News Press Article

02/27/2010

Published on January 17, 2010
 in The News Press

By Tim Engstrom

While news of bank failures, economic stress and bad debt has dominated the financial industry, Fort Myers-based FineMark National Bank & Trust has been quietly, steadily growing.

 Bank president Joe Catti says the bank has been fortunate to swim against the tide.

He also readily admits that the difficult economic environment presents opportunities.

"With the instability in the large banks and the unfortunate closing or new ownership of some of the smaller banks, we have certainly benefited," Catti said. "In 2008 and 2009, there has been a real flight to quality."

 Founded in February 2007, FineMark now has deposits of $153 million and $306 million in assets under management of its trust operations.

In the past two years, FineMark's deposits have more than quadrupled and assets under management have more than tripled.

The bank added its second branch on Coconut Road in Bonita Springs almost a year ago and opened a third within the Shell Point Retirement Community in June. The bank also added a brokerage division last year for clients who want a more active role in managing their investments.

 But even that growth doesn't completely shield the bank from the worries of a struggling economy.

"People will ask me what keeps me up at night and it is the fear of what is out there (economically)," Catti said. "So, you budget for losses and hope you never have any."

 In the third quarter, the bank increased its provisions for bad loans by more than $540,000. The bank has just one loan of about $150,000 that has been classified as non-performing, but it has been modified and the borrower is making payments, Catti said.

FineMark is one of just a handful of Lee banks rated as high as four stars on the five-star rating system by BauerFinancial Inc., the Coral Gables-based bank analysis company. Others include Edison National and Florida Gulf.

Karen Dorway, BauerFinancial president, said a thriving wealth management operation can be a strong foundation on which to build a bank. "It's a market where, if you are successful at it - and apparently FineMark is - you can develop access to the individuals that build a very solid bank," Dorway said.

 Sam Galloway Jr., president of Sam Galloway Ford, said he has been a FineMark client since the bank opened. As a businessman, Galloway said he does business with banks large and small, but FineMark stands out. "When I pick up the phone and call Margaret on the switchboard (at FineMark), it is like I am talking to my cousin," Galloway said. "She doesn't just transfer me on my way; we usually talk for a little bit. They've brought banking back to a more personal level." Catti said that drive to establish personal relationships with clients was central to the founding of the bank.

 Catti, 53, came to Fort Myers in 1992 to open a Northern Trust location here. Catti said he learned the lessons of outstanding service there and strives to bring it to an even more personal level.

Like his old Northern Trust office, the FineMark offices on Creekside and on Coconut Road include full commercial kitchens and a chef on hand for breakfast, lunch and dinner for clients if they want to discuss their finances. "That's hard to do at a restaurant because of confidentiality," Catti said. "We can do it here at a very nice place and not have to worry about that." The kitchen and the adjacent community room are also used for events, including holiday dinners for the less fortunate.

Catti's level of personal commitment extends beyond the bank. He has served on the foundation boards of Florida Gulf Coast University and Lee Memorial Health System.

He is the current chairman of the United Way campaign in Lee, which prompted Catti to visit every one of the more than 70 agencies served by the umbrella organization.

The economic crisis has increased the demand for the services of those agencies, but Catti said he has been "overwhelmed" by the community response.

"Even in this time where companies here have downsized and earnings have fallen off, people have stepped up and continued to give, even if it hurts," Catti said. "We really are fortunate to be here."