Georgia Bankers Association
The resource that empowers
Business View Magazine interviews Joe Brannen, President and CEO of the Georgia Bankers Association for our focus on Excellence in the Banking Industry
Georgia is a vibrant, growing state that regularly gets high marks as a great place to do business and raise a family. Such vitality requires the backing of a strong banking sector, and that’s certainly the case in the Peach State.
To learn more about banking in Georgia, Business View Magazine caught up with Joe Brannen, President and CEO of the Georgia Bankers Association. He’s been at the helm of the state’s premier resource for bankers for 41 years, so there’s no better source for insight about one of Georgia’s most important industries.
BVM: What is the banking marketplace in Georgia like today?
Brannen: Georgia businesses and families are fortunate because Georgia really is a well-banked state. About 200 banks do business here with 156 of those based in Georgia, so there’s lots of choice, competition and a range of products and services provided. That level of investment and competition also means there’s diversity in the types of banks operating here.
We’ve got plenty of one-or-two-branch hometown banks catering closely to the needs of their local communities, niche-focused banks suited to unique businesses or clients, mid-size banks with bigger geographic footprints throughout Georgia and neighboring states, and banks with national and international reach.
Georgia has more state-chartered banks than any other Southeast state. It’s also worth noting that Georgia has 10 minority-owned financial institutions, which puts it on par with Florida for the most in the Southeast.
BVM: What makes Georgia such an attractive state for the banking industry?
Brannen: Georgia has long attracted growth and investment. It has been ranked as the No. 1 state in which to do business for seven years running, and we like to say it’s also the top state for banking. We’re blessed with strong population growth, as the state annually is near the top for in-migration. Our cost of living and taxes are comparatively low, and Georgia has an outstanding transportation infrastructure with ports, railways, interstates, and the world’s busiest airport.
Atlanta gets a lot of attention as a national and even international business hub, but in fact there are multiple population centers around the state. What many people may not realize is that agriculture is the state’s top industry, so bankers work closely with farmers and ag-related businesses to help people around the world enjoy Georgia-grown products. All of this works hand-in-hand to create a diverse economy supported by a robust banking system.
BVM: What is the role of the state’s banking industry in commerce and communities?
Brannen: Most people understand that banks serve as critical infrastructure for family and business finances. The loans they make and deposits they protect are the backbone of commerce. And more than 50,000 Georgians who happen to be bankers live and raise families here, so they’re fully invested in the financial wellbeing of their fellow Georgians. There’s not a town in Georgia where you won’t find bankers serving in volunteer, appointed, or elected roles. Bankers serve as state legislators, school board members, county commissioners, and on economic development boards.
For example, this year’s GBA Chairman, Luke Flatt of AB&T in Albany, chaired his local chamber of commerce. His predecessor as Chairman, Spence Mullis of Morris Bank, was recognized nationally for his leadership in revitalizing the downtown Dublin area. Robert James of Savannah’s Carver State Bank has been at the forefront of targeting needed services and investments for customers in low-to-moderate-income areas during his 50-year career in banking. I could go on and on.
Throughout the pandemic, bankers were flexible and innovative. As financial first responders, they found new ways to make sure customers could make transactions, were out front on providing fee waivers and payment deferrals and stayed connected to their communities. One example I love is the Geo. D. Warthen Bank in Sandersville hosting Santa visits through its drive-through so kids could safely pass on their wish lists as a twist on a beloved holiday tradition. To me, that’s the very spirit of what banking in Georgia is all about.
BVM: What is on the minds of Georgia’s bankers today?
Brannen: Based on what we hear from our members, the questions currently on bankers’ minds fall into two buckets– growth and talent.
For growth, banks always strive to provide great service, serve customers in new ways and fulfill ever-changing preferences. They are investing even more in technology, adapting their banking channels and creating capacity to support more lending. Fortunately, we haven’t seen a significant increase in problem loans because of the pandemic, so bankers can focus on cultivating new business.
For talent, banks are on the hunt for smart, innovative, and driven talent in all fields. There are good careers in banking for people with technology, security, human resources, marketing, sales, and almost any other business skill you can name. What really works as the pitch is that young professionals want to make a difference and help people, and that’s right in the wheelhouse of what bankers do every day.
BVM: How does the Georgia Bankers Association help bankers around the state serve their customers and hometowns?
Brannen: A group of bankers got together way back in 1892 to start the Georgia Bankers Association. It was a grassroots movement. So, I really think the GBA is a case of our state’s bankers recognizing the need for an organization through which they can serve each other.
That track record of success is centered on the fact that GBA is a truly volunteer-led community of banking professionals comprised of every Georgia-based bank and most other banks doing business in the state. More than 300 bankers serve on 23 boards and committees that determine the resources needed from GBA for every professional discipline in the bank. What’s really neat is that the core priorities for the association, set by the members, haven’t changed in 129 years. Bankers rely on the association as a resource in four key areas.
One priority is advocacy. That’s our collective work – bankers and staff – to be the common voice on behalf of the industry to government and community leaders to keep Georgia the best state for banking. It involves grassroots lobbying by bankers as well as professional staff-led relationship building, outreach, and education efforts for elected officials, regulators, civic leaders, community groups, and media.
The association also serves as a professional community for its members. Through events, committees and boards and more, GBA provides a true peer network for banking professionals to learn, connect and work toward common goals. This extends to the professionals who work for the more than 220 companies that serve our banks with their products and services as Associate Members, helping them save or make money.
Education is also a legacy priority, reflecting bankers’ commitment to honing their craft, sharpening their skills and keeping up with rules and regulations. The final priority area I want to mention is providing products and services. Through our affiliates GBA Insurance Trust and GBA Retirement Services, a majority of Georgia bankers can access high-quality, competitively priced health insurance and long-term savings resources.
BVM: It sounds like Georgia’s bankers have found a real recipe for success through the Georgia Bankers Association. Any final thoughts?
Brannen: I like that analogy of a recipe. There sure are a lot of ingredients needed for the success of our state’s banking industry and the professionals that work in those banks. It’s a testament to the bankers that they leverage the Georgia Bankers Association as the resource to stir the pot and bring it all together in a hearty, fulfilling way for Georgia’s families and businesses.
AT A GLANCE
Georgia Bankers Association
What: The trade and professional organization representing the interests of banks and thrift institutions in the state of Georgia
Where: Based in Atlanta, Georgia