Local banks avoid national crisis

Published 8:38 am Thursday, October 2, 2008

While the economy remains in turmoil and Congress continues to hash out a bailout plan, local community banks have been riding out the Wall Street crisis relatively unscathed by the financial downturn.

Al Garrett, President and CEO of Robertson Banking Company in Demopolis, attributes this to their refusal to offer subprime mortgage loans.

“We’re a local community bank with our roots in the local community. We’ve always been conservative, said Garrett. “We do not sell our mortgages and we always try not to place our customers in positions where it would make it impossible for them to pay back their loans.”

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Robertson Banking Company recently earned a 5-Star Superior rating for the sixth consecutive quarter from BauerFinancial, Inc., the nation’s leading independent bank rating and research firm.

“The only real effects we have seen so far has been the public’s perception,” Garrett said. “I have received a few calls from concerned customers, but we are reassuring them that nothing has changed with us, as with most community banks. We have a very healthy portfolio.

“We continue to offer all of the services as we did before this crisis because of the standards we’ve used in underwriting in the past.”

Banking giants who capitalized on predatory lending faced an unprecedented failure this past week. Congress now mulls over a proposed $700-plus billion buyout of bad mortgage loans by the federal government. In Alabama, John D. Harrison, the state banking superintendent, has stated the conservative approach local banks have maintained for years will insure their ability to weather the tough economic times.

“No bank chartered by the Alabama State Banking Department has failed in over 21 years,” said Harrison. “I do not expect that record to be broken during these tough times.”

The State banking department regulates 129 banks comprising over $257 billion of assets with $175 billion of deposits.

To detour an escalating crisis, the Senate is now taking up the bailout proposal that failed in the House this week. Included are tax breaks for businesses and the middle class and a provision that will increase the amount of federally insured deposits from $100,000 to $250,000. “It will be very interesting to see what affect this will have,” said Garrett.

“If there are concerns from our customers about the strength of Robertson Banking Company during the current economic crisis I encourage them to come in and talk to us about them,” said Garrett. “ Like most community banks, we try to establish relationships with our customers. We want them to know they can rely on us even through tough times like these.”