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CEO Seeks fans to flame hotter image for this bank

People – November 2006

CEO seeks fans to flame hotter image for his bank.
By Chris Richter

Scott Custer likes sports. But that’s not why Raleigh-based RBC Centura Banks Inc. and its parent, Toronto-based Royal Bank of Canada, pour money into sports sponsorships. It’s a way to try to stand out when you stand in the shadows of two Fortune 100 members. “We can’t outspend Bank of America,” says RBC Centura’s CEO. “We can’t outspend Wachovia. You’ve got to be more targeted in how you spend your marketing and public-relations dollars.”

The giant banks also invest in sports marketing, but they aim at a wider audience. BofA’s name is on a football stadium in Charlotte, but most of its advertising is geared nationally. So is that of Wachovia, which has its name is on a Philadelphia arena. RBC Centura, based in Rocky Mount until last year, focuses on the Southeast. In 2002, it cut a 20-year, $80 million deal to dub the home of N.C. State University’s basketball team and the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes as the RBC Center. Earlier this year, it renewed a contract to be the official bank of the Atlantic Coast Conference, airing its ads on regionally televised basketball games. Those moves elevated its brand, Custer says, especially in the Triangle. It will get another boost in 2008 when it completes its $100 million, 33-story headquarters.

Custer, 49, has been a banker since earning a bachelor’s in business from College of William & Mary in 1979. The Newport News, Va., native went to work for Wachovia as a commercial banker in Raleigh. Four years later, he jumped to First Union, then joined Peoples Bank, an RBC Centura predecessor, in 1988, about the time former RBC Centura CEO Kel Landis did. Their career paths paralleled, with Custer serving as president during Landis’ tenure in the top job. They are running partners, though Landis, a marathoner, has the edge. “He runs, and I usually just chase.”

Custer was named CEO when Landis left in October 2004. He inherited a bank that was struggling, in part because Toronto executives were making most decisions. The bank has more autonomy now and can focus on what Custer sees as its bread and butter: small businesses, business owners and professionals. Total assets in June were about $20.8 billion, nearly $1 billion more than when he took over. Net income through June was about $54 million, up about 20% from the year before. The bank employs about 3,700 and plans to add 15 to 20 branches a year to the 275 it has in the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia and Virginia.

Custer isn’t trying to shape RBC Centura into another Tar Heel megabank. Its size, he says, is its strength. It can tap the resources of Canada’s largest bank but act like a community bank. “We actually hold to the notion that living in the land of in-between is a good place to be.”

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