'The First' to change the face of banking

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Federal Reserve Board approved the $1.5 billion stock deal for Hancock Bank to take over the New Orleans based Whitney Bank this week. But in order for the deal to meet federal guidelines Hancock Bank has to let a few of the Whitney Branches go.

Now we know a Hattiesburg based bank called "The First" will be the company to purchase those Whitney banks, and more than double the size of their customer base.

The First CEO and Bank President Hoppy Cole made a big announcement Tuesday night that will change the face of banking on the Coast.

"We are delighted to announce today that The First has entered into a purchase and assumption agreement with Hancock Bank of Louisiana and Whitney National Bank," Cole said.

Hancock Holding Company will take over Gulf Coast banking rival Whitney Holding Corporation early next month. But because of federal banking regulations, some Whitney Branches had to be sold off. That's where The First Bancshares, Inc. stepped in.

"To acquire eight Whitney locations, seven in the Gulf Coast area of Mississippi, Hancock and Harrison counties, and one location in Bogalusa, Louisiana."

As part of the branch acquisition, The First expects to acquire about $68 million in loans and to assume approximately $195 million in deposits. That will bring The First's assets to about $735 million with $632 million in deposits.

"In terms of size, that ranks us 11th for banks headquartered in Mississippi, in terms of deposits, and 13th in terms of asset size."

Hoppy Cole said First banks now serve about 12,500 customers. With this acquisition, that number will rise dramatically.

"The branches that we'll be acquiring have 15,500 customers, so we are more than doubling our customer base, that is extremely exciting to us."

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