Standing Tall As Florida’s Largest Community Bank, CenterState Expands its Presence in Orlando

Center State Building

CenterState Bank’s logo is popping up all over downtown Orlando this year: on the top of a 16-story office building, on the video billboard and scoreboard screens at Camping World Stadium, and on the signage in the stadium’s newest premium club space.

Meet the newest financial institution in the neighborhood — only it isn’t new at all. With a 25-year history, CenterState has become the largest community bank in the state. It operates 128 locations throughout Florida and Georgia, employs 1,800 people and holds more than $12 billion in assets.

CenterState started in Winter Haven and has continued to grow through acquisitions, including three in the past several years in the Orlando area: First Southern Bank, Sunshine Bank — which was the former Florida Bank of Commerce — and Harbor Community Bank. It has hired additional commercial banking relationship managers to bring the total to 11 serving Orange County.

“As time has progressed, we’ve identified those metro markets where we need to be,” said Community President Brett Barnhardt, who oversees the bank’s Orlando Osceola market. “Orlando is right in the middle of so many good things going on in the state. One of the biggest challenges for us is to let people know who CenterState is. We are well-known in the smaller Florida markets where we had historically been dominant, but in Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami, CenterState has not been a brand name.”

Earlier this year, the blue-and-teal CenterState logo took its place on top of the office building at 20 North Orange Avenue. The bank built out the space and opened a modern branch on the ground floor and set up a team of almost 30 commercial relationship managers and credit specialists on the 13th floor.

“We wanted to plant our flag downtown to let people know we’re serious about being here,” Barnhardt said. “It shows people we’re in this for the long term. And it gives us a downtown presence with a state-of-the-art office on the first floor for customers.

“So it’s a statement play, and we think it’s really going to raise the brand awareness. It already has.”


CenterState provides traditional retail, commercial, mortgage, wealth management and U.S. Small Business Administration services. It also has a national footprint through a correspondent banking division that allows smaller financial institutions all over the U.S. to purchase services through CenterState to serve their own customers.

“We have the capability of being a great partner to a mom-and-pop business or a multimillion-dollar company,” Barnhardt said. “We’ve got the bells and whistles of all the large banks, and we have the size now so we can compete with anyone in any space.”

The market that includes Orlando is on pace to make over $200 million in loans this year, Barnhardt said. “Our particular market carries about $800 million in assets, which is a pretty good size community bank within in its own right. People should take comfort that they’re getting local decisions, but due to our size as a company we have the wherewithal to handle credits of virtually any size. We have a great group of bankers, too.

Having the right banker can make all the difference in helping a company grow, said Adam Wonus, whose company is a customer. Wonus and his business partner, Mike Krause, operate Atrium Management Company in Lake Mary, which owns numerous residential rental properties and also provides management services for other property owners. Their banker is Chris Cucci, a senior vice president and commercial relationship manager at CenterState.

“Chris has a great understanding about what it takes to get the work done,” Wonus said. “It’s great for me as a business owner, because I have someone who works just as hard as I do. I’ll call him at 6 o’clock at night and he will get on the phone and help me.”

In July, Forbes magazine named CenterState the top bank in Florida on its first-ever “Best-in-State Banks” listing. Forbes formed the rankings through a national survey of 25,000 customers based on five categories: trust, terms and conditions, branch services, digital services and financial advice. Only 124 banks made the list.

“This is quite an honor for CenterState,” bank’s President, Mark Thompson, said at the time in a press release. “I’m proud for our employees, who have earned this recognition from our customer base. The bank was founded upon a set of core values, including ‘world class service’ and ‘relationship banking,’ which have inspired our approach to the business since the beginning.”


The bank’s core values were written to inspire the employees and reflect character and influence. The bank does not take them lightly, Barnhardt said. They are:

Local market driven – “We run a decentralized model here,” Barnhardt said. “Each community is very distinct. … We make our decisions in each local market. That sets us apart because we can be more responsive. … We’re not calling Atlanta to make a credit decision.”

