Your hometown bank
Business View Magazine interviews Joseph S. Brannen, Chairman & CEO of Brannen Bank, for our focus on Community Banks in Florida.
Some family business histories are just too fascinating not to share. The legacy and evolution of Florida’s Brannen Bank is one such story that begs to be told. This beloved financial institution has been providing personalized banking service since 1926, when its founder, George H. Brannen, Sr., established the first Brannen Bank in historic Homosassa as the Bank of Homosassa-Inverness. Relocated to Inverness in 1929, and renamed The Bank of Inverness, it was the only bank in Citrus County to survive the economic crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.
Brannen Bank currently services 12 convenient locations in Citrus, Marion, and Hernando Counties and is widely recognized as Citrus County’s oldest commercial bank. A trusted community partner for three generations, Brannen Bank treats customers and staff as part of their extended family. In these unsettling economic times, that is comfort indeed.
Business View Magazine recently spoke with Brannen Bank Chairman & CEO Joseph S. Brannen; his son and Bank President, Matt Brannen; and Chief Financial Officer, Michael Fitzpatrick about the Bank’s heritage, evolution, and innovative plans for the future. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.
BVM: Joseph, can you share the wonderful backstory of the Brannen family business?
Joseph Brannen: “As a young man in his early twenties, my dad, George H. Brannen Sr., worked in a bank in North Florida for Senator Joe Scales. Senator Scales came down to Citrus County to fish, a favorite pastime, and decided he wanted to open a bank here. So, in 1926, he sent my dad to open what was our first bank. Since there were several banks in Inverness, where we are now, they thought it best to open in Homosassa Springs on the west side of our county, away from the competition. Dad ran the bank for about a year and started thinking it would be better if they were in Inverness, as it was the center of the county, as far as politics and business.
“So, he went to work on Senator Scales to let him relocate the bank, and one Saturday afternoon in 1929, Dad and a friend moved the whole bank over on a flatbed truck. On the opening day, they took in $10,000 in deposits, which was a lot of money back then. Just a few months later, the Great Depression hit, and that was a great disaster. All the other banks in Citrus County failed – this one, the Bank of Inverness, was the only survivor.
“Over the years, our operations expanded with the opening of Dunnellon State Bank in 1946, Crystal River in 1954, and in 1970, we came full circle and opened a bank back in Homosassa Springs where it all began. Then in 1987, we opened the Hernando County Bank in Brooksville. My dad died in 1990, and my brother, George H. Brannen II, and I continued to operate with the conservative fundamentals that Dad taught us. He was known as one of the most conservative bankers in Florida, but that was very good in times like the savings & loan crisis and the various recessions. We were always able to go through them and continue to be profitable.”
BVM: How has the Bank evolved more recently?
Joseph: “Things were rocking along, and in 2006, my brother and I started looking at our expenses. All our banks were independently chartered because there was no branch banking in Florida when they were formed. That meant five bank presidents, five of everything, and we realized we could accomplish great savings if we consolidated all five banks into the original Bank of Inverness charter. We started working on that in 2006 and completed the consolidation process in Feb. 2008.
“We own a holding company called Brannen Banks of Florida, which in turn owns our banks. So, we took on the name Brannen Bank at all our locations. People knew the Brannen family from the beginning of the banks, so it just made sense. Then, in Sept 2008, our actions positively came to the forefront, much sooner than we thought, because of the Great Recession. It saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars by reducing our staff and our payroll. During that time, we also outsourced our data processing, which had been in our own 12,000‐sq.‐ft. data processing center with a big crew. Our operations changed drastically with the consolidation in 2008, but it really has been a positive outcome for us.”
BVM: How has COVID‐19 impacted your business?
Joseph: “We’ve been really surprised this year with our growth, in spite of COVID‐19 and the economic impact that’s occurred. Our CFO factored in interest rates when he did our budget, not knowing this would happen, and we thought we might even lose some deposits this year, when, in fact, we’re $100 million up from last year in deposits. People have always come to us in times of recession because they know their money is safe with the Brannen Bank. And they gravitate to us in uncertain times like we find ourselves in now.
