Longtime area banker reflects on career and recent change

December 17,2021


See full Fort Worth Worth Business Press article by FWBP Staff here.

Veteran Fort Worth banker Brian Happel has joined Regions Bank to lead Regions’ commercial banking team here. Happel will also serve as Fort Worth market executive, working with other Regions officials to support community engagement through initiatives such as economic and community development, education and workforce readiness, and financial wellness.

Happel’s experience includes credit and mortgage and commercial banking leadership roles with JP Morgan Chase and its predecessor banks, as well as commercial banking and market leadership roles with BBVA USA. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Business Management from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Happel’s community engagement includes board memberships with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Fort Worth Inc., where he serves on the finance committee. Happel is also a member of UT Arlington’s College of Business Advisory Board.

In addition to Happel, four new commercial banking relationship managers have joined Regions’ team dedicated to serving businesses across Fort Worth and western portions of the Metroplex. Julie Cottongame, Matt Henderson, Abby Oliver and Kyle Sederstrom will join Happel in working with business clients throughout Tarrant, Denton, Parker, Wise and Johnson counties.

“Banking has always been first and foremost a people business,” said Happel. “Regions’ unique approach of bringing a comprehensive team to the table to help clients address their specific needs and reach their long-term goals really demonstrates that. It’s a key reason why I joined Regions and one of the factors I’m most excited about in leading our team of commercial banking relationship managers.”

Some background on the other team members:

Cottongame is a 20-year banking veteran with experience in personal, business and commercial banking through previous roles with Bank One/JP MorganChase, Capital One and BBVA USA. She obtained an associate degree from Tarrant County College in Fort Worth and earned a Bachelor of Business Administration specializing in Business Management from the University of Texas at Arlington. Cottongame’s community involvement includes serving for four years as vice president of softball with the Burleson Youth Association Board of Directors.

Henderson has spent six years in banking, previously holding roles in commercial banking relationship management, investment real estate lending and commercial underwriting at BBVA USA. Henderson earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance from Texas A&M University.

Oliver began her banking career as an intern and participated in the BBVA management training program before serving as a commercial banking relationship associate. She obtained a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance from Auburn University.

Sederstrom brings over eight years of commercial banking experience to Regions following previous roles with BBVA USA and Frost Bank. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Finance from TCU. Sederstrom’s community involvement includes serving on the executive committee for Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth.

***

Fort Worth Business Press Editor Robert Francis spoke with Happel after Regions Bank announced his appointment Nov. 4. Here is a lightly edited version of the conversation.

FWBP: Tell us about your move to Regions Bank.

Happel: We feel like Regions has been successful and will be successful in the Fort Worth market for a couple of reasons. One is the culture of Regions Bank. It is a very south/southeastern type of culture that really is focused on the way we feel people like to do business in the Sunbelt. And we just think that that matches up very well, culturally, with how people want to do business. That may not be how they’ve been able to do business in the past, because we’ve seen as larger banks have come in here, you have to fit into a box. And as long as you did, maybe things would be okay, but Regions actually has an entrepreneurial feel to it, to where, yes, we have guidelines about how we need to do business and certainly on the credit side. But the way we do business is certainly determined by the culture of the bank. Put people first. Reach higher. Do what is right. Focus on your client.

I think [another] thing that’s very important is, you look at a market like the Fort Worth market, where it just became the 12th largest city in the United States and one of the fastest growing in the country – we’re the largest super regional bank in this market. So your choices are, really, you’re either going to deal with a very large bank or maybe a community or a regional community bank. And so your choices are very limited from that perspective. And so a super regional assembly, a bank that can provide the large bank products but deliver through local teams and local management in such a way that those products and services are personalized, whether you’re a large business or a small business, or a consumer. And that’s where we really feel like the differentiator is in Regions – that there are obviously good banks in the market, but each one of them kind of has a nuance about them, about what they can do, and maybe what they can’t do, maybe territorial wise, product wise or customer focus wise. And we’re not trying to be all things to all people, but we do think that the way we are delivering banking services is consistent in the way not only the Fort Worth market likes to do it, but very consistent with Texas and the Sunbelt.

FWBP: What size of loans can Regions offer customers? What’s your upper limit?

Happel: A lot of that depends on a risk grade for a particular company, but we can do anything from the smallest of loans, from a consumer perspective, all the way up to $150 million or larger loans. So, again, we have all the capacities that the larger banks do, as well as the lower end …

FWBP: Can you comment about how you think the pandemic may have changed banking and what you may bring to the table now that we’re going back to some sort of normal?

Happel: I think a couple of things came out of it. Some things are creating opportunities going forward. If ever there was [an emphasis] on the importance of technology, I think we saw that during the pandemic. Because you think about the stress that it put on tech during the pandemic to process PPP loans, which was essentially created almost overnight. I think it certainly has emphasized to banks the importance of being proactive with technology and really not just thinking about what customers need today, but what they might need … in the future. And I think the banks that were focused on that, like Regions Bank, did very well. I think … even some of the largest banks that were out there weren’t able to really have the capacity or the resources to keep up with the technology demand.

