Hancock Bank & Whitney Bank announce merger plans

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Two well-known banks, each with more than a century of serving the Gulf Coast, may be joining forces to become a financial powerhouse. On Wednesday, Hancock Bank announced a deal to buy Whitney National Bank using $1.4 billion in stock. Officials say the merger, if approved, would make Hancock Bank the 32nd largest bank headquartered in the United States.

News of a possible merger quickly traveled to New York City.

Hancock Bank President and CEO Carl Chaney said, "You would not believe the text messages, the emails, phone calls that we've received this morning from analysts on Wall Street that have known the history of the organizations saying 'It's about time'."

Chaney said with Whitney's $12 billion in total assets, his company would become a $20 billion financial institution. Hancock, which never took federal bailout money, would accept responsibility for the $300 million that Whitney borrowed from the feds.

"We are going to pay every penny of that back to the U.S. taxpayers. That's the right thing to do," Chaney said. "We're proud to have said, 'Thanks, but no thanks" to government bailout money. Whenever we partner up with somebody who did, we're taking that obligation and giving that back. Every cent."

Should the merger go forward, Hancock Bank officials say Louisiana and Texas operations will still use the Whitney name.

"In New Orleans particularly, the name Whitney Bank is very very strong. Whitney has been around for 127 years and has been a pillar of that community," said Chaney. "So that was not even a negotiating point."

The Whitney announcement came almost a year to the day that Hancock Bank acquired Florida-based People's First Community Bank worth $1.7 billion.

Chaney said, "This is a big merger for us. We will focus all of our attention to making sure we fully integrate this transaction before we look at other opportunities. But are we through? No. We'll continue to grow. "

Hancock Bank officials say shareholders, customers and business clients stand to benefit from the planned merger. Hancock Bank's Mississippi customers will be able to travel from Houston to St. Petersburg and find a branch that won't charge them ATM fees.

"They'll have nearly 400 ATMs across five states in which they can conduct their banking business," said Chaney.

Hancock Bank officials say they'll take a close look at the services offered by both banks and keep those that are most beneficial to customers.

"Whitney is known as a very very strong business bank meaning they had a very large  commercial loan portfolio," he said. "Hancock, while we have commercial loans, we also have a very large retail consumer book. So putting those two groups of customers together provides for a great overlap and cross opportunities for our customers."

Customers will likely see some branches close.

Chaney said, "There's going to be some instances where Whitney and Hancock are right across the street. It doesn't make sense to operate two branches right across the street. So what we'll do is we'll do a study and see which branch makes the most sense."

The number of Hancock employees would more than double from 2,000 to 5,000. Officials admit after merger, some positions won't be needed.

"To the extent that we can consolidate employees, we will. But when you look at the back office operations, clearly there is going to be some duplications of back office services. So we'll look at opportunities to reassign people whose jobs may be eliminated," said Chaney.

Officials say the merger would have no affect on people who have their mortgages with Whitney bank.

Whitney and Hancock bank shareholders would have to approve the merger. Hancock officials say they are considering holding a vote at the annual stockholder meeting in March. Bank officials say the U.S. Federal Reserves, FDIC, and bank regulators would also have to approve the merger before it could move forward.

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