FirstMerit Corp. has weathered the worst of the economic crisis in strong financial shape and is positioned to grow both organically and through acquisition, its leader said at the bank’s annual meeting Wednesday.
The Akron-based bank, with operations in Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and Chicago, employs 3,000 people. It is the fourth largest bank in Ohio with $14.4 billion in assets and 38th largest bank in the U.S. with a market capitalization of $1.8 billion, Paul G. Greig, bank chairman and chief executive officer, told about 100 people at the John S. Knight Convention Center.
A bank’s financial performance is always top of mind with investors and until a few years ago most customers wouldn’t pay as much attention as they do now to a bank’s balance sheets, Greig said.
Few competing banks can boast FirstMerit’s financial strength, he said.
The bank was able to weather the storm by doing comprehensive reviews of loans five years ago and selling the loans considered high risk. The bank also has created a culture of credit quality when reviewing its loans, he said.
Those moves have paid off, Greig said.
In 2011, the total commercial loan portfolio increased 38 percent over the year before, with a 14 percent increase in average commercial loans from the fourth quarter of 2010 to the same time in 2011.
Core deposits, which are deposits that are not CDs and are considered a sign of stability, are 84 percent of total deposits in 2011. In 2007, core deposits were 57 percent of deposits, he said.
“We have had steady and strong core deposit growth,” Greig said.
He told shareholders the bank has taken advantage of opportunities in 2010 to expand in the Chicago market and now has 46 branches in that area.
“We continue to evaluate additional opportunities within our market and adjacent to our footprint,” he said.
However, Greig said, Ohio and Akron remain top priorities for FirstMerit.
“I want to be clear, we have unwavering commitment to our core market in Ohio,” he said.
In the business portion of the meeting, shareholders re-elected the board of directors and ratified Ernst & Young as the independent registered public accounting firm.
The directors re-elected are: Steven H. Baer, a member of Rally Capital, LLC, Chicago, a private investment banking and financial consulting firm; Karen S. Belden, a Realtor with DeHoff Realtors in Canton; R. Cary Blair, former chairman and CEO of the Westfield Group; John C. Blickle, president of Rubber City McDonald’s;
Robert W. Briggs, former president of the GAR Foundation and current chair of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Richard Colella, managing partner of Colella & Weir, P.L.L. in Lorain;
Gina D. France, president of France Strategic Partners LLC in Medina; Terry L. Haines, retired chairman, president and CEO of A. Schulman, Inc.; J. Michael Hochschwender, president and CEO of The Smithers Group;
Clifford J. Isroff, retired chairman and secretary of I Corp. and president and chief operating officer of Sterling Jewelers; Philip A. Lloyd II, CEO of McDowell Family LLC and McDowell Properties; and Greig.
A proposal to approve, on an advisory basis, the compensation of FirstMerit’s named executive officers was not approved by shareholders. The voting margin was not announced at the meeting and the numbers were not immediately available.
An identical “Say on Pay” proposal was approved at the 2011 annual meeting.
There were no shareholder proposals.