A long-term horizon — “A lot of people ask us what the long-term play is for us,” Barnhardt said. “It’s to hold on and become what Barnett Bank used to be in the 1980s, Florida’s community bank. We’ve done it in a way similar to how they did it: organic growth, management lift-outs of key people from other banks, and acquisitions, which has been a key piece of how we’ve grown in the last eight years.”

World-class service — “We try to strike the balance between giving our customers high-tech avenues and also a personal touch where we know their name if they decide to come visit us in the branch,” Barnhardt said. “We create an environment that is easy on the eye, customer-friendly and up-to-date. Everything from the landscaping to the interior design is warm and inviting to the customer.”

Relationship banking — “We have people we’ve banked for generations,” Barnhardt said. “We have bankers who may have passed through three or four banks in their career, and the customers have followed them for 30 years. It’s the people who bank with the people.”

Faith and family — “We want you to have a commitment to things outside the bank, including family, that are far more important than what goes on inside the bank,” Barnhardt said. “In our mind, if coming to work is the most important thing in your life, then you need to change some things around.

“We have very little turnover. It’s not uncommon to see places have a lot of changing of the guard. It just doesn’t happen here. To me, that’s the best testament to how it feels to work here. It’s rare to have someone leave.”


Being a community bank, CenterState is especially proud of the work its employees do in the neighborhoods where its branches are located. In 2017, employees throughout the bank volunteered thousands of hours, participating in 340 events and activities with 100 organizations.

Bankers in the Orlando metro area collect bicycles for children in foster care, visit the elderly in assisted living facilities, raise money for scholarships, help feed the homeless, and build houses with Habitat for Humanity. They serve on boards of directors and advisory councils that help local businesses and oversee local arts and sports activities. They are members or leaders of local Rotary Clubs, chambers of commerce and places of worship, as well as associations for homebuilders, Realtors and CEOs.

But CenterState wanted to take its presence in the Orlando area to another level and become involved in something that would allow the bank and the community to get to know each other better. The idea came from Phil Zeman, one of CenterState’s Orlando commercial relationship managers, who introduced Barnhardt to Steve Hogan, the CEO of Florida Citrus Sports, which operates Camping World Stadium.

“We were looking to partner with someone here in Orlando that shares our values for helping the community, and to do it in a forum where we could gain some visibility,” Barnhardt said. “Florida Citrus Sports does all that.”

Through Florida Citrus Sports, the bank got involved with LIFT Orlando, a nonprofit that has mobilized area leaders and local residents to revitalize the neighborhoods surrounding the stadium, collectively known today as the Neighborhoods of West Lakes.

“The more we found out about it, the more we realized it’s a natural for us,” Barnhardt said. “We try to spread our charitable efforts among several segments, whether it be education, healthcare or affordable housing, and LIFT does all of those things in one project.

“This is exactly the kind of thing a community bank needs to be doing,” he said. “We put our CRA officer in contact with them, and we’ve pledged $100,000 to help with the project. What’s neat about LIFT is that you have this multimillion- dollar investment in that stadium, and so much going on inside it, why not spread the love around it to a community that needs some help? LIFT is providing that.”


In 2017, CenterState was ranked as the 21st top-performing bank in its asset class by S&P Global Market Intelligence. The bank is continuing with an aggressive growth strategy and has brought on new board members in the past year who include Jody Dreyer, a retired senior executive at The Walt Disney Company, and David Salyers, former head of brand activation for Chick-fil-A.

The new presence in the downtown building will help because motorists can see it on the Orlando skyline as they drive by on Interstate 4. “I-4 is one of the most heavily traveled thoroughfares in the country,” Barnhardt said. “So from a company standpoint, it wasn’t just to benefit our market here in Orlando. It helps us throughout Florida because people are passing through here all the time. We’ve received a lot of great feedback on it.”

Want More i4? Subscribe to the Magazine.

About the author

Diane Sears

A career journalist, author and advocate for business growth, Diane Sears is the CEO, editor and publisher of i4 Business. She is also the founder and president of DiVerse Media LLC, which has handled content marketing projects including nonfiction books, white papers, executive speeches and scripts since 2000. She is co-founder of the nonprofit Go for the Greens Foundation, which helps connect women-owned and minority-owned business owners with growth opportunities internationally.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment