City Exploring Changes in Exclusive SunTrust Relationship - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

10/19/04

City Exploring Changes in Exclusive SunTrust Relationship

The City of Savannah may be changing its banking policies. City leaders want to break up what they call a monopoly on handling the city's money. The city does about $204 million worth of annual business.

This month, its contract with SunTrust expires, and leaders want to even the playing field so all banks have a shot at getting a piece of the city's banking pie.

"We want to spread it around," said city councilman Jeff Felser.

Felser is pushing for city banking policy reform. He says when the city picks a bank, the large institutions have an advantage over local and minority banks. The bid process is all or nothing, leaving what he calls an unfair playing field.

Instead, the city is moving toward allowing all banks to bid on different aspects of Savannah's annual business.

"It's very important the process be far more fair and equitable," said Felser. "We need to try to reach out to minority and local banks, since they are the ones specifically investing in Savannah."

Felser insists these changes won't rule out the big banks like SunTrust, but rule in smaller ones, like the Coastal Bank.

"There's room for both of us," said Mike Owens, president of the Coastal Bank. He says a small bank getting a piece of the city's banking needs will only trickle down to citizens.

"We are able to go out into the community and lend the money to help the businesses and the customers in the community grow," he said.

"They will be able to get that new car or that first home and we can move people to be more successful and improve the quality of life in Savannah," added Felser.

SunTrust declined to comment on the city's possible banking changes, which could also include shortening the five-year contract to three years.

City leaders expect to have their new banking policies finalized in the next few weeks.

Reported by: Don Logana, dlogana@wtoc.com

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