After merger, BB&T finds footing in region

Submitted photo

Keith Grunow, James Malfregeot and Kyle Huntzberry outside the BB&T office on Dual Highway in Hagerstown, Md. Malfregeot is market president of BB&T for Western Maryland. Grunow and Huntzberry are commercial banking officers.

After a merger with Susquehanna Bank and the adjustments such an acquisition brings, BB&T’s Western Maryland officials say they’ve “turned the corner.”

“It takes time. BB&T knew it was going to take time,” said James Malfregeot, Western Maryland market president for BB&T.

The merger was finalized two years ago.

Susquehanna, based in Lititz, Pa., boasted $18 billion in assets and was a major factor in the regional market.
BB&T, with $220 billion in assets, is one of the largest financial services holding companies in the country. It offers a range of financial services, including retail and commercial banking, investments, insurance, wealth and asset management, mortgages, corporate banking, capital markets and specialized lending.

Its technical team has developed “U by BB&T,” a financial management system for computer and mobile banking. It’s also working on ways to perfect person-to-person digital cash exchanges and other tools to take banking into the future.

Still, the merger brought challenges for bank leaders, employees and clients, Malfregeot said. Computer and tracking systems had to be changed. In some cases of staff overlaps, employees were offered other positions at other BB&T locations.

But overriding the headaches were the reasons behind the merger.

“Culturally, Susquehanna and BB&T were a phenomenal fit,” Malfregeot said. “We liked the bank. We liked the clients. We liked the portfolio.”

‘Community bank’

What BB&T brings to the market is the feel and style of a community bank, with the resources of a Fortune 500 institution, Malfregeot said. He compared it to a neighborhood hardware store that has the resources of a Lowe’s Home Improvement Center or a Home Depot out back.

Based in Winston-Salem, N.C., BB&T operates more than 2,100 financial centers in 15 states and Washington, D.C. But Malfregeot said local decision-makers in each market deal with issues ranging from policies to pricing, he said.

“James runs his community bank. Really. He runs his community bank in Washington County. … That’s different from a lot of other (big) banks,” said Kyle Huntzberry, a BB&T commercial banking officer.

Malfregeot and Huntzberry describe it as being “as big as you need us to be, as small as you want us to be.”
Malfregeot has been with BB&T since 2012. He was vice president of commercial banking in Clarksburg, W.Va., before coming to Hagerstown, Md.

“(People) have been very, very welcoming to my fiancée and I,” he said.

Huntzberry is a Smithsburg High School graduate who came on board in June, after receiving a degree from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. Another commercial banking officer, Keith Grunow, started with BB&T in Frederick, Md., in 2001, and he and his family moved to Hagerstown. After stints with The Columbia Bank and M&T Bank, he came back to BB&T in September.

“The bigger bank environment is in the eye of the beholder,” Grunow said. “From my experience, I see and feel a community bank, with the backing of a large financial institution. The advantages are that we can provide every financial product and service you can imagine. … The disadvantage of that, you could say, is that every opportunity isn’t right for us, and we are willing to accept that.”

‘Conservative risk appetite’

Malfregeot also listed stability as a BB&T strength. The bank has paid a cash dividend every year since 1903. Forbes has named it one of the best banks in America. And it has won a bevy of honors from Fortune, Greenwich Associates and other groups.

“BB&T, over the years, has been known as a conservative bank. We have a conservative risk appetite,” Malfregeot said.

That typically means some adjustments with clients in the wake of mergers and acquisition, he said. And that was the case with Susquehanna.

That doesn’t mean Susquehanna made bad deals, Malfregeot stressed. Some just didn’t fit BB&T’s profile.

“We have a dedicated team of specialists that helps in the restructuring of deals in acquisitions like this. … We work to try to make things fit (for the client and the bank),” he said.