December 2017 - Greenville, South Carolina-based Southern First Bank serves some of the most dynamic, economically thriving communities in the Southeast. The bank has grown rapidly during its 18-year history serving these communities, reaching $1 billion in assets in 2014.
Southern First has consistently relied on its FHLBank Atlanta membership to access products to support its growth and strategic guidance to help navigate complex challenges that growing financial institutions must manage.
Mike Dowling, chief financial officer for Southern First Bank, says that he views FHLBank Atlanta as a partner and values having relationships with people who are heavily invested in the banking industry and have their fingers on the pulse of the challenges banks face.
“Whether I have a question about a new loan or mortgage product, interest-rate risk management, or asset/liability management, our FHLBank Atlanta relationship manager is the first person I call,” said Dowling.
Dowling points to risk management as an area where Southern First’s relationship with FHLBank Atlanta proved particularly valuable. Southern First had to build a more formalized enterprise risk management program when the institution crossed the $1 billion asset threshold, and Dowling was tasked with getting the program off the ground. Southern First’s relationship manager connected Dowling with staff from the Bank’s enterprise risk management area, who offered various risk management models and guidance on how to use them.
“To this day, we use the knowledge and tools we gained from FHLBank Atlanta in our risk management program,” said Dowling. “It was an advantage to be able to use our relationship with the Bank in this way instead of hiring risk management consultants or seeking advice from a competitor.”
Dowling also notes that FHLBank Atlanta funding products have helped Southern First address liquidity and balance sheet management needs during periods of growth. Several years ago Southern First was raising deposits rapidly to support its high growth but still faced a significant liquidity gap.
While at FHLBank Atlanta’s Annual Member Conference, Dowling learned about the letters of credit product and how it can serve as collateral for public entity deposits. Southern First had existing business relationships with municipal entities, and Dowling realized that the letter of credit could help him expand those relationships to include deposits.
“Within a few months of learning about the letter of credit, we were able to fill a $100 million liquidity gap with public unit deposits,” said Dowling. “Now we are one of the largest issuers in the southeast and have used the letter of credit to build relationships with municipal entities throughout our footprint.”
In addition to letters of credit, Southern First relies on advances as an important source of liquidity, particularly to help manage swings in the balance sheet that are typical for large institutions. In addition to holding a portfolio of three- to four-year term advances, Southern First uses 30-day advances to manage liquidity at quarter end.
As the bank has grown, Dowling says that they have needed their line of credit at FHLBank Atlanta to grow with them. Southern First worked closely with FHLBank Atlanta’s collateral team to ensure the bank had adequate collateral value as their borrowing needs expanded.
“Having a readily available line of credit at FHLBank Atlanta that allows us to access funding quickly is an important advantage,” said Dowling.
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