Regions Equipment Finance

by Amanda L. Gutshall June 2010
For equipment industry veteran Bill Fite, the decision to join Regions Equipment Finance Co. (REFCO), a wholly owned subsidiary of Regions Bank, in February as EVP and head of the unit was an easy one. With a 16-state footprint, and a leadership and mission that Fite was drawn to, he now leads a unit poised to work more in tandem with its parent to not only increase market share but also to offer expanded services to its customers.

Regions Bank was founded in 1971 as a multi-bank holding company launched as First Alabama Bancshares Inc., a combination of three Alabama banks that together had $543 million in assets with 40 locations in Birmingham, Huntsville and Montgomery. Over the next few years, the bank expanded through other bank acquisitions. In the early 1980s, with a law allowing multi-bank institutions to form one statewide bank, Regions’ management incorporated a plan to structure management while also providing the same local values and needs that community banks offer. A few years later, legislation was passed permitting out-of-state acquisitions, which allowed Regions to purchase banks in surrounding Southeast states. In May 1994, the company became Regions Financial Corporation to reflect its expanding presence in the South. The company then merged with Union Planters Corp., based in Memphis, TN, and subsequently merged with Birmingham-based AmSouth Bancorporation in 2006.

Regions Equipment Finance, ranked #28 in this year’s Monitor 100, provides leasing and financing options for a variety of industries including over-the-road transportation, aviation, manufacturing and production, healthcare, IT, marine and rail assets, to name a few.

Joining Regions, Fite says, was a great honor in many ways. With a 30-year career in the equipment finance industry, he notes, “I must admit, Regions measures favorably against them all. Its warm culture and value system are not just marketing fodder but a way of life for our people and bank leadership. Our matrix organization is a throw back to old-style southern banking that provides an outstanding client-focused team approach of bringing big bank products and services to middle-market businesses.”

Fite’s roots in the equipment finance industry are deep. After graduating from the State University of West Georgia with a business degree, he was hired as a sale rep for Citicorp Industrial Credit, followed by a position as sales manager of equipment leasing at Citizens and Southern National Bank. In 1986, he was hired by the ABN AMRO Bank unit, LeasePlan USA, to develop and lead its domestic U.S. equipment finance and leasing unit. Fourteen years later, in 2000, he was recruited by ORIX Financial Services as its EVP and director of sales and marketing of the equipment finance group. Within two years, he was named president of the equipment finance group.

More recently, in 2005, Fite was hired as SVP and national sales manager of the commercial leasing services unit of Key Equipment Finance, and in 2007, was named EVP and managing principal of the then recently established equipment finance group at MagnetBank.

With a focus of leading equipment finance businesses within banking environments, what drew Fite to Regions was most notably its leadership and mission. “Never before in my career was I so focused on measuring leadership to assure core values match and commitment to being all that you could be while being the best you could be. Regions has proven to me thus far to be all that and more. Secondly, I sought a bank-owned equipment finance organization whose mission was integral to the bank’s go-to-market strategy and essential to its mission.”

And the move to Regions proved to be not reinventing the wheel but rather helping an already greased engine move further along. “I’ve usually joined businesses where I’ve needed to re-invent, re-direct and re-talent. My findings upon arriving in Birmingham were just the opposite. There exists a powerful relationship between the bank and the equipment finance unit that generates roughly $1 billion annually through our footprint. My staff is best in class at all levels, and there’s a portfolio that is rock solid and has defied the law of gravity coming through the toughest credit environment in recent memory… Regions Equipment Finance is one of the finest gems in the equipment finance industry today, and virtually unknown by the industry. My plan with my team is to change that.”

With a 16-state geography, REFCO’s primary mission is to service the needs of the bank’s established clients. However, he says, the company does “selectively engage new business opportunities outside of the footprint.” Fite adds, “With our aggressive direct marketing transaction-oriented model in the equipment finance business, we can very effectively originate new client relationships where the equipment finance product can be the tip of the spear in penetrating the thick skin of a resistant client maybe not interested in entertaining a new banking relationship, but because of the transactional nature of the equipment finance product, be interested in allowing Regions to provide a thoughtful solution to an equipment financing need that they have…”

For Fite, REFCO’s primary goal is to become an “indispensable partner” to the parent bank. He explains the team will do so by exploring and “further exploiting internal market opportunities within our footprint that will make Regions more significant to its existing clients and create new relationships for it.” Doing this, will “contribute in a powerful way to growing the Regions brand and our role in it. Growth for the sake of growth is a dead and gone strategy for us… Conversely, we’ll work to identify those relationships where we can be relevant and invest significant energy and resources with the assistance of our Regions Bank colleagues to create mutually benefiting, long-term and profitable client relationships.”

A new focus of what works for the industry may be just what the industry needs. Fite says that the industry has witnessed “unprecedented times” in all segments. “The sense that the paradigm has shifted is real for much of our industry’s constituency. Liquidity, availability to capital, changing demands … and other factors have redesigned our competitive landscape. We are all self-analyzing to best position ourselves once the market rights itself.”

Where once bank lessors saw themselves as a distant entity of the bank, now, that belief could be detrimental. “This belief presents a short-sighted approach in this challenged environment that runs the risk of marginalizing the equipment finance team from the balance of the bank and potentially puts it at significant risk,” Fite says. “I believe a more impactful approach is for the equipment finance team to become more deeply embedded and relevant to the bank… This segment’s future will be less about asset growth for the sake of growth but about being integral to the comprehensive client relationship strategy that best generates solid and sustainable bank profitability.”

He continues, “Our industry has always been resilient in providing creative solutions to meet the changing needs of Corporate America. Despite the changes taking place within the financial services industry, the fact remains that the needs of Corporate America and the willingness of banks to satisfy those needs have always been incongruent. As in the past, our future will be insured as we’ll find firm footing on this gap and, through the creative abilities of the equipment finance and leasing industry, we’ll prevail. A new paradigm, maybe so, but we’ll find ways to bring value to our clients as we always have.”

Amanda L. Gutshall is associate editor of the Monitor.

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