“But the growth we’ve achieved over the past year has been amazing. Currently, we’ve got $140 million in overnight money with the federal government. Not many banks our size have that – strong liquidity with adequate capital and strong asset quality. Those were Dad’s fundamentals, which he put into play almost 100 years ago, and we still use those to guide us as we go forward.”
BVM: Are you making investments in technology?
Michael Fitzpatrick: “We always want to have a place where customers can come in if they want to, but the demand is shifting towards more of an electronic platform. So, we offer online banking, bill pay, e‐statements, and remote deposit capture. We’re actually implementing a new, cutting edge bill‐pay mobile app and online banking suite at the end of this year that will have a lot more features for our customers. This will give us all the capabilities of our competitors and our customers can be fully functional without ever needing to come into the bank.
“We’ve also made investments in off‐site facilities. We have a completely operational hot site just north of Atlanta in a massive level‐4 data center that has a lot of large fintech and tech companies. It allows us to shift over with a delay of less than 30 minutes and be fully running even if our main facility was taken out. So, our disaster recovery plans have been really strengthened. As well, with the COVID pandemic, we’ve taken precautions to where all of our operational staff are fully functional at their houses. We’ve provided them with laptops and monitors; we’ve bought telecommuting software that allows them to communicate with their staff and continue to train, in case the virus infiltrated our location, and we had to send everyone home. Now we wouldn’t have a lot of downtime from an op perspective.”
Joseph: “We’ve had a lot of conversations in recent weeks about the impact COVID has had on our operation and how it’s going to affect us, going forward. Even before it hit, the number of people coming into a brick and mortar facility had slowed down because of technology, allowing them to do it remotely. Our lobbies have been closed since March, and we’re going to keep them closed as long as it takes, but, after it’s all behind us, we may never see traffic in and out of these facilities.”
BVM: What would your dad think?
Joseph: “He wouldn’t know what to think. He told us in board meetings for years that we could have another depression. And we said no way. There’re too many checks and balances. He said, ‘Mark my words.’ Well, in Sept. 2008, we were looking at each other, saying he was right. We came within 48 hours of our whole financial industry going into total collapse. And it can happen again. But he would be amazed at the bank today; he’s been gone 30 years, and his view of it has completely been altered forever.”
“We have just over 100 employees – a lot are younger people, and they’re more capable and competent and energetic than we’ve ever had in the past. We’ve built ourselves to move forward as technology changes, and we’ve always operated in a lean, efficient manner. Dad always said, ‘You never go broke making a profit, and you have to learn how to control your expenses.’ We’ve always been good at that.”
BVM: What are the most important points people should know about Brannen Bank?
Fitzpatrick: “For me, it’s the flexibility. The ability of the bank to pivot on a dime is truly unique. When there is an opportunity that benefits either our customer base or the bank, we can make those decisions at a moment’s notice. Especially this year, that separates us from the competition because we can get things done for our customers in a much more expedient process.”
Joseph: “We want to continue to serve our community as we always have. We did $85 million in mortgages last year, about $60 million here in Citrus County. So, we’re putting this money to work in our county, which differentiates us from some of the larger banks. We’re the epitome of a true hometown community bank. We take care of our customers, and we take care of our employees – they’re part of the Brannen Bank family. That’s our culture, and we’re proud of the fact that we’ve been able to do that for 94 years. We’ve got a special thing here, and we’ve been so blessed. When we hit 100, that will be a year-long celebration!”
Matt Brannen: “It’s important for people to understand who we are and what we do. Yes, our history, but also what we’re doing today and what sets us apart from just about every other bank in our area. One hundred percent of our efforts are right here, locally. We are in a three‐county area, so we focus on the people we live here with, that we go to church with, go to school with, play sports with. Everybody knows us, and we know them. People moving into the area that don’t know a bank like us still exists are so happy and relieved that they can go back to having a personal banker. All of our staff, our lenders, the management team ‐ we’re intertwined in the community as we’ve always been, and we’re accessible. Nothing has changed – there are more people, but that’s all.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Family owned, third-generation commercial bank
WHERE: Inverness, Florida