I think that’s kind of first and foremost. I think, secondly – and, interestingly enough, I’m old school so a lot of what I’m used to doing [is] picking up the phone and calling a prospective client or a client – but obviously during the pandemic I think emailing, texting, the way that you communicated with your clients changed to some degree. There was, I guess, maybe an enhanced acceptance of what you might call typically less personal ways of communication versus picking up the phone or being in person. I think all of us now know [about] Zoom and Webex and all of the other video sources that are out there …

But here’s where I think things are going to be interesting and going forward in the future. Yes, everything is becoming more digital and certainly on the consumer side, but what we still believe, and I personally believe, especially with commercial businesses, people still like the personal touch of people coming out, meeting them in person, getting acquainted with them in person, knowing about their business and taking a time investment to be able to learn about why they’ve been successful and what their needs are going forward.

I think that that is a competitive advantage for us. We believe that’s still an important part of the client-bank relationship. Whereas I think potentially folks could be lulled into thinking, well, email, maybe even a phone call, but certainly less than an in-person visit is required, thinking it’s still during the pandemic or PPP time frame. People still want to do business with people. And I think that’s an advantage … our team has because we believe in that as a team and the Regions’ platform really embraces that type of an approach.

FWBP: You mentioned the growth of Fort Worth earlier and that’s certainly apparent if we look around here. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how that affects what you do and how that might change customer needs, etc.

Happel: it’s nice to quote [that statistic], but I think in Fort Worth we still like being that small big city … and so philosophically, I just see there’s a lot of alignment between the growth of Fort Worth and where Fort Worth wants to be from a size perspective, but more importantly, let’s face it, former Mayor Price used to say all the time, “This is the Fort Worth way.” And I think that even though Fort Worth is growing, Fort Worth still wants to be thought of in doing it the Fort Worth way. And so again, I think the cultural aspect of what Regions Bank focuses on is so important.

Interesting comment to you, Bob, when I visited with Regions Bank executives for the first time … the very first thing [they told me] was, “Brian, we love your son.” And what that means is my son, Alec. He’s actually been working with Regions Bank for the last two years. He was given an internship and then eventually offered a job with the bank and each one of the executives I met with knew my son. And to this day, I actually have an opportunity to work with him, which is something that I [never would have] imagined in my banking career. So, that’s the very first thing that told me something about the bank. And then the second thing that executive told me was, “Brian, Fort Worth is its own market. We will never reference or lump Fort Worth in with Dallas.”

And that’s not intended to be any disrespect to Dallas, but rather just a recognition that Fort Worth is its own market. We might refer to it as the DFW market or DFW Airport, but we are a distinguished market. And we also have a distinguished way that we like to do business. And while we’re having success in markets like Dallas and Houston, which are larger markets here in Texas, I think the best opportunity for our bank resides in markets such as Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio –where they’re small big cities, but they like dealing with banks that maybe have more flexibility or are willing to invest more time rather than just … the fit-in-the-box perspective.

And you know, we run into folks that just want the cheapest deal or just want the loosest structured transaction. And we get it, that’s a way that they’ve run their business and we respect that. But I think [what] you see more of in the Fort Worth market, Tarrant County market, [are] people that if they have a preference, they’re not wanting to overpay, they’re not wanting to pay a premium for great relationship service. But all things being equal and being competitive, we think our approach to how we deal with things, we’re here to help you. The chairman used to say, “without the client, there’s not a paycheck.” And you know, I think that as an industry, we’ve got to remember that because sometimes we think it’s all about us when in fact the client is what really drives the relationship and we’re there to provide that service that they need.

FWBP: All right I’ll ask this most controversial question. So do people at Regions … do they give you a list of places to get their trademark green ties or do they have them? Do they sell them themselves?

Happel: It’s interesting. I haven’t been given any pictures or places to go. But interestingly enough, when I did go to Birmingham to visit with the executives and wore a green tie, they were all pretty impressed.

FWBP: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Happel: It’s been a thrill to be part of this market in my role for 38 years. I would’ve never thought that I would have the opportunities that I’ve had in this market for such an extended time. But I will tell you that whether it be personally or professionally, this bank has helped me enjoy probably some of the best few months of my banking career, just because of how they’ve made me feel as an employee, how they’ve made me feel as a critical component of their success and … about what type of an impact that they feel like I can [make] personally in this market.

And so while we’ve only been here for a brief period of time … professionally [along with] just getting recently remarried, it’s probably some of the best times of my life, as well as being able to work with my son, which is part of it. So not every market can say that it provides you the atmosphere of the environment for you to be happy, professionally and business wise, but I’m very thankful to Tarrant County and the Fort Worth market for providing that environment.