signs to their brand.

"They are all different, but we've gotten it down as well as we can," Steele said.

The deal for First Volunteer to buy Gateway was struck late last year, approved by shareholders in February and closed on April 16. First Volunteer is keeping all three of the former Gateway offices and all but a dozen of the bank's employees and executives.

Steele said First Volunteer was eager to get into the North Georgia portion of Chattanooga's metropolitan area where many Chattanoogans work, live or shop.

"The demographics look very good in this area and we've been pleased that we have been able to keep most of Gateway's customers as we introduce ourselves in these markets," Steele said. "This is a great, growing market."

The most common question from Gateway customers has been whether their banker will remain "and we've told them that in most instances they will be dealing with the same friendly people," Steele said.

First Volunteer has even put of billboards on Battlefield Parkway with the faces of the Gateway bankers to reassure customers that "the same people will be serving you."

"The reception has really been incredible -- probably the best retention rate we've ever had," said Todd Wanner, First Volunteer's chief financial officer. "The people we have on the retail side of the business from Gateway are really good at what they do and we've tried to learn from them as well as them learning from us."

First Volunteer will be adding new insurance, annuity, Internet and home mortgage products to the former Gateway branches, Wanner said.

The purchase of Gateway was the first for First Volunteer since the bank bought Benton Banking Co. in 2008. But Steele said First Volunteer is interested in more purchases to help fill in the gaps among its East Tennessee offices.

"We do want to fill in our footprint more where our franchise exists already," she said. "We're not in Ooltewah, Cleveland or Athens. We see a lot of opportunity."