AB&T continues rebound from rocky past

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- A complete change in the management team, led by the appointment of CEO Luke Flatt, has transformed AB&T National Bank from the brink of failure to a point that few troubled banks attain.

While not out of the fire completely, AB&T was notified a few weeks ago that it is being released from a formal censure and oversight order that was issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in 2006.

Poor management in the past and questionable investment decisions caused the bank to lose money for several years -- including a whopping $16.4 million in 2008.

The change can be traced to the hiring of Flatt, a former Regions Bank executive. He has assembled a new management team, which includes many of his former lieutenants from Regions Bank in Albany.

State banking officials, quoted in an article in The Atlanta Journal Constitution, said, "AB&T has pulled off a rare 'hat trick' by recapitalizing, reducing its risk on loans and getting its enforcement action lifted."

This has been accomplished during the most severe recession in recent years and in a state which leads the nation in bank failures.

"We're trying to build a bank for the future," Flatt said. "We want a community bank that people can turn to and have confidence in and be proud of.

"I think 2011 will be a year of relatively slow growth. There will be some growth, I believe, but it will be modest."

Flatt said AB&T managers are focusing on "making sure we have all the blocks in place" to accommodate the expected growth in the future.

AB&T has its main branch on Meredyth Drive and a branch on Pine Avenue in downtown Albany. It also has a new branch in Lee County at Lee Crossings.

AB&T also operates a branch in Auburn, Ala., but plans to close a branch in Dothan, Ala., in March. Closing that underperforming branch is part of Flatt's strategy to strengthen the overall company.

Flatt said the bank has improved both its mortgage and trust operations.

"I feel like our commercial banking capability has been enhanced, and think we'll see more enhancement of that area," he said.

Industrywide, Flatt said customers can expect changes in the banking industry including passing along specific charges for specific services. He echoes sentiments from most other bankers in saying that free checking likely will soon become a thing of the past.

Flatt said he expects consumers to continue to save at a greater rate than they did five years ago. "They continue to pay down credit card debt and pay on time more frequently," he said. "All these things point to general improvement in the economy.

"Anecdotally as I talk to people, it seems there is an optimism returning; it is guarded, but there is optimism. ... I don't think that optimism has transferred into economic growth at this point.

"The industry is healing," he said. "It's been through some tough times."