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Jax Daily Record Friday, Oct. 23, 202005:10 AM EST

The Truist ‘secret sauce’ in Northeast Florida

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The Jacksonville leaders of the bank created by the merger of BB&T and SunTrust say they are keeping their focus on their clients and the community.
by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

In December, BB&T Corp. and SunTrust Banks Inc. announced they completed the merger that formed Truist Financial Corp.

It employs about 1,000 people in 112 locations in Northeast Florida, with about 500 people in 38 offices in Jacksonville.

Truist offers services including retail, small business and commercial banking; asset management; capital markets; commercial real estate; corporate and institutional banking; insurance; mortgage; payments; specialized lending; and wealth management.

Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, Truist is the sixth-largest commercial bank in the U.S. with total assets of $499 billion as of Sept. 30.

Truist’s 58,000 executives and employees work in nearly 3,000 offices, former BB&T and SunTrust offices and branch banks.

In Northest Florida, Truist is led by Regional President Scott Keith and Jacksonville Market President Debbie Buckland. Combined, they have more than 50 years of banking experience in the area market.

The two heritage banks adopted a clear philosophy when the decision was made to combine operations, Keith said.

“BB&T and SunTrust are both large institutions, but we came to the merger with a community bank mindset. We run the North Florida bank for the benefit of our community and our clients,” he said.

“That’s the differentiator for Truist. It’s our secret sauce,” Buckland said.

The institutions announced in February 2019 they would merge.

When the merger was completed in December, a plan was in place for a smooth transition as the banks combined assets and services.

Three months later, the COVID-19 pandemic changed overnight how people live their lives with quarantines and social distancing. They had to quickly learn how to do business remotely.

Keith said BB&T and SunTrust were well-positioned to make the rapid shift, even before the merger began.

“Both banks had significant investment in technology."

The pandemic motivated customers to switch to digital banking options, according to Truist’s third-quarter financial report.

In that quarter, which ended Sept. 30, Truist customers opened 56,000 net new accounts versus 15,000 in the previous quarter, driven by digital and increased branch traffic.

For the 12 months through August, Truist recorded a 21% increase in digital sales, an 8% increase in active mobile users and a 23% increase in mobile check deposits.

“Our clients are in a remote environment. The world has offered us the opportunity to develop better solutions,” Keith said.

To fortify its digital operations, the bank is investing $100 million in the Truist Innovation & Technology Center in Charlotte. It also has established Truist Ventures, a program that will invest in financial technology businesses, beginning at the startup stage.

“This only works if we keep the local aspect. People want to do business with the people they know in the community," Keith said.

“We’re as big as the largest institutions in this community need us to be, and we’re as small and local as they want us to be."

Buckland said no matter how much may change with the merger, the original philosophy won’t change.

“We are a full-service financial institution, but we will remain a community bank,” she said.

SunTrust and BB&T each had offices Downtown before the merger. BB&T remains in the BB&T building at 200 W. Forsyth St. 

During 2019, SunTrust moved out of its former tower at 76 S. Laura St., now VyStar Credit Union’s headquarters, and leased space at the Bank of America building. 

The merged bank plans to retain its headquarters in the 32202 ZIP code, but does not know, at this time, where, Keith said.

“Truist will remain in Downtown Jacksonville,” Keith said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created options as Truist plans its corporate office and branch locations.

Customers are using more technology for their day-to-day banking needs and the bank’s staff has learned how to do business remotely. Both factors could mean banks need fewer and smaller offices, Keith said.

“COVID changed everything. We see people working at home, at least part-time, as part of our future.”

The most obvious indication of the merger - new signage at Truist offices and branches - isn’t in the immediate plan. 

Customers will continue to see their previous bank’s name and logo, with “Now Truist” added, possibly into 2022, Keith said.

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