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A ‘remarkable’ year for TowneBank

TowneBank executives said it took monumental teamwork to weather the storm on the economy resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

During its annual shareholders meeting, held virtually June 2, the bank’s lead director, Richard S. Bray, said it was “awash in challenges,” but praised its employees for keeping all of its offices and branches in Virginia and North Carolina open throughout the pandemic.

The bank processed more than 9,800 loans through the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program resulting from the CARES Act, with $1.5 billion flowing into the community.

“We have all faced a tremendous challenge in the last 14 months,” Bray said. “Our country was under siege in many ways, all of our lives were touched (and) our concerns, for our health, our finances, our families, all … came into play as a result of this ambush, this plague that’s been visited on our country.”

Executive Chairman G. Robert Aston Jr. noted that 75% of the bank’s employees worked from home as COVID-19 spread throughout the country. It received its fifth consecutive outstanding Community Reinvestment Act award from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, an award given every three years.

Asset growth topped out at more than $3 billion, and the bank had more than $145.5 million in earnings in 2020, a 21st consecutive year of increased earnings.

“If you had asked me (last March) could we do that, I’m not sure what my answer would have been,” Aston said.

The deposit growth of more than $2 billion “was off the charts,” Aston said, with the government stimulus a big driver of that along with business bank staff brought in despite many working remotely. Its loan portfolio grew by about $1.2 billion, most of that coming from the CARES Act and the PPP during the first quarter of 2020.

Loan growth was strong during the first quarter, but nearly non-existent the rest of the year, Aston said.

TowneBank still has the top market share in Hampton Roads with 25.6%. It is fifth of 25 banks in the Richmond metro area, with 2.3% and seventh of 35 banks in the Raleigh-Cary market in North Carolina with 3.2%.

With just one branch in the 45-bank Charlotte market, it ranks 11th, while in Greenville, N.C., it ranks ninth of 15 banks. In just seven months in the Greensboro/High Point market, TowneBank ranks 15th of 25 banks in market share.

Outside of PPP, Aston said the bank had modest growth, and saw an increase in common dividends from $49 million to $52 million. It also increased its dividend to shareholders from 72 cents per share to 80 cents per share, an increase of 11.1%, and it will be payable July 9.

“I think that things are moving back to a very normal performance going forward,” Aston said.

TowneBank President and CEO J. Morgan Davis said in an age of digital transformation, it plans to continue its growth through a culture of caring.

Its mortgage business did as much in 2020 as it had in the previous two years combined, with nearly $6 billion in volume. Its real estate company, Towne Realty, is number two in market share in Hampton Roads, but it tops in luxury home sales.

TowneBank plans to continue investing in banking network facilities, primarily in its central Virginia and North Carolina markets. It recently opened a new financial center in Charlotte and plans to open a third location there later this summer. TowneBank has also acquired sites for additional expansion in Raleigh and Greenville.

In Norfolk, it is renovating the former Norfolk Southern building it owns with Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters. That building will serve as the headquarters of its Towne Financial Services Group, including TowneBank Mortgage and Towne Insurance. It will replace spaces it currently leases and according to company officials will mean “significant savings” for TowneBank.

It will still keep its corporate headquarters on its 40-acre Suffolk campus in Harbour View.

It opened a new main office in Chesterfield County in late 2020, and the bank is looking to accelerate acquisition efforts to acquire more insurance agencies throughout the Southeast, and is exploring new acquisition opportunities  to grow its vacation property management business.

The bank will continue to look for opportunities to grow its banking presence in central Virginia, North Carolina and possibly South Carolina, though its primary focus will be on adding on in existing markets.

In the next 18 months, Davis said to expect “significant increases in activity in acquisitions” and  a significant increase in its physical presence.

“That rain we had last year, that pandemic, we showed what we could do,” Davis said. “We showed that serving others and enriching lives is a valid strategy, even in a time of punctuated equilibrium.”