Synovus to take swing at timber business

Synovus Financial is expanding its agriculture lending business with an eye toward the timber industry in its own backyard.

The $53 billion-asset Columbus, Ga., company announced several hires Wednesday from Wells Fargo to fill out a new team that will focus, in part, on lumber borrowers south of the so-called Fall Line in its home state. The area is a geological belt cutting across Georgia from Columbus to Augusta. Its forests have served the timber industry for generations and is fetching skyrocketing prices for lumber in 2020 due to effects of the coronavirus pandemic and recent wildfires.

About 2% of the bank’s traditional commercial and industrial loan portfolio, or about $400 million, is made up of ag loans, according to a recent regulatory filing. The new unit operate as part of Synovus’ community banking division.

“Agriculture is one of the largest industries in Synovus’ footprint and a major source of economic growth and development in many communities we serve,” said Chief Community Banking Officer Wayne Akins in a release announcing the new move.

Synovus agribusiness banker Andy Thompson will be on the new team. All four of the bank’s new hires came from Wells Fargo. They are: Clint Hood, a specialist in credit and risk in the agribusiness and timber industries, who lives on a farm in Dublin, Ga.; Kimberly Powell, who oversaw a portfolio of loans to timber processors and row crop farmers; Anita Hatfield; who was the primary analyst and underwriting for agriculture loans at Wells Fargo across the South; and Jo Creel, an agriculture team relationship manager.

Prices for softwood lumber have increased 45% year-over-year as of October, according to an index published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A rebound in homebuilding this year, coupled with a pinch on lumber supply chains stemming from the pandemic and wildfires in western states, has pushed up prices, according to a recent report published by Forisk, a consultancy firm to the forestry industry.

The Synovus team will also focus on ag businesses in parts of Florida and Alabama.

Akins said the new team will be a “source of value creation” for “a growing number of agriculture and forestry customers in our footprint.”

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