Georgia bank enters local health care fray

Former First Tennessee, CapStar managers off to fast start, eye $100M a year

The third-largest bank holding company based in Georgia has stepped into the Nashville market with ambitious plans to become a player in corporate health care finance.

Leading the charge for United Community Banks, which has more than $7 billion in assets, are Jeff Mastroleo and Julie Varner. Mastroleo is a former senior vice president at First Tennessee Bank, while Varner had been senior risk officer at CapStar Bank — where she was part of the launch of a dedicated health care group around the turn of the year. The duo joined United Community along with an analyst early in the second quarter and already had booked $18 million in loans by the end of June. On the company's recent second-quarter conference call, President and CEO Jimmy Tallent said the small team has a number of other loans approved and in the pipeline.

"We see outstanding opportunities to grow this business throughout our markets," said Tallent, whose organization runs more than 100 offices from Georgia's coast to North Carolina and into East Tennessee.

United Community (Ticker: UCBI) is focusing its Middle Tennessee health care push on middle-market entities with sales of $10 million to $500 million rather than smaller firms such as physician offices. Charles Chamberlain, senior vice president and director of corporate banking at United Community, said the bank will handle some loans on its own, lead a group of banks in other deals or buy into loan syndications led by another lender. His team's goal, he said, is to bring in between five and 10 new relationships and produce about $100 million in loans per year.

Chamberlain said he hopes to soon add another relationship manager to the Mastroleo/Varner team, which is based in temporary offices in the Creekside Crossing office complex in Maryland Farms. (A permanent space there should be finished by late September.) Over time, the bank will look at growing its local operation into different parts of the banking spectrum, including a retail presence.

"Once we get to $300 million in three to four years, we'll have a base to do some other things," Chamberlain said.

More broadly, Chamberlain said United Community is looking to more than double its asset base in the next five to seven years. The company booked a big second-quarter profit thanks primarily to the reversal of a $272 million allowance on a deferred tax asset.