Kathryn Dinkin holding the reigns locally as Wachovia merges with Wells Fargo
As the new president of Wachovia's Southeast Florida region, Kathryn Dinkin will hold the reigns locally as the bank — which has the largest market share here — merges with Wells Fargo, which has no local presence. But she's no stranger to mergers. "This is not my first rodeo," says Ms. Dinkin, a 13-year Wachovia veteran who has led markets across the country and over the years helped oversee mergers such as Wachovia-SouthTrust and Wachovia-Golden West. One goal during the upcoming transition: ensuring the ride is smooth for customers. Ms. Dinkin is confident it will be. "Customers don't feel that much change during a merger. Your same people are here. The same phone number you called to talk to your business banking relationship manager is still the same, it's still the same person on the end of the line, and it's not that big of a deal," she says. The timeline for the transition is still in the works, but amidst the major merger and despite an unstable economic climate, Ms. Dinkin says the bank is going strong and continuing to lend. Growth plans remain in place, and no local branches are to close because of the merger. Ms. Dinkin was interviewed in her downtown Miami office by Miami Today staff writer Risa Polansky.
Q: How did you become involved in the banking sector? How has your career progressed since?
A: I have been at Wachovia for 13 years. Before Wachovia I was with Citi in Washington, DC. I joined Wachovia through First Union, and I was in DC and came to work with First Union at that point and led a small market of a couple of banking stores.
From that I was promoted and went to Palm Beach County where I was the retail bank director. After leaving Palm Beach County I went to Philadelphia where I ran the Philadelphia metro area as the retail bank director running about 150 or so stores. From that I was promoted to the retail banking executive for Pennsylvania and Delaware and was responsible for all of the retail there.
Then I was asked to go to Texas as the retail bank executive and build our franchise out there. We didn't have any banking presence in Texas. I went out there — I was the fifth employee — and I left three years later and we had over 200 stores.
At that time we had purchased South Trust, and we had 60 South Trust locations in Texas. I did that merger integration that added to the empire that was being built in Texas. Then, we had the Golden West acquisition, or merger, and when we bought Golden West that's how I picked up Colorado, Kansas and Illinois. I was the group retail bank executive for Texas, Colorado, Kansas and Illinois. I did the conversion of Golden West, or World Savings, which was what the banks were called.
Just as that was finishing up, I came to Southeast Florida and I was the southeast group retail bank executive, that's for the southeast part of the country for retail, 1,200 banking stores up and down the east coast.
I ran all of the community markets as defined by Wachovia, which is more the rural markets for the retail organization. I traveled every single day, four days out of five because I had such a large territory. I didn't know anyone in Miami, but when they were selecting me for this job, they said "you could pick anywhere you would like to live, anywhere in the area,' and I thought: Miami. We had the Wells Fargo announcement and I was just recently named within the last month a regional president for what we are calling Southeast Florida, which is Miami-Dade, Monroe and Broward.
Q: What are your duties and responsibilities in that role?
A: Obviously running all of the retail organizations. We have about 139 banking stores in that area and about 3,400 employees, teammates that cover that area. What I'm responsible for is growing the business, working in the community, making sure our philanthropic efforts continue crossing over into the different business lines. We have business banking. We have wealth. We have commercial banking.
When you take a look at your banking stores, this is the channel that you get the branding where people know the name. It's where, no matter which channel you may go to get your business, you're eventually going to end up in a banking store for one reason or another, whether to make a deposit or go to your safety deposit box or to do a wire. I'm responsible for the overall customer satisfaction, teammate engagement, philanthropic work sponsorships.
Q: What are your top three short-term goals?
A: They sound pretty simple, but they might be a little bigger than they sound. The first one is to keep every single customer we have. Is it realistic to say you are going to have 100% customer retention? Why not? I want every single customer to know that this is where they want to bank. Not only do I want to keep every single customer, I want to go get more.
No. 2 is all of the teammates, all the employees. When you are going through change in a company, it can be frightening to people. I want every single teammate in Wachovia to know that we have more jobs than we have people. I want them to know that I want them to be here, that I want them to feel good about this merger. I want them to take care of our customers and I want them to feel as though they are being taken care of as well.
Finally, the third one is to make sure we have a seamless merger. The integration — I just want it to be a non-event as far as no turbulence.
