Mechanics and Farmers Bank, one of the nation's oldest and largest African-American-owned financial institutions, is rebranding itself as part of a broader effort to attract a younger and more diverse customer base.
The Durham-based bank will be rechristened M&F Bank on June 2, although it will take 90 to 120 days to change the interior and exterior signage at its seven branches. Changing its name to M&F also will align the banks with its corporate parent, M&F Bancorp.
“We’re trying to attract a younger demographic, a younger customer base,” James H. Sills III, the bank’s president and CEO, said of the name change during a session with The News & Observer’s editorial board on Tuesday. “Sixty percent of our customers are 60 years old and above. ... The future for us is the consumer that is 35 to 55.”
M&F is planning to step up its marketing efforts – and not just to the African-American community.
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“We’re going to be actively seeking diverse clientele. We think that’s the key for this institution,” said Sills, who joined the bank as CEO in September. “We just can’t rely on the African-American community. We have to go after everybody.”
Sills estimated that African-American customers account for about 70 percent of the bank’s assets today. M&F had $298.4 million in assets as of Dec. 31.
The bank opened its first branch in 1908 and was an anchor of “Black Wall Street,” the Parrish Street neighborhood in Durham where black-owned businesses flourished in the early 20th century. It has been profitable each and every year since then.
“Very few banks, very few institutions, can say that,” Sills said.
In 2014, M&F reported net income of $810,000, or 34 cents per share.
Today the bank is one of only 22 African-American financial institutions nationwide, a number that has been dwindling.
“We’re the second-oldest and the sixth-largest African-American bank in the United States,” Sills said.
M&F is categorized as an African-American bank because more than half of its shareholders are African-American. Its 10-person board consists entirely of African-Americas as well, but Sills said the bank plans to diversify its board as well as its customer base.
M&F owes about $12 million to the U.S. Treasury stemming from federal stimulus money it received in 2009 under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. But Sills said the bank hopes to raise new capital at the end of this year or the beginning of 2016 to repay that money.
The bank is currently paying 2 percent interest but the interest rate jumps to 9 percent in October 2018, “so it behooves us to pay that money back quickly,” Sills said.
Given that M&F’s total assets have remained flat in recent years, it needs to show investors that it has a solid growth strategy, Sills said.
That strategy includes not only diversifying its customer base but also a recent expansion into home mortgages.
“The bank has traditionally not offered mortgages,” Sills said. “We have a very small portfolio of mortgages.”
Sills most recently was the state of Delaware’s chief information officer and secretary of the Department of Technology. He also was chief operating officer of First Tuskegee Bank, president and CEO of Memphis First Community Bank and executive vice president at MBNA America Bank.
“I view myself as a change agent,” he said. “I’ve done a turnaround of a bank. I’ve done a startup of a bank. I’ve worked in a bank that was growing very rapidly...I’m bringing a couple different skills sets and experiences to this institution.”
Shares of M&F, which is thinly traded, closed Tuesday at $5. The stock is up 5 percent this year.