by Christine Hansen for MDBizMedia
When Darius Davis began his banking career over 25 years ago, he learned early that making personal connections was important.
“I started at the bottom as a collector, right out of college at Wachovia Bank & Trust,” he said. “I had a bank car, I had a list of delinquent loan customers and I was out collecting. It was interesting. I would have to repossess cars and mobile homes to try to collect payments. It was a really good way to start in banking because I learned about people. ”
Davis began his banking career in 1984. After two years, he was promoted to personal banker and developed and managed individual banking relationships, including consumer loans, mortgage loans and even commercial lending. In 1988, he was promoted to branch manager, and in 1992, he was promoted again to Private & Business Banker where he helped solicit, develop and manage the relationships of small businesses and high net worth individuals. He stayed with Wachovia for ten years, learning the banking trade but always felt that something was missing.
In 1994, he decided to look into community banking. He researched local community banks and contacted Mechanics & Farmers Bank, a local African-American owned bank in North Carolina. He was hired as a Commercial Loan Officer overseeing new business development. It was there where he says he learned the most about banking and really got the chance to work with people in the community.
“At a community bank is really where I learned banking. At a big bank, you’re sort of compartmentalized – you don’t really understand everything you are doing and the impact it has,” he said. “When I went into community banking, I really learned a lot more – it’s much smaller – a small business – and you get to learn all aspects of banking.”
Within eight months of his new position at Mechanics and Farmers Bank, Davis was promoted to a newly created position: Branch Sales & Quality Assurance Manager and assistant to the CEO. In this role, he created and implemented the bank’s Business Development program. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to Senior Vice President and was charged with improving the bank’s lagging performance in the state’s largest market.
In 1998, seeking a new challenge, Davis took a job at United National Bank, the first and only minority-owned bank in Fayetteville and Cumberland County, North Carolina as the Director, President and Chief Executive Officer. Davis’s main mission in that role was to turnaround the troubled financial institution. In his two-year tenure, Davis reduced the bank’s troubled loan portfolio by 30 percent, refined the capital structure, reduced staff turnover by 40 percent, produced an investment strategy and enhanced the bank’s poor reputation within the community. The bank was ultimately bought by Omni National Bank.
A native of New York, Davis was looking to move closer to his hometown, but still wanted to stay in community banking. In 2002, he settled in Baltimore and was hired as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Harbor Bank of Maryland, a minority-owned community bank. Founded in 1982, the Harbor Bank of Maryland began with $2.1 million of assets and today boasts $304 million in assets, with branches located across the State. Davis felt it was important to keep his banking roots in the African-American community and the Harbor Bank’s rich history in the Baltimore metropolitan area was a perfect fit.
“As I moved around in my career in banking, I realized that the African-American community did not understand the banking products and services. I felt this was an opportunity to become more involved in educating the community,” he said. “During my development, I had a lot of people who assisted me along the way, and this was really a way for me to give back. Community service is very important to me and working in African-American owned banks was a good fit for me.”
No matter what the economy looks like, Davis feels that the Harbor Bank of Maryland still has a competitive advantage over national banks, and despite tough economic times, Harbor Bank has continued to concentrate on their Main Street clients.
“As a community bank we know the area. The Chair of the bank, Joe Haskins, this is his home,” he said. “We have a vested interest in this area. We can compete against national banks because people feel like this is their neighborhood, their family.”
Davis also notes that as the State continues to work to create and retain jobs, small businesses, who represent 97 percent of all employers in the State, should take advantage of the programs the State provides.
“I am proud to say that Harbor Bank was the first bank to utilize the State’s Small Business Loan Guaranty program,” he said. “The main objective is to continue to be there to finance small businesses. The main issue that most small businesses have is access to capital. And a lot of times it’s an education process. By us being a community bank – we have local decision-making. We get to know these customers.”
Last September, President Obama signed the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, a bill that expanded the capacity of small business loan guarantee programs, and that was based in part on Maryland’s MIDFA loan guarantee program, which has helped to leverage more than $2.2 billion of private sector financing over the years for Maryland businesses.
Today, Davis sits on several boards and commissions, including the Emerging Technology Centers (ETC). With his current role as Chief Operating Officer at Harbor Bank, Davis hopes to combine his knowledge and experience in banking to help fund more technology companies in Maryland. He said most banks don’t want to invest in tech companies until they are up and running because of the risk that is involved, but working with the board of the ETC, he hopes to line up venture capitalists with these companies so that the banks can invest in them. Davis attended InvestMaryland day in Annapolis earlier this month and said that Harbor Bank is interested in looking at tech companies.
“The way technology is going now, we have to be a player. A lot of these companies have trouble getting start-up financing, but once they do, their products soar and they become very successful,” he said. “Our goal is to partner with the companies early on and as they grow, they will know they had a partner in us from the beginning. We are not just a business and a bank trying to make a profit. We really are trying to make a difference in the community.”