Closed Bank Branch Will Get New Life
The light is on, barely illuminating the teller line, but nobody is home at the Carter Bank & Trust branch at Pinecrest Plaza in Southern Pines.
The sign facing Morganton Road is wrapped in green plastic, leaves blow through the empty parking lot, weeds pop up through cracks in the asphalt, trash is scattered here and there, and a sign on the front door directs deliveries to a sister branch in Fayetteville.
If it weren’t for the three drive-through lanes, the brick building with the orange stripe around its middle could pass for anything but a bank.
“We are definitely still planning on opening it,” said Doug Huntley, a vice president for Carter Bank & Trust in Fayetteville. “Unfor-tunately, the wheels turn slowly. Right now, I’m guessing it will be another year or two.”
Patrick Coughlin, president and CEO of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce, said he is “encouraged” to hear that Carter Bank & Trust appears closer to becoming more “involved in the community.”
“We’ve kind of had our finger on the pulse because we spoke with them over a year ago,” Coughlin said. “My guess would be that the time frame will be dependent upon the pace of the economic recovery.”
The bank’s 2010 annual report seems to validate that guess, stating that Carter Bank & Trust owns 24 other vacant branches in North Carolina and Virginia that it will not open until economic conditions improve.
In an Oct. 31 letter to stockholders, bank Chairman Worth Harris Carter Jr. said he did not see “anything occurring at the federal level” that would significantly improve the chances of a more robust economy.
“We already have been in a declining economy for the last three to four years and it appears we will experience another several years before the economy improves substantially,” Carter wrote. “In spite of the uncertainty and lack of leadership at the federal level, your bank continues to grow and prosper.”
Thad Woodard, president of the N.C. Bankers Association, said Carter and his bank have a unique way of doing business.
“There must be a legitimate reason he hasn’t taken action (in Southern Pines) because he always does things correctly and profitably,” Woodard said. “I can assure you that he’s got a strategy. He makes a positive return on his investments. He’s quite an amazing gentleman.”
The Pilot was unable to reach Carter for comment. He is considered to be an innovator in the banking industry. He started in 1974 with eight employees at the First National Bank of Rocky Mount, Va., and grew his enterprise into 10 banking entities with branches in both states.
The growth occurred because Carter Bank & Trust focused on serving the banking needs of small- to medium-sized businesses, professionals and individuals.
When consolidation was the watchword in the 1980s and 1990s as interstate banking came to the fore, Carter opted for autonomy through a structure that allowed his banks the economies of scale of larger institutions while keeping their independence and local emphasis.
Carter Bank & Trust was formed in 2006 by the merger of the 10 banking entities with 124 branches in the two states, making it the largest state-chartered bank in Virginia.
Today, Carter Bank & Trust has almost $4 billion in assets. Net income for the first three quarters of 2011 was $21.5 million, a 20 percent increase of $3.6 million, compared with the same period the previous year. As a result, net income per share was 82 cents, compared with 68 cents the previous year.
“Your bank is very well capitalized with a balance sheet that is extremely conservative,” Carter told shareholders in the letter.
Huntley said the bank is “in excellent shape” and never sought federal bailout assistance.
“We have remained profitable,” he said. “A lot of people would like to be in our shoes. We’re sort of the best-kept secret in town.”
The branch at Pinecrest Plaza was originally owned by First Union but was closed after First Union merged with Wachovia in 2001. Peoples National Bank, which was one of the 10 banking entities run by Carter prior to the 2006 merger, purchased the branch from Wachovia nine years ago.
But it has been shuttered since then.
“There have been several offers to purchase the property, but they’ve still got my name on it,” said Huntley, who is slated to become the branch manager in Southern Pines once the home office pulls the trigger.
The bank’s goal is to be “a leading financial institution” in the markets that it serves.
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at email@example.com.
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