Plant City’s Hillsboro Bank branch announced a merger with The Bank of Tampa last week and the CEOs of both banks promise a smooth transition.
Hillsboro Bank has announced it will merge into The Bank of Tampa and its holding company, The Tampa Bay Banking Company.
The proposed merger was approved by both institutions’ boards of directors and is now in the closing process. Despite the big announcement, Mike Ward, president and CEO of Hillsboro Bank, as well as Bill West, CEO of The Bank of Tampa, said not much will change at the Hillsboro branches. West said the character of both companies are quite similar and thus the pairing acts as a “perfect match.” Ward agreed and said that the local bank has been approached many times over the years by those interested in acquiring it, but none seemed like the right fit until The Bank of Tampa came along.
“One of the best things about this is they’re a community bank and we are a community bank, and there are very few of us left,” Ward said. “There have been many banks over the years that have wanted to be in this market and have wanted to buy our bank, but it never was a good fit. My directors are very concerned about the legacy of Hillsboro Bank and that was something we have always taken very seriously. We knew that whoever we merge with and partner with will need to have the same reputation we have, would need to have the same character. We don’t think we could have picked a better partner.”
Hillsboro Bank was established in 1998 and has branches in Plant City, Valrico and Dade City.
The Bank of Tampa has been in business for nearly 37 years and has never merged with another bank. West said this momentous occasion was an easy decision to make. The Bank of Tampa already had a loan production office in downtown Plant City and was looking to open a full-service banking office in the community. They already had a relationship with Ward and his team and when they were approached with the idea of merging, it seemed like a simple solution.
Ward said the most important element of Hillsboro Bank is its focus on being “high-touch.” The staff knows its customers and enjoys seeing them face-to-face. COVID-19 brought much of that to a halt. Ward said his staff felt the loss of being able to interact one-on-one with its customers on a daily basis and they’re looking forward to fully opening their doors soon. In fact, that dedication to customer service is evident in nearly every aspect of Hillsboro Bank. When you call, you don’t get a recording — you’re talking directly to a staff member. Ward joked that may make them “old-school,” but it was a foundation for the way they want all of their customers to interact with their business.
West said The Bank of Tampa has a similar mindset and that was one of the first things both teams agreed on.
“Putting these banks together is, it’s a big deal in many ways but it’s not a big deal in terms of what it’s going to feel like the day after, when this merger is in place,” West said. “We aren’t buying them because we want to tell them how to run a bank. They already know how to do that. We are merging because we want to add our assets to the services they can already provide… There are a lot of similarities in our business philosophy, which is why we decided after 37 years we felt this made sense, to merge our banks.”
West and a few of his team members met with the staff of Hillsboro Bank last week and said while there were a few questions about the change, everyone seemed excited and on board.
Ward said the biggest asset is the fact that this is not an out-of-state bank, it’s a local community bank and thus many of its operations are similar. One of those similarities lies in the banking platform both banks use. Because they use the same platform, staff at Hillsboro won’t have to go through training to learn a new system when the merger comes.
Because The Bank of Tampa doesn’t have a branch in Plant City, merging shouldn’t come with much displacement. Nick Thurston, SVP, Market Director of The Bank of Tampa’s Plant City office, will move to the current Hillsboro Bank building. There aren’t tellers or staff to shift around so much of the current staff at Hillsboro will remain. West made a commitment to the staff that anyone that was displaced would be placed within The Bank of Tampa system.
The transaction is expected to close later this year. Ward will remain with The Bank of Tampa as its Plant City market president once it is finished and will serve on the bank’s executive committee.