First South, Crescom heading for operational conversion

Published 9:03 am Tuesday, January 16, 2018

In June of last year, the announcement was made. In November, the legal merger was complete. In March, First South Bank will make the final transition, as data conversion and signage take on the CresCom brand.

“The first part of February, everyone that is a customer will get a welcome packet and that will include everything they need to know about the conversion, that’s everything from checking, checks, new products,” said David Morrow, CEO of CresCom. “But we’re not changing a whole lot, to be honest with you.”

The signs outside will switch to the bank’s new name the weekend of March 10, but the faces behind the counters will remain the same, according to Bruce Elder, former president and CEO of First South Bank, now president of North Carolina banking for CresCom. Morrow said more than 90 percent of employees on the First South payroll when the acquisition took place last June remain on the payroll today.

“Most of our customers, when they walk in the door, are greeted by name, and that will continue,” Elder said.

Elder said the banks have worked together — every Friday since last June they’ve held a meeting to wade through services and products, determining what works best. The end result is that many services won’t change and new products such as CresCom’s veterans accounts and seniors account will be introduced to the local market, Morrow said.

“I think the two banks have done a remarkable job to go through this discovery process with the end goal to be the best breed of community bank,” Elder said.

First South has been a Washington name since 1902; 116 years later, the bank has grown to more than 30 full-service branch offices across eastern North Carolina. It’s been defined by its service to community, which was exactly what brought First South to the attention Carolina Financial Corporation, the holding company of CresCom Bank, Morrow said.

“CresCom made a decision, back shortly after the downturn (in the economy), that we wanted to be an acquirer bank and grow — acquire like banks, work with banks, that had the same philosophy,” Morrow said. “Our first acquisition in 2014, we made a decision that we were going to look at banks like us. … The vision, mission, culture of our bank, (First South’s) was very, very similar to ours. It was just a great fit.”

With the acquisition of First South, CresCom becomes the second largest bank in the Carolinas, with combined capital to fit a market niche between small community banks with limited loaning capability and large lenders.

Already, the acquisition has produced positive results, according to Morrow.

“CresCom was $2.2 billion bank when the acquisition occurred, and First South was about $1.1 billion. We’re about a $3.5 billion bank today; our capital increased substantially with the combination of the two banks,” Morrow said.

Since the acquisition, Elder has been focusing on growing the bank’s presence in the Raleigh-Durham area, where he relocated. But that does not change the bank’s commitment to community.

“We will continue to be involved in the community — communities are important,” Elder said, adding community events supported by First South in the past will retain that support with CresCom.

“People bank with people,” Morrow said. “Even though we may be changing the name in March, what you see is what you get.”