Originally created 08/08/06

Bank's leader sweats details



With 28 branches and $1.6 billion in local deposits, Wachovia is the big kid on the block in the Augusta-Aiken market.

The bank's new market president, Richard Fairey, isn't walking with a swagger, though.

The 37-year-old Augusta native, who recently replaced Jeff Spears as head of the region's largest financial institution, said his priority is to make sure the bank's personal touch is proportional to its giant footprint.

"We're not going out there saying 'We're the biggest bank in town,'" said Mr. Fairey, who was promoted from his position as Wachovia market president in Dalton, Ga., in May. "What we're focusing on is, how do you make that big bank feel like a community bank?"

Mr. Spears left Wachovia in early May to serve as president of a startup banking company called CSRA Financial Corp., which is backed by an investment group led by local businessmen Paul S. Simon and Weldon Wyatt.

Mr. Fairey, who has worked for Wachovia since 1997, jumped at the opportunity to come back to Augusta, where he got his start at the Bankers First Kroger in-store branch on Columbia Road at age 17.

"It made perfect sense from a business standpoint and a personal standpoint," said Mr. Fairey, whose wife, Kim, is also an Augusta native. They have two children.

With his in-the-trenches experience, Mr. Fairey is spending more time in the branches than in his office in the Wachovia Building on Broad Street. If a bank can't provide good service at the teller line, he says, then it can't do a good job with mortgages, private banking and commercial lending.

"When you walk into our branch we want you to have the best experience you can," he said. "We drill it down to the point where our tellers say, 'May I help you' instead of 'Can I help you.'"

As the market president of Wachovia, Mr. Fairey sits in one of the highest-profile seats in the local business community. The bank's local operations are the legacy of the venerable Georgia Railroad Bank, the Augusta-based institution acquired by First Union.

Already the market's biggest bank, First Union became even bigger after it merged with Wachovia in 2001 and adopted its corporate name.

"This is a pretty big honor," he acknowledged.

The Evans High School grad reports to Augusta native Paul Menk, Wachovia's regional president for greater Georgia, who held Mr. Fairey's current job from 2000 to 2004.

Though he hopes to "build a block" on top of what Mr. Menk accomplished in the market during his tenure, Mr. Fairey said he'll be pleased to help shake the bank's reputation as big and bureaucratic.

"We want customers to know they've got an 800-pound gorilla working for them instead of against them," he said.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

AUGUSTA-AIKEN'S BIGGEST BANKS


The following is a list of the top five banks operating in the Augusta-Aiken area, ranked by their local deposits as of June 30, 2005. Deposits are considered an indicator of a bank's overall presence in a market.

Local offices Market share Local deposits (Percent)
Wachovia Bank 28 $1.6 billion 29.2
Regions Bank 23 $677.4 million 12.5
Bank of America 11 $672.9 million 12.3
Georgia Bank & Trust Co. 8 $617.1 million 11.3
SunTrust Bank 12 $435.5 million 7.9

Source: Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.