Banking on Relationships

Published on: January 31, 2012


Vicki Tyler, MUS Today

More than 25 years ago, Kent Wunderlich ’66 walked out of his law practice and into the banking business and has not looked back. He joined the bank that John Montesi, Jr., a Christian Brothers graduate, had opened in 1985. Montesi, who passed away in 2009, led a group of family investors who bought a small East Tennessee bank and renamed it Financial Federal Savings Bank.

Today, as CEO, general counsel, and chairman of the board of Financial Federal Savings Bank, Wunderlich helps guide the privately owned bank with the help of fellow alumnus William Tayloe ’92, who is president.

“Our success throughout the years has come from word of mouth and referrals,” Wunderlich said. “We wanted to use our 25th year as a catalyst to remind people that we are still here after a quarter of a century, still focused on the personal approach to banking and to reintroduce ourselves to potential customers. We want to let people know that we have been a locally-owned bank all this time, and we do much more than just mortgages.”

He pointed out that Financial Federal is a community bank that specializes in high quality customer service and customized banking solutions.

“We try to do things the right way and follow a “do right” principle that includes integrity and loyalty in all of our business dealings,” Wunderlich said. “I learned this at MUS.”

Wunderlich served on the MUS Board of Trustees for more than 20 years, including nine years as chairman. He strives to provide his employees and customers with the same environment he experienced at MUS – one of feeling a part of something.

“There was a sense of camaraderie at MUS where you could build friends for life,” Wunderlich said. “Banks come and go, but we work to create a similar environment at Financial Federal, making our customers life-long partners. I think we have succeeded because of the service we give our customers.”

In spite of the challenging economy and regulatory environment, Wunderlich and his team believe they have a distinct advantage because of their flexibility and personal attention to each customer.

“Decisions are made here,” he said, pointing to his conference table. “If you need to talk to me at 9:00 o’clock on a Saturday night, I am happy to listen. We don’t do just ‘cookie-cutter’ loans. We will figure out how to get the loans our customers need, and we have fun doing it.”

Tayloe’s path to Financial Federal took a side trip back to his alma mater. He graduated from Ole Miss in 1996, and after interning at ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, he headed the Annual Fund at MUS for two years. Wunderlich is quick to point out that he “stole William from MUS.”

Tayloe said each person at the bank works as part of a team that focuses on the customers. He believes the bank’s great employees make the difference. With more than 60 percent of their employees having worked there more than ten years, it’s easy to see how employee loyalty and customer service works.

“Everyone wears lots of hats, but being responsive and flexible to the needs of our customers is first and foremost,” Tayloe said. “We really never close if a customer needs something. We want our employees to feel a sense of ownership and part of what’s going on here. People are key to taking care of our customers, and it is important to us to maintain a favorable work environment.”

The bank offers certificates of deposit and focuses on all types of residential, commercial, construction, home equity, and professional lending. Local builder Hank Hill ’66 is a loyal customer and supporter.

“I try to refer all my custom-home clients to Financial Federal because of their experience, attention to detail, and quick response time,” Hill said. “It’s extremely important for my customers to know there will be a smooth transition from a construction loan to a permanent loan.”

Loans are not their only business and although Financial Federal historically has not offered checking accounts, they are looking into new products. With recent changes in the economy and in response to customer requests, the bank added money market accounts to its services and will add checking accounts in 2012.

“We want to grow and have had tremendous response with our new offerings. We’ve added around $36 million in new money market deposits,” Tayloe said. “Fundamentally, we are set up to support our customers’ needs, and we are very well capitalized. We will continue to add to our product offerings while maintaining our current culture.”

There are more MUS connections throughout the company. Wunderlich’s father, Alvin Wunderlich, Jr., serves on the Financial Federal board of directors together with Rusty Bloodworth ’63 and Barham Ray ’64, all of whom also served as MUS trustees for many years. Two other alumni, Jon Van Hoozer ’88 and John Summers ’05, also work at Financial Federal. Van Hoozer, who joined the bank in 1993 after graduating from the University of Richmond, is senior vice president of commercial lending. He helps oversee the commercial mortgage offices in Atlanta, Dallas, and Nashville. Summers was a banking and finance major at Ole Miss, and Tayloe recruited him straight from college to be a residential loan analyst.

Financial Federal has two basic lending platforms for commercial real estate: Financial Federal’s local, relationship-based portfolio loans and a commercial mortgage banking platform for larger, nation-wide representative loans.

In these large-scale transactions, Financial Federal represents other lenders, like Freddie Mac, life insurance companies, or Fannie Mae, which can make larger commercial real estate loans nationwide. Financial Federal retains the servicing on all its commercial loans thereby maintaining the customer relationship. The bank has increased its commercial loan servicing business from roughly $50 million in 1993 to $1 billion now.

“I’ve been here 18 years and have seen many changes to our lending platform,” Van Hoozer said. “We have the capability to represent bigger financial institutions and retain the customer relationships. If you have a small apartment complex or office building in Memphis and want a relationship with a local bank, then call Financial Federal. If you are in L.A. and want to refinance a $50 million office building, then we can do that, too. We will place the loan with an investor and service the loan for a fee, but the bank does not place the loan on its books. It’s a unique set-up for a bank of our size. We’ve been doing this lending for more than 20 years.”

The Financial Federal team celebrated its 25thanniversary in 2011, making this a landmark year, and began a new advertising campaign designed to reintroduce the bank to potential customers.

At the beginning of this year, Doug Carpenter ’82 and his staff at Doug Carpenter & Associates launched the bank’s rebranding campaign that included a new logo, website, print, outdoor, and online advertising, as well as new marketing materials and electronic communications efforts. The campaign highlights Financial Federal’s people and their commitment to exceptional customer service and problem solving.

“The positive results that we have been able to achieve together are a result of having the same direct and honest dialog promoted and cultivated by MUS,” Tayloe said. “We believe that we have unique qualities that set us apart from other financial institutions, and this campaign should help us get that message out to new customers.”