An Atlanta-based community bank is establishing a foothold in the metro area with help from two longtime Augusta bankers.

A map of Ameris Bank’s 176 offices shows a big empty spot where the Augusta-Aiken metro area sits. But that will soon change.

The Atlanta-based bank is expanding into the market and has recruited Cadence Bank’s top two local executives to help fill its void in east central Georgia and west central South Carolina.

The $18 billion institution that grew out a community bank nearly 50 years ago in south Georgia has tapped longtime local bankers Remer Brinson and Cameron Nixon as presidents of its regional and local operations, respectively.

The pair have worked together since the days of First Bank – the former Augusta-based community bank whose legacy properties form the backbone of Cadence’s local operations – and are aiming to spread Ameris branches throughout the Augusta-Aiken market.

Brinson left Cadence shortly after the 2019 acquisition of State Bank & Trust, which acquired First Bank four years earlier, resulting in a change in his job duties. Brinson started hunting for new opportunities once his non-compete agreement expired in February. He said one of the first calls he took was from Ameris CEO Palmer Proctor, whom Brinson had known for years while serving on the Georgia Bankers Association’s board of directors.

His official start date was Aug. 1. Nixon’s was Sept. 14.

“What I liked about Ameris was the culture, how their people support the local communities, because every community is different,” said Brinson, whose banking career started in Augusta in 1982 at the former Georgia Railroad Bank. “There are clichés in banking, but clichés are clichés for a reason: People like to bank with people, and a bank is only as good as the people in the organization.”

The organization Ameris seeks to build in metro Augusta is a full-service branch network to complement the mortgage office it opened in 2018 with former State Bank mortgage executive Peter Franklin at the helm.

Brinson said Ameris’ bank offices will offer everything from retail and commercial banking services to wealth management and Small Business Administration-backed loans. It also will have a trust department – a specialty service offered by only one in six community banks, according to banking industry data.

Brinson and Nixon said they are pursuing real estate in west Augusta and Columbia County as sites for Ameris’ first area branch locations while they work out of temporary space in the Augusta Corporate Center office park off Bobby Jones Expressway.

“If you look at their footprint in Georgia and South Carolina, there’s a gaping hole – a great opportunity – right in Augusta,” said Nixon, whose new role as Augusta market president is similar to the position he held at Cadence.

In just over 45 days, the two have brought in $55 million worth of loan business.

Proctor said Ameris for years has wanted a footprint in metro Augusta because of the market’s growing military, manufacturing, health care and education sectors. But the mid-sized community bank had not been able to find local bankers with the right “cultural alignment” until Brinson and Nixon came on board.

“My approach has always been to find the team first and then find the market,” Proctor said. “It’s one thing to put a pin on a map, and it’s another to execute. At the end of the day, you want to be in the right place at the right time with the right people. If it’s not the right people, it’s not worth your time.”

The publicly traded bank (NASDAQ: ABCB) was founded in 1971 as American Banking Co. in the south Georgia town of Moultrie. It grew organically and through acquisitions in Georgia through the 1970s and 1980s, crossing state lines for the first time in 1996 with the purchase of Alabama’s Southland Bank.

The bank’s holding company, Ameris Bancorp, collapsed its collection of multi-chartered banks into a single charter under the Ameris brand in 2006, shortly after expanding into Florida and South Carolina. In 2019 it merged with Atlanta-based Fidelity Bank in a $750 million deal, incorporating Fidelity’s well-known lion emblem into its Ameris logo.

Brinson’s duties as regional president also put him over Ameris’ established operations in Savannah. He said he has filed an application with regulators to operate a branch at the company’s leased office suite while he works on developing full-service branch offices during the next 12 to 18 months.

Nixon, who has 32 years of banking experience, said the investment shows the company is committed to a long-term presence in Augusta.

“It says something that Ameris is going to invest in bricks and mortar,” said Nixon, who has worked with Brinson since 2004. “They’re coming into Augusta with some pretty good firepower and with an intent to stay and make it work.”

Proctor said the bank’s size puts it within a “sweet spot” in the Augusta market, which is primarily served by large national banks such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America; regionals such as South State Bank, which is merging with Florida-based CenterState Bank; and a host of smaller community banks such as Security Federal Bank and Queensborough National Bank & Trust.

“It’s not an overly saturated market for banks of our scale,” he said. “We’re big enough to be meaningful, but small enough to still care in terms of customer service.”

Brinson’s 38 years of local banking experience include serving as president and CEO of First Bank, the community bank organized and overseen by noted Augusta banking executive Patrick G. Blanchard.

Brinson said the personal relationships he developed over the years – and the lessons he learned in customer service – will be his greatest asset in getting Ameris established in metro Augusta.

“The great sage Pat Blanchard always told the story about the customer who came in one time and said, ‘OK, here’s the deal: You can ask me anything you want and I’ll tell you everything you want to know about me, but I only want to do it once. I don’t want to do it every time I come in here,’” Brinson recalled.

“So if there’s a negative to a lot of big banks, that’s it. You’re just another face,” Brinson said. “Me and Cameron just love banking. It’s fun watching and learning what people do, and trying to be a small part of helping them reach their goals.”

Augusta-Aiken’s 10 largest banksBankDepositsMarket share
Wells Fargo Bank$1.85 billion21.08%
South State Bank$1.31 billion14.96%
Bank of America$1.01 billion11.56%
Truist Bank (formerly SunTrust)$809 million9.21%
Security Federal Bank$692 million7.89%
Queensborough National Bank & Trust$605 million6.89%
Regions Bank$580 million6.61%
First-Citizens Bank & Trust$572 million6.52%
Cadence Bank$464 million5.28%
Synovus Bank$211 million2.41%

Source: Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. 2019 market share report

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