When you’re 111 years old, it’s easy to get set in your ways. That’s especially true in the community banking industry, which is famously conservative.

So, it was no small thing this week when island-based Moody National Bank, which dates back to 1907, rolled out a rebranding campaign as it positions itself to win a bigger share of the Texas Hill Country market in a fast-changing industry.

“Bankers are conservative; they’re slow to change,” said Vic Pierson, president and CEO of Moody Bank. “But you have to refresh.”

One of the most notable changes was dropping “National” from the name on marketing materials, although it remains in the charter.

The rebranding, more than a year in the making, was led by Lauren Millo, marketing director for Moody Bank, working with Kathy Thomas, owner of locally based firm Community Strategies.

Millo and Thomas began the extensive rebranding initiative by conducting exhaustive research and talking to customers and the bank’s 204 employees at 15 branches throughout the Galveston and Houston region and in Austin. Millo, Thomas and executives worked to update the brand while reminding consumers of the bank’s long and established history.

The rebrand includes a refreshed logo, a new look and new marketing materials. Moody Bank also has a new signature statement to reflect its commitment to service and longevity: “Building Relationships Since 1907.”

THE PALM TREE LIVES

Pierson was prepared to ax the bank’s familiar palm tree logo, which dates back at least 30 years — officials didn’t immediately know the year it debuted.

“I was open to cutting the palm tree down,” Pierson said.

But it didn’t come to that. Pierson said he was surprised by how many employees and customers liked the palm tree logo and its homage to the bank’s island roots. Instead of the ax, the palm tree logo got a refresh that included removing the letters “MNB” and other touches.

The bank kept the orange sunset that also has an island vibe, but it was clear by the inclusion of blue bonnets and cowboy hats on the marketing brochures, that the bank wants to relate to a Texas Hill Country market.

When the bank was celebrating 100 years, it was already making a push inland, opening branches in Dickinson, Friendswood, Lake Jackson, League City, Pasadena, Seabrook, Texas City and in Houston area locations.

CAPITALIZING ON CAPITOL

Not until 2008, however, did the privately owned bank open a center in Austin, marking its first location well off the coast. The dearth of independent banks in Travis County at the time was of particular interest to Pierson, who saw a big opportunity.

In 2015, the bank amped up its Austin presence in a big way, opening in an iconic downtown building at 400 W. 15th St., now known as Moody Tower. The bank has had little trouble winning over consumers in that market, officials said.

Its Austin banking center has done well in commercial and retail banking, posting about $250,000 in pretax monthly earnings, which is considered by the industry to be a strong performance.

HEADED FOR

THE HILL COUNTRY

As a part of its expansion into the Hill Country, Moody Bank this week announced plans for a banking center in New Braunfels, about 50 miles southwest of Austin.

In August 2017, Moody Bank hired James C. Allen as its chief operating officer. Allen had previously led a major Hill Country expansion for a 75-year-old family owned bank based in San Antonio.

With the rapid changes brought by technology, especially the internet, banks have been contracting when it comes to brick-and-mortar centers. Because the industry is in a drastic transformation, it’s difficult to predict how many banking centers Moody Bank will open in the next 10 years, Allen said.

But Moody Bank will have the capability to develop 10 to 12 centers in the next 10 years to 12 years, if it makes sense to do so, Allen said.

FINDING EFFICIENCIES

Those banking centers won’t look like the old ones, however, Allen said.

Bank branches used to be about 5,500 square feet. But the layout of newer banking centers has become more efficient; they average about 1,200 square feet. And efficiencies aren’t just in size. The industry has turned to such resources as cash recyclers, a machine that accepts and dispenses cash, stores money securely and keeps accurate accounting, allowing banks to automate and streamline cash handling processes.

Moody Bank also has adopted the Universal Banker model in which bank employees are trained to perform tasks ranging from traditional teller to opening accounts and processing loans.

“Any bank employee can take on 99 percent of a customer’s needs,” Allen said. “It’s great for employees as well as the customers.”

‘THE WORLD’S CHANGING’

For the past few years, there’s been much hand-wringing in the industry about how to serve millennials, people reaching young adulthood in the 21st century. With banking possible from smartphones and laptops, the industry grappled with luring technology-savvy millennials into banking centers, where they’re more likely to buy products and services, such as loans, which are profitable to banks.

“The world’s changing,” Allen said. “You don’t need as many banking centers, and they need to look different.”

But millennials, it turns out, are growing into what their parents were, Allen said. They need mortgages, checking accounts and to establish college funds, too, he said.

Moody Bank is designing centers that feature “bistros” with beverage services, flat-screen TVs, comfortable lounging and conference rooms available to small-business operators and families.

In Houston’s Energy Corridor, Moody Bank will reopen a Hurricane Harvey-damaged center with the new layout and design.

“It says, ‘Come in, we want to talk to you; we want to get to know you,’” Allen said.

Gone are the days when community banks could cluster branches. Even in Galveston, Moody Bank is consolidating its University Boulevard branch with its downtown banking center.

“There are banks today contracting where maybe there are too many banking centers,” Allen said.

Moody Banks’ expansion into the Hill Country will be strategic and based on market analysis, Allen said.

BANKING ON A NAME

The Moody brand is already well known in Travis County, Allen said. Most Texans know the Moody name from Galveston and all that’s related to the Moody Foundation — Moody Gardens, for one. But the Moody family’s name is tied to the Southern Methodist Moody Coliseum in Dallas and Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, among others. Austin City Limits is a public television program featuring live music airing since 1976.

It hasn’t hurt that Moody Bank’s downtown sign can be seen from the Darrell K Royal — Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin.

“It is not unusual for a community bank to consider a rebranding project,” said Chris Williston, president and CEO of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas. “Many have done so through the years to remove any perceived geographical restriction that their name might imply as they expand to different markets.”

While rebranding and planning to greatly increase its Hill Country presence, Moody Bank also wants to relay that it’s stable.

“In Moody’s case, I believe they wanted to further highlight the safety and stability of the Moody name in the markets where they do business and reconstitute the values of the organization,” Williston said.

Formerly the City National Bank, it was founded by W.L. Moody Jr. The bank has one of the largest and oldest wealth management and trust departments in Texas, responsible for more than $30 billion in assets.

And it’s one of the largest community banks in terms of market share in the Houston area with more than $1 billion in assets.

BauerFinancial Inc., a bank rating firm that scores all banks and credit unions on a zero to five-star scale, gave Moody Bank five stars for financial strength. That’s BauerFinancial’s highest rating and indicates an institution has at least twice the capital that regulators require, is profitable and has kept its delinquent loans in check.

“We’re a growing, fiscally strong Texas community bank dedicated to delivering excellent customer service with quality products and services,” Pierson said. “Our values are built on respect for our customers, community and employees.”

And the bank hasn’t forgotten its island roots, Pierson said.

“This is still home,” he said.

Laura Elder: 409-683-5248; laura.elder@galvnews.com

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