The Lawyers’ Bank
Dwight Hill Leads Sabadell United Bank’s Professional Team
A young South Florida attorney starting her practice might need financial advice and assistance to launch an effective advertising or public relations program. An older attorney nearing retirement might want financial guidance about “cashing out” his equity in the law firm and investing the proceeds.
“For more than 35 years, we have served as a trusted advisor for attorneys, accountants and other professionals facing important financial decisions,” says Dwight L. Hill, president of Sabadell United Bank, N.A., Miami. “That’s why many of our banking clients have been with us for decades.”
At Sabadell, Hill leads a growing professional team that works with startup firms, merging firms and growing firms that need support with their transactions, working capital and longer-term financing. “I find that attorneys are intelligent, hard working and very motivated to be successful,” he says.
“However, they tend to focus their energy on serving their clients, and often need support on the business and financial aspects of their practices.”
Having worked with attorneys throughout his banking career, Hill says South Florida law firms have a wide variety of financial needs. In a recent talk to the Florida chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, Hill outlined the differences between plaintiff’s and defense litigation firms. “A plaintiff’s firm needs financing to carry its cases and overhead until those matters are resolved,” he says. “On the other hand, defense firms can expect to receive a steady paycheck, but need to maintain some form of cash reserve in case the client delays payment.”
Hill adds that Sabadell educates and trains its banking representatives to understand the differences among family law, real estate, trusts and estate and other types of practices. As he says, “That is one of the things that really sets us apart in the marketplace.”
Deep Roots in Florida
Back in the 1880s, Hill’s grandfather Charles F. Blackburn and his great-uncles came from England to become cattle ranchers in Florida. “He found a higher calling and became a Methodist preacher who covered the southeast coast,” Hill recalls. “Later, he founded First United Methodist Church in Miami, where Hill’s mother was born.
Raised on the state’s Gulf Coast, Hill grew up in Sarasota, where his father Dwight had been a practicing lawyer. “My family wanted me to be a preacher or a lawyer, but neither really fit my personality,” Hill says. “I always liked business, and that’s the direction I took.”
Hill wound up earning a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Florida in 1978, and planned to become an entrepreneur. After graduation he met and married Mary Kennerk, a Miami native.
While in college, Hill took a summer job with Ellis Banking Corp. in Sarasota and enjoyed the experience. “I realized that becoming a banking professional would allow me to meet and learn about many different types of businesses,” he says.
In the early 1980s, Miami was the place to be in Florida banking, Hill says. After graduation, he joined Pan American Bank, working with longtime South Florida banking leaders Bill Allen and Bill Morrison. “It was a great way to get into banking,” he says. “I learned something new every day.”
But by 1984, Hill was ready for a change. He was considering a job offer from Southeast Bank, at the time the largest Miami-based bank, when he got a call from community bankers Gerald Katcher and Howard Scharlin. They invited Hill to join them at United National (the predecessor to Mellon United and Sabadell), which they had founded in 1978. “I liked their approach to the market, and joined them in 1984,” Hill says. “It turned out to be best career move I ever made.”
United National’s founders had a vision of growing a small bank by providing a higher level of service. “They realized that people whose time was really valuable — like lawyers and other professionals — didn’t want to waste a lot of time and energy doing their banking,” Hill says. United National soon became known as “The Lawyers’ Bank” and began building a professional clientele.
“Back in the 1980s, banking was conducted face-to-face or on the phone,” Hill says. “We would also use courier services to pick up deposits from our busy professional clients. Through the years, we have invested in all the technology options, so clients can choose how to interact with us, including online and mobile banking. But we still make it easy for our clients to talk with us, and I have my mobile number printed on my business card.”
When not at work or talking with clients, Hill enjoys spending time with his wife and their three daughters in the Keys enjoying the water. “I used to sail, but now spend time fishing,” Hill says. “Florida’s great environment has always been important to our family. As a child, I remember my uncles taking me to state parks to count birds and check the alligator population, and I still like being outdoors.”
Hill has also been active in the community, he served as chairman of the American Red Cross of Greater Miami & The Keys and as a board member of the Children’s Home Society and CarrFour Supportive Housing. He is now a member of the board of WLRN, helping the public television and radio station stay connected and relevant to the needs of the South Florida audience. He is also a member of the Florida Bankers Association.
A Growing Regional Bank
Since the 1980s, United National has gone through several changes of ownership, while retaining its core banking team. When Pittsburgh-based Mellon bought the bank in 1997, and renamed it Mellon United National Bank, the company kept then president Mario Trueba in place, along with Hill and other United National executives. Katcher also stayed on, serving as chairman until 2009.
The next year, Banco Sabadell, one of Spain’s largest banks, finalized its acquisition of Mellon United National Bank following its initial entry into the South Florida market with TransAtlantic Bank (2007) and BBVA’s private banking business (2008