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Column: Citizens Trust evolving with the banking industry

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on July 7, 2017

Citizens Trust Bank closed two of its branches on June 30 including the one at its historic Piedmont Avenue building and its branch in Lithonia.

But Cynthia Day, Citizens Trust’s CEO, said the moves represent a transition in the banking industry rather than any financial issues with the bank — which is the largest African-American owned bank in the Southeast as well as the fifth largest in the country.

Cynthia Day Herman Russell

Cynthia Day looks over her shoulder to a portrait of the late Herman Russell, who was the largest shareholder of Citizens Trust (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“There was a lot of emotional attachment, a lot of history and a lot of legacy with the closing of the Piedmont branch,” Day said in a telephone interview on July 3. “It was a deeply thought out collaborative decision by me, my team and the board.”

Citizens Trust used to own the building at 75 Piedmont Ave., and the bank had been headquartered in that location for nearly 50 years. But the building had been bought by Georgia State University, and the bank moved its corporate headquarters to 230 Peachtree St. in February 2016.

“Emotional decisions are hard,” Day said. “The bank began on Sweet Auburn. That’s where our founders started the bank.”

The bank was started in 1921 and this year it is celebrating its 95th year in business. For decades, the Citizens Trust sign on the Piedmont building gave the bank great visibility. That changed after the bank moved its headquarters, and Day said Citizens Trust is “rebranding and retooling ourselves.” And it is adapting to changing environment.

“It was becoming a Georgia State corridor,” Day said. “We just didn’t have the foot traffic anymore. The growth we are seeing is in electronic banking. The cost of staying inside of the facility was not the most economical or most efficient way to serve our customers.”

The bank now has five branches in metro Atlanta, two branches in Alabama and one in Columbus, Ga. It also has been performing well financially.

Cynthia Day

Cynthia Day

“In all of our major metrics, we grew by double digits,” Day said.

In 2016, the bank generated a net loan growth of about 13 percent to $208 million over 2015. Its mortgage loan originations grew by 241 percent in the same year. It also gained 8,000 new customers year over year.

The bank had a 2 percent growth in assets – to $396 million; and it had a 3 percent growth in deposits to $339 million over the prior year.

In recognition of all the changes, the Atlanta City Council issued a proclamation to Citizens Trust Bank on June 19 for its contributions to sustain the financial health of the Atlanta community.

“We are trying to drive healthy community economics,” Day said. “We are trying to help build strong businesses.”

That’s why Citizens Trust is partnering with Greenlight Think Tank to hold a Georgia Black Empowerment Day for a “Bank-In” at the Citizens Trust Cascade branch at 3705 Cascade Road SW on July 8.

Michael “Killer Mike” Render is helping promote the event seeking to encourage more people to start their own businesses or help them build their existing businesses. It also will be an opportunity for African-Americans to help black-owned companies – including Citizens Trust.

“We are a minority-owned bank, and we are proud of our heritage,” Day said. “Most of the communities that we serve are primarily African-American communities, and some of those are underserved.”

Citizens Trust is the only major African-American bank in metro Atlanta. The former Capital City Bank, which had been on the Westside, was acquired by First Citizens Bank based in Raleigh, N.C., in 2015.

“We are in a definitive agreement to acquire the assets of Capital City Bank on Aug. 7,” Day said.

That acquisition will bring 5,000 new customers to Citizens Trust and add about $46 million in deposits. The acquisition will not include any bricks and mortar, such as Capital City Bank’s former Lee Street branch.

Meanwhile Day said Citizens Trust is renovating its branch at 965 Martin Luther King Dr. on Atlanta’s Westside. And Day also said the bank is open to considering options to open a branch along the Sweet Auburn Avenue corridor – a move that would take Citizens Trust back to its roots.

Bob Voyles and the Urban Land Institute

Metro Atlanta developer Bob Voyles is the new incoming chair of ULI Atlanta,

Voyles succeeds Kevin Cantley, who helped lead a three-year strategic plan for the organization. The plan highlighted the need to advance inclusive affordable housing, create walkable places and the launch of a new women’s leadership initiative.

Bob Voyles

Bob Voyles

The ULI Atlanta Governance Committee, chaired by David Allman, nominated Voyles for his experience with ULI – nationally and locally – as well as his leadership abilities and his vision of how ULI can help broaden the conversation about land use.

Voyles, who has spent nearly four decades in the development business, founded Seven Oaks in 2004 with business partner Randy Holmes. He has served on several civic organizations, such as the Perimeter CID, and he chairs the land development committee for the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.

ULI said Voyles will provide leadership from his experience in commercial real estate as well as regional transportation. “Bob has such great energy and people really enjoy working with him,” said Sarah Kirsch, ULI Atlanta’s executive director, in a statement.

Voyles said his overarching goal will be to link land use to improving and establishing sustainable transit network for the region with market-based solutions to expand transit beyond the central core of city.

“We need to find creative land use of older commercial corridors and old retail urban corridors – basically taking the BeltLine and running out spokes beyond,” Voyles said. “Our region is now starting to densify. A lot of people don’t realize that GDOT’s next round of road improvements are not necessarily going to be followed by more expansion. That’s it. I hope to help lay ground work for long-term transit solution to make it economically viable for developers to build transit corridors and major employment corridors, not just the central city.”

Cancer nonprofits to offer breast cancer research awards

A new funding opportunity for innovative cancer research in Georgia is being made available through collaboration with “It’s The Journey” and The Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education (Georgia CORE).

The two non-profits are teaming up to provide $150,000 for three awards to Georgia-based organizations with new, creative ideas that may advance progress toward detecting, treating or curing breast cancer.

“The 2017 Breast Cancer Research Awards are designed to stimulate research of scientific importance by Georgia Investigators,” says Laurel Sybilrud, chair of It’s The Journey. “We hope to promote creative ideas that are scientifically sound and that may advance progress towards detecting, treating or curing breast cancer.”

“This one-year pilot funding supports investigators in achieving proof-of-principle,” says Nancy Paris, president and CEO of Georgia CORE. “By establishing that an idea, invention or process is feasible, the researcher can often move forward in applying for more extensive research support.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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