Hancock to close up to 45 branches

Hancock Holding Co., the parent company of Whitney Bank, is closing up to 45 branches within its five-state area by the end of the year, officials said.

Hancock President and CEO Carl Chaney wouldn’t name the specific markets where the closures will occur, but said the closures would have “little impact” on its core markets in New Orleans and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“The majority of the closing and consolidations will be in markets where we are repositioning our focus,” Chaney said.

Hancock operates more than 250 branches in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Its locations in Louisiana and Texas operate under the Whitney name. The two banks merged in mid-2011.

Chaney said the branch closures will occur as Hancock seeks to fine-tune its products and services market-by-market, cutting back retail banking offerings in areas where business loans are driving more activity, for example.

“Are we exiting any lines of business? No, absolutely not,” he said. “But we are going to operate more strategically and more efficiently in each of those markets.”

The Gulfport, Miss., company will start closing branches in the third quarter.

The company expects between $18 million and $20 million in costs related to the closures.

The branch closures are a part of a $50 million cost reduction and efficiency plan Hancock executives unveiled in April in response to a low interest rate environment that is putting increasing pressure on earnings. Hancock aims to have half of the cost reductions in place by the first quarter of 2014.

Chaney announced the closures during a presentation at the Gulf South Bank Conference, held this week at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New Orleans.