Wednesday, May 22, 2024

NCtrend: Rewriting history

Mechanics and Farmers Bank has recorded a profit every year since it opened its doors in Durham in 1908. Along with other black-owned businesses, it helped Parrish Street earn the nickname “Black Wall Street.” But with increased regulatory costs and low interest rates pressuring margins, the bank earned $363,000 last year, 80% less than in 2006. To reverse the trend, M&F Bancorp Inc. named James Sills, 56, president and CEO in September, replacing Kim Saunders, who had the job since 2007. Trained in community banking, Sills was chief information officer for the state of Delaware since 2009. Government Technology magazine and Gov. Jack Markell praised his leadership in modernizing the state’s budget systems while cutting costs. His task at M&F: use technology to keep a $300 million community bank with seven branches competitive with larger rivals. The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

How will technology change M&F?
You’ll see more mobile apps. Customers will be able to scan a check using a phone and deposit it into an account, transfer funds, get alerts and complete a loan application on their iPad or device. Community banks have to leverage technology, which big banks have been doing very effectively.

That sounds expensive.
Our vision is to leverage more cloud offerings and pay for the investments over time with a subscription model. Instead of having a large capital outlay to build an application or upgrade or refresh hardware, a vendor will manage the hardware and software.

Why return to the private sector?
I think this is the perfect time to get back into banking. The economy is slowly turning around. M&F customers are extremely loyal, and I was impressed with the board. They want to see change and position the bank for the future.

What changes do you have in mind?
A more diverse product mix. We want to offer Small Business Administration loans and first-time mortgages and partner with Federal Home Loan Banks to offer their community-development loans. It’s also critical for community banks to implement more of a sales culture.

What worries you most about your new job?
It’s going to take involvement with the staff, board of directors and customers to improve the results of the bank. The bank is fine. But it’s a very competitive business. And I worry about how I’m going to fit in with this new community. I’ve done this before in Alabama and Tennessee, so I’m confident about driving change to produce really good results.


James H. Sills III

Education: Bachelor’s from Morehouse College; master’s in public administration from University of Pittsburgh; graduate degree in bank administration from University of Wisconsin

Career: Chief operating officer, First Tuskegee Bank in Alabama, 1991-98; president and CEO, MemphisFirst Community Bank, 1998-2001; executive vice president of information technology, MBNA America Bank (now Bank of America Corp.) in Delaware, 2001-06; chief information officer, state of Delaware, 2009-14

Local ties: Father born and raised in Wake County; grandmother graduated from Shaw University in Raleigh

Family: Wife, Launice, and three grown daughters.

For 40 years, sharing the stories of North Carolina's dynamic business community.

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