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Saturday, April 10, 2021

In for the long haul: UMB’s move to 777 Main is a commitment to the city

Driving around Fort Worth these days, you’d think that banks are like mushrooms in your lawn after a heavy rain. They are popping up everywhere.

So how does a bank relatively new to town – one in the market for, say, four years – establish itself and compete?

“Our money’s greener,” jokes Michael Garner, recently named as president of UMB Bank in Fort Worth. But he quickly turns serious.

“It would be easy to say that we’re a relationship bank, and all these kinds of things,” Garner said. “We’ve been around for 105 years, and we’ve always, as an organization, put the customer first. And we’re a flat organization that tries to get business done, because if you get caught in the bureaucracy of organizations, you slow down the process.”

Garner joined UMB in 2003 straight out of college at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. He trained for about a year at the headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, where the bank started in a storefront with first-day deposits of $1,100 in 1913. The bank now operates in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, and has more than $19 billion in assets.

He spent a few years as a lender at a branch in Kansas City, and then moved to Springfield, Missouri, and then to St. Louis, where he was senior vice president and commercial team lead before being picked for the Fort Worth job.

UMB’s current Fort Worth location is at 100 Lexington St., on the western edge of downtown off Weatherford Street. But it is moving to 777 Main St. in the summer once Frost Bank moves into its new building and the existing space is refurbished. The DLR Group Staffelbach out of Dallas is overseeing the design of the space.

The relocation decision was made before Garner was named, but he says it fits with the bank’s strategy and will give it the visibility it is missing in its current location.

“We’re really excited about that opportunity. We’re going to have signage on both corners of the bank,” Garner said.

UMB likes to have downtown banks in all of its major metro locations “to really be a center of that community, because we invest heavily in the communities that we do business in, not only financially, but with our people,” he said.

The 777 Main location was formerly known as Carter+Burgess Plaza and before that UPR Plaza. It was originally Continental Plaza when it was built in 1982 as the home of Continental National Bank.

UMB will have 12,000 square feet on the building’s fifth floor to house the company’s entire Fort Worth staff of about 30 people across all divisions, and it will have 7,000 square feet on the first floor to house the banking lobby and the retail and private wealth group. On the fifth floor will be commercial, energy, commercial real estate and treasure management.

“You don’t need to have a huge staff these days to get things done,” Garner said. “I try not to over-complicate banking. Make it simple for people, because I want the business owner to focus on their business, and not have to focus on the bank.”

Timing was a matter of opportunity, both for Garner and UMB, he says.

“When you look at all of our markets across all eight states that we do business in commercially, there’s a lot of activity going on in Texas. Texas is one of the fastest growing states; it attracts a lot of new headquarters, as we’ve seen across the entire Metroplex.

“For me professionally, moving here from Saint Louis was just a great opportunity to expand my career with the bank. I’ve been doing this for about 15 years this summer. There’s just a lot of good traction going on here,” he said.

UMB Bank entered the Texas market in 2013 – with one person in Dallas – and expanded into Fort Worth with the acquisition of Marquette Financial Companies and Meridian Bank Texas. UMB Bank added an investment banking team and a private wealth group in 2016.

Garner replaces Cliff Keizer, who now heads a separate business unit on energy banking. They are peers on the table of organization. UMB is interested in establishing energy as a national business line out of Fort Worth, Garner said.

Garner is already a member of the Downtown Fort Worth Inc. board of directors.

“Andy was on the tarmac waiting,” Garner said, referring to Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc.

“Part of that is, as we moved to downtown, we wanted to make sure that we were a steward of our local businesses,” Garner said. UMB had not previously been a member of DFWI because of its location. But joining gave him an opportunity to be on the board.

“We’re heavily invested in the Chamber [of Commerce] and really want to help focus our efforts in that way as well,” he said.

The bank has a program called VTO – volunteer time off – where each employee has 16 hours of paid time off a year to volunteer however he or she chooses. It allows people to get out of the bank and volunteer on its time, not theirs.

“We’ve empowered them to go out and get involved, because UMB is big into community involvement,” Garner said.

Garner is 37. He and his wife, Jess, have two daughters, Reece, 9, and Cameron, 7. Jess Garner is trained as a speech pathologist but right now she’s a “full-time bus driver, mom, you name it.”

Garner is in this year’s class of LeaderPrime, Leadership Fort Worth’s program for new CEOs coming to town or for locals recently named as a CEO.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said of the program. “The amount of information you get for someone who’s either new to Fort Worth or in a new role in Fort Worth is fascinating. The opportunities, the challenges, the history, I don’t know any other way to get that.”

One thing that differentiates Fort Worth – he’s quick to say that other cities he’s lived in also had it to a lesser degree -– is the spirit of the town.

“Being a newcomer to town, it’s amazing to me the pride people have in Fort Worth and how they want to see it grow. They’ll collaborate,” he said. “That sense of just wanting to succeed, and people getting behind each other, willing to maybe set aside their differences, to see this is bigger than we are.”

He mentioned Bob Mitchell, an executive recruiter for WhitneySmith Co., and asked, “Is he the mayor of the Fort Worth Club? … I didn’t know Bob from a hole in the wall. Met him at an event, just told him who I was, what I’m trying to do, and the next thing I know, he’s out introducing me.”

It’s just refreshing to see the sense of civility, Garner said. “Fort Worth acts like a small town, and it has the population that says it’s a big city.”

He declines to limit the definition of his bank.

“I hate to pigeonhole us. We’re a full-service bank, our bread and butter is commercial banking. So, manufacturing, distribution, construction, energy lending, agribusiness – we run the full gamut,” he said.

“We’re in that sweet spot as a regional bank in that we have the ability to offer a breadth of products and services, and a lot of different people who can fulfill your needs. But we’re small enough where you get that community bank feel. We’re a flat organization, to where we can get decisions made in a timely manner to help you, whether it’s your business or your personal life,” Garner said.

“We’re new to the town, roughly. We’re a smaller bank compared to some of our competitors, but we’re here to stay. We signed a 10-year lease. And we’re invested in Fort Worth. We’re going to do a good job. And we’re excited about the future,” he said.

Disclosure: Paul K. Harral is married to Harriet B. Harral, executive director of Leadership Fort Worth.

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Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

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