Right on the Money

Published on: November 1, 2012

Anna Cox, Memphis Business Quarterly

Financial Federal has always had a unique method of banking. It doesn't operate as a cash bank and it doesn't have retail branches, yet it is the local market leader in private, commercial, and mortgage banking.

The bank is know for its work in mortgages and loans mainly dealing with single-family residences, purchases, and refinances, but it also handles money market accounts, commercial real estate loans, and multifamily loans, among other services. While its standing as a savings bank is strong, CEO Kent Wunderlich and president William Tayloe want more.  They want the bank to grow with its customers and continue to meet all of their banking needs under one roof.

Wunderlich has been with Financial Federal for 27 years and has been the driving force behind refocusing the bank's mission to meet the growing demands for commercial banking services. "Some things are changing, but service is the key," Wunderlich says.  "The fun part of banking is talking to somebody, seeing what their problem is, and figuring out a solution. No matter what [services] we have, we're always going to be problem solvers."

Likewise, Tayloe, president since 2008 and the newest member to its board of directors, is focused on expanding the services already offered while also adding new and improved features to deepen its customer base. "We didn't want to be a retail bank," Tayloe says. "So what we've done is make a significant investment in technology that will take all of our internal systems and roll them into one robust operating system. It will have faily large efficiencies internally, but it also allows us to offer a product such as checking externally with better customer interaction."

Financial Federal is in the process of testing personal and business checking accounts with the goal of making them available to the public in early 2013. "Something our customers have been asking about is checking; so, we had to figure out what that might look like," Tayloe says.

The new technology will allow Financial Federal to offer advanced checking services, such as online and mobile banking, without necessarily needing multiple retail locations or changing their no-cash-on-premises business model, allowing customers access to cash through ATMs and other methods.  While retail banking isn't the desired goal, the bank will be growing and, by extension, creating local job opportunities. "We'll also be looking at loans to businesses, which we haven't done much of in the past," Wunderlich says. "We can do it now to a certain level, but as businesses grow and have more sophisticated cash flow needs, they [often] want to associate their lending and deposits with the same institution. We can only go so far without having checking and other services."

Other changes include the bank being approved as a Tennessee state-chartered bank and a member of the Federal Reserve as its federal regulator.  Financial Federal was previously part of the Office of Thrift System (OTC), but when the Dodd-Frank Act did away with the OTC, Wunderlich, Tayloe, and the board of directors decided it was a good time to reevaluate their charter.

"Most community banks are state-chartered," Wunderlich says, "and everybody around Memphis is state-chartered, so we felt that it was the right move for us." This charter won't change the way things look to the customer from an external operations standpoint, but it does help strengthen its position as a strong commercial bank.

The evolution of Financial Federal to adapt with its customers solidifies its presence in Memphis banking. Its ability to remain relevant to customers while still placing significant importance on service speaks to the values held by its leaders.

"For 27 years, we've worked diligently to respond to the needs of our customers, and as a result, they expect an extremely high level of service from us," Wunderlich says. "It's truly what we do best, and it's how we plan to make those relationships even deeper and stronger as we move forward. It's about doing the deal, and helping people out. It's what we've always done and will always do."

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