LAFAYETTE — Two banking executives touted Acadiana as the center of banking activity in the South during an upbeat presentation Wednesday on the outlook for the local industry.
While the nation has struggled through an economic downtown, three Lafayette banks have been on growth spurts with Iberia Bank growing by 164 percent since December 2007, Home Bank by 134 percent and MidSouth Bank by 63 percent, according to figures from Jerry Vascocu, Iberia Bank’s president for the Lafayette market.
Vascocu and MidSouth Bank President and CEO Rusty Cloutier spoke Wednesday at a luncheon meeting of the Upper Lafayette Economic Development Foundation.
The most wide-ranging expansion has been on the part of Iberia Bank.
In January 2007, Iberia Bank had 45 branches and operated only in Louisiana, Vascocu said.
The bank now has 187 branches in six states after a string of acquisitions in recent years, according to figures from Vascocu.
Home Bank also pushed into the Baton Rouge and New Orleans markets.
MidSouth moved into Texas, and along with Iberia Bank has been gaining a strong foothold in the Houston market.
“This is the banking community of the South,” said Cloutier, who put Lafayette among the top-tier banking centers in the United States.
Cloutier and Vascocu attributed the strength of the Lafayette-based banks to the area’s stable housing market, the large number of local entrepreneurs and low unemployment: Lafayette has consistently had unemployment rates lower than the state and national average in recent years.
“The banks are growing on the back of Acadiana,” Vascocu said.
He said that Iberia Bank’s “best business” remains in Lafayette, despite the bank’s expansion into Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and Florida.
Vascocu said one reason banks in Lafayette weathered the economic downturn better than in other areas is because bankers here learned hard lessons about risky lending during the oil bust of the 1980s.
“Lafayette took its licks in the 1980s,” he said. “Conservative business practices were built in at that time.”
There remains “unbelievable” growth potential for the Lafayette-based banks, Cloutier said.
He said new federal regulations are making it tougher for small, local banks to stay in business even if those banks are doing well.
Larger, regional banks are in a good position to scoop up “smaller and healthier banks that just want out,” Cloutier said.
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