Silver Celebration: Banking

Jeff Bell
Federal banking reform law enacted in 2010 created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau headed by Richard Cordray.

Back in the day 25 years ago, depositing a paycheck or moving money between accounts at a bank on a Friday afternoon required a lot of patience, with long lines of customers trying to take care of business at branches and drive-up windows. But that's no longer the case as technological breakthroughs in mobile and online banking have made for much smoother sailing heading into the weekend—or at any other time, for that matter.

That shift to different banking channels—phone, computer and mobile—has been the big driver in banking over the past quarter century, says Sue Zazon, Huntington National Bank's central Ohio president and a banker in the region since the mid-1980s.

She remembers how Huntington became the first bank with 24-hour banking-by-phone services in 1992. That morphed into the mobile and online services that are commonplace today.

As a result of those technological changes and a wave of mergers, banks have been closing branches across the country, especially since the nation's financial meltdown in 2008-09. More than 10,000 branches have been shuttered since then, including 869 in the first half of 2017 alone, according to data cited by The Economist magazine.

“But bricks-and-mortar still matters, too,” Zazon says, noting many customers want to talk face-to-face with a banker when opening an account, applying for a loan or seeking help with their finances.

In her view, regulatory changes have also been a major force in reshaping the financial services industry.

One of the important regulatory developments wasthe Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act, enacted by Congress in 2003 to enable banks to handle more checks electronically and make check processing faster and more efficient.

But the biggest regulatory change was the sweeping Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010. Aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2008-09 financial crisis, the law is designed to lower risks in the US financial system.

Dodd-Frank's many provisions included the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was tasked with eliminating predatory mortgage lending and creating other consumer protections. The agency has been headed by Grove City's Richard Cordray, whose long career in public service has included stints as state treasurer and attorney general.

As for banking mergers and acquisitions, JPMorgan Chase's $58 billion acquisition of Bank One in 2004 was the big kahuna in central Ohio. It followed Bank One's $29.8 billion merger in 1998 with First Chicago NBD Corp.—a deal that included moving Bank One's headquarters from Columbus to Chicago.

Many people in the region feared those Bank One deals would result in the loss of jobs and philanthropic support in the community, but that didn't happen. Chase now employs more than 18,000 people in central Ohio. That includes about 10,000 at its massive McCoy Center at Polaris, which is scheduled for a $200 million renovation.

“The expertise of the former Bank One staff, plus the availability of the Polaris Center, were critical in keeping a large number of important jobs in the area,” says Jeffery Smith, of Vorys Sater Seymour and Pease, whose law practice focuses on financial institutions.

Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial's $5.6 billion acquisition of National City Bank in 2008 also was big news in central Ohio. National City had a large market presence here even though its headquarters was in Cleveland.

More recently, Huntington completed its $3.4 billion acquisition of Akron-based FirstMerit Corp. in 2016. The deal made Huntington the largest bank in Ohio based on deposits.

Smith says Huntington and Chase have helped Columbus remain a financial services center. Additionally, the large number of “de novo” banks that were formed in central Ohio in the early 2000s—including Insight, First Bexley and Arlington banks—have also helped provide competition and jobs.

A number of the de novos and other small to mid-sized Columbus area banks have been acquired by outside financial institutions in recent years. Smith views that as a reflection of the attractiveness of the Columbus market for banking services.

“Those acquisitions,” he says, “have also resulted in the injection of significant sums of (money) into the market in the form of payments to shareholders of those institutions.”

One of Columbus' long-time financial services cornerstones, Nationwide Insurance, has become an even bigger player in central Ohio over the past 25 years. Its many strategic moves included the formation of Nationwide Bank in 2007 and its recent decision to invest more than $100 million of venture capital in what it calls “customer-centric solutions that help members.”

That effort includes investments in companies that will help Nationwide's customers meet their insurance and financial needs through digital products, safeguard their personal data and protect them in the evolving area of mobility. It is part of a trend of major investments by insurance and banking companies to offer products in new ways and ward off data breaches by hackers.

Nationwide has also used its financial wherewithal to transform the former Ohio Penitentiary site in Downtown Columbus into the Arena District through Nationwide Realty Investors (NRI), the insurer's real estate development affiliate.

Anchored by Nationwide Arena, the district now includes2 million square feet of commercial space, 80 businesses employing about 17,000 full- and part-time employees, 20 restaurants/bars and 1,030 apartment and condo units. Add it all up and it represents more than $1 billion in total investment since 1997, according to company estimates.

NRI is also the developer of Grandview Yard, a 125-acre mixed-use development of commercial buildings, restaurants, hotels and more than 1,300 planned residential units.

Jeff Bell is a freelance writer.