Q: What is the merger timeline?
A: We haven't figured out exactly who will go first. It won't be with a turn of a switch over night because we are going to over 6,600 banking stores.
Together as a combined company we are going to have 281,000 employees, we are going to have over 6,600 banking stores. What you'll see is probably a phased-in approach. The final decision has not been made as to what point each area will go. I think we'll have that in the next couple of months.
Q: What about internally in terms of structure, leadership and even systems and retraining of employees?
A: As with any merger, you always take a look at the different systems and see which ones. I'm sure that there will be systems that we'll learn and some Wachovia systems that maybe our Wells Fargo partners will learn on the other side.
Q: How about executive leadership?
A: My new boss is Shelley Freeman. She is the regional president of Florida and she joined us from Wells Fargo. I'm Wachovia, so she named me as her regional president. I think that any successful merger has some people from both companies.
Historically, when Wachovia did mergers that is what we did. I know that they value the leadership here and they also value the relationships that the leadership has with the community, with the customers and teammates.
You are not going to see a whole change-out. They have named some other key leaders throughout the state that were Wachovia.
Q: Is Shelley Freeman going to be here in Miami?
A: Yes, she is.
Q: In this building?
A: Yes, I think that is the only person so far.
Q: Will there be any branch closings?
A: Several times a year we assess where it makes sense to open new branches, consolidate, so that work will always continue. However, will there be closings because of the merger? No. As a matter of fact you will see new branches that we had planned to be opened, they are still opening throughout this year. We have several that are opening this year.
We don't have any overlap, that is where you see a lot of closings, sometimes when you're sitting next door to each other, but we aren't faced with that.
Q: Any growth plans to share in terms of Miami-Dade?
A: I have a couple that are coming out. I don't want to give you the exact addresses but we have several new banking stores being built this year.
Q: Can you say in which areas?
A: One is in Broward and one is in Miami-Dade.
Q: What can you share in terms of the bank's performance?
A: Probably nothing that will be all that titillating, to tell you the truth. We are a strong bank. We are open for business. When you look at what we are doing and how we are rated, we are a very strong company.
Is everyone under tough economic times? Absolutely, but we are focused on the business, we are focused on doing good business.
Q: Anything you can share about assets, deposits, loan portfolios?
A: What I can tell you is we have commanding market share in this area because of Wells Fargo's safety and soundness. You see that in the number of transactions in customers since what's happening.
When you look at Southeast Florida, I don't think it is a surprise to anyone that certainly we all have a good many loans that are under pressure. I probably attend every luncheon that you attend and read every article about people speculating when this is going to turn around. I don't know. We are lending money. Wells Fargo is the No. 1 small business lender in the country. This is based on 2007, but what you see in the refinancing area happening in mortgages right now, there is this belief that everybody owes more money than their house is worth. That's not true. Maybe if you bought something in the last couple of years you are under pressure, but not everybody in Southeast Florida owes more money than their home is worth.
A lot of people are taking advantage of these low interest rates. These are their primary residences, they have good jobs, they have the cash flow, they can take advantage, save money and refinance. We are seeing great refinance activity.
The fact that no one can get a loan — that's just not true. Credit-worthy borrowers and your primary residence, we've seen a dramatic increase in activity.
Q: Have your lending standards been altered in any way? Your definition of credit worthiness — has that changed?
A: We always assess risk because we are a bank and that is what banks do. We are always assessing the risk and the values of properties and what not, and what type of guidelines do we want to offer.
We change them as the market changes, but what you probably don't see is some of the 100% that you saw years ago on an investment property. There is still money out there, but it's not 100% financing on things of that nature. I think probably everyone knows that. You see that type of thing, but not significantly because when you do a loan and you are going to put 20% down, we are going to get an appraisal, we are going to know what the property value is.
Risk is part of banking, you always look at it. We feel really good about what we are doing. That's not to say that you don't have to decline people because the values have slipped — that's the reality. South Florida has probably felt it. It's been a little harsher than in some areas, but I also believe we are going to be the first to recover. When we are going to be the first to recover, what I want to do is to be in the position to do even more. I want to do what makes sense for our customers, our share holders. I want to do that now, and then when we are positioned to do even more, fantastic.
We will recover. People will be able to buy new homes and buy new condos on the beach and start new businesses and do all of that stuff.
Q: Do you foresee stricter regulations coming out of this, or a closer watch if not new rules?
A: I think we are all waiting to see what is happening. Every day I get my morning news and start off with a very sad view, but I think they are still determining what is going to happen and what regulations are going to look like or what oversight you are going to see.
Q: What types of lending do you all do for business operations and have those standards changed?
A: We have small business lending. We have business banking. We have commercial. We have different segments based on the company segment size. We have loans out there, Small Business Administration loans. We are a big SBA lender — that works incredibly well in this time of economic cycle.
Our business banking team is doing loans. They are out there meeting new customers. Is it as large as it was? No, because companies are under pressure. You have to often times help small businesses for a period of time to help them get to the point and say "here is what it will look like to get this piece of property or to get this working capital that you are going to need to increase your line of credit."
Sometimes you can't do the loan the first time out, but businesses' financials change, and we try to educate our customers about what it would need to look like, what we can do, what we can't do.
I think that the place that the bank plays a big responsibility is letting the customers know here is why we can or can't, here's how we could and here's how you could get there. The business centers make the proper decisions for the company based upon that. So yes, it's tougher than it was, but it is not non-existent.
Q: Is it standards-wise that you are being tougher?
A: If businesses are weaker, it's not the standard that is changing, it's just that they don't qualify for the existing standards. Oftentimes in small businesses you see people using their personal unsecured line of credit, start ups, those types of things. We try to look at them. Would you fit for an SBA loan? There are ways to fit the right customers into the right products.
There is a wide array of products and services to go into, and it is understanding how mature is your business. There is a very in-depth underwriting process and putting you in the right place. If you come in, you're a business and you walk into one of our banking stores, depending upon the size we may say to you in the banking store "this is not where you need to be. You need to go meet with our business banking folks." Their means are more sophisticated. They have a wider array of products to choose from. The more sophisticated the business, the more sophisticated the product. I think what you have to do as a business lender is make sure you understand the business and then put them with the people that understand that business.
We are pretty committed to following what we call segmentation, putting the customer where it makes sense for the customer. That way they can get the best advice, they can have the best chance at qualifying for whatever the appropriate product or service may be.
Q: Are you seeing at this time more people who are seeking loans?
A: Not really. You don't see tremendous activity of people coming in and saying "increase my line." I don't think that there are a lot of business out there that are looking to increase their debt exposure right now. You have businesses that we work with for years, we know them, they know us, we continue to look at their financials. Business owners are very savvy by the very nature they are running a business. They know. They understand what the lending environment is.
Q: We established you all have the largest market share. What percent?
A: 16%, that's from the last FDIC report.
Q: What are your thoughts on the bank bailouts and federal aid coming into the banking system?
A: There are things I don't comment on because we are still experiencing it, and I think we have to see what it means to us, and then I'll be able to comment but right now it would be speculation.
Q: What is the bank's community involvement, and what will it be as the merger continues?
A: We are huge partners to the community here and have been and that's not changing. We are operating for the rest of this year under two separate companies for our community involvement.
Q: Through 2009?
A: Yes. We have our budgets and our commitment that we've made and we are absolutely going to fulfill those commitments that we've made. These organizations in our community count on the business supporting what they are doing. We are going to continue our community efforts and support. One of my jobs is to be active in the community and to encourage my teammates to be active in the community and give back.
As a big employer in Southeast Florida, we donate lots of money, lots of man hours, to make sure that our communities are better and we are going to be committed to that. If you look at Wells Fargo and Wachovia, we are both very philanthropic companies and that's not going to change. We've continued to honor the commitments that we've made and we will continue to do so.
Q: What's your personal community involvement or any plans?
A: I'm currently involved in the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the Beacon Council, Florida International University and the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale. My whole leadership team will be very active in community events and giving back. Last year I think we had 700 people at the March of Dimes walk, and we are going to continue to be there. There are 3,400 of us here; we are bound to make an impact.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your family and what hobbies you have?
A: I'm an avid traveler all over the world. It's what I do at every spare moment. I want to see the whole world. I'm committed. All my extra income goes toward travel. That's my passion. I take two pretty significant trips a year outside the country. I just think it makes you see the world in such a way when you are exposed to different cultures and people.
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