From his office in the U.S. Bank Tower downtown, regional chairman and market president Joseph Imbs III is steps away from the latest expansion of the bank's reach in the region.
Two blocks north of the bank's St. Louis base, four new U.S. Bank ATMs are being installed this month at the Edward Jones Dome in an exclusive contract.
The new machines are part of a push the bank has made to add ATMs – including at Schnucks grocery stores and hospital campuses -- in recent years. The Minneapolis-based bank now has more than 300 local ATMs, more than any other bank, and the largest market share of local deposits, at 16 percent.
Imbs, who was born in St. Louis and started working at Mercantile Bank in 1976, says U.S. Bank has continued to grow throughout the economic downturn, even while other banks scaled back.
U.S. Bank's workforce in St. Louis has grown from about 3,400 employees in 2008 to 4,100 currently and its business lending also has grown – increasing more than 23 percent since the beginning of 2008.
Imbs recently talked with the Post-Dispatch about the bank's local operations. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.
Where is the bank's employment growth coming from?
We expanded into Earth City a few years ago with our mortgage operations. That now has 300 employees, and the building is completely full. We have had to move employees downtown and we've had to lease another building out there so we can continue to grow that area. Re-financing, to a great extent, is driving that growth. But it's not only refinancings, it's also handling the needs of new customers.
We've had growth in U.S. Bancorp's Community Development Corp., which is headquartered here in St. Louis for the entire country. That is responsible for much of the investment of ours in the St. Louis area and across the country, developments such as the St. Louis Centre garage across the street; the Laurel Apartments; along Washington Avenue; and throughout the city of St. Louis.
We've also had growth in our consumer banking area, commercial wholesale banking, and our trust and private client business. It's pretty much across the board. We'll be looking to hire more and increase our employment.
How has U.S. Bank grown loans while loan demand has been weak?
The greatest benefit for us is what we call flight to quality. We're the fifth largest bank in the country, but we have the greatest debt ratings of any of the major banks in the country. Our debt ratings were (just) increased. That is a reflection of the strength and the character of this bank. We have never lost any money, even in a quarter. We have gone through the recession and the banking crisis very, very well and the bank has continued to grow throughout that. Not just in St. Louis, but across our entire footprint.
(We don't) have the capital restraints that other banks have. As a result, we've been rewarded with a lot of customers, both consumers – personal accounts – and corporate accounts.
We've experienced double digit loan growth and deposit growth in the St. Louis area for the last few years as well as across our footprint and we expect that to continue. Customers are coming to us from other banks to grow their businesses.
How has the local banking landscape changed in recent years?
Some of our competitors are not here any longer. Back in 2006, this was an entirely different landscape. There are a few less banks on the community bank side, which is primarily fallout from the banking crisis and the recession.
Many St. Louis commercial real estate developments stalled due to the credit crunch. Are things picking back up?
We're starting to see commercial real estate stabilize. We're seeing a few new projects. Not anywhere where it was, but the fact that we're starting to see a few developments moving forward is terrific.
You're on the board of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association, which is backing a new effort to position St. Louis as an off-Wall Street financial center. What do you think of the prospects those efforts hold?
The focus to attempt to attract back-office type jobs here makes a lot of sense. With all the (brokerage) firms we have based here, St. Louis is really the place to do it.
Joseph Imbs III
Title: Regional chairman and St. Louis market president, US Bank
Education: Bachelor of science business administration, Georgetown University; MBA, St. Louis University.
Personal: Single and lives in Ladue. Has a daughter, Cadi Olsen, 29, and a son, Joseph Imbs IV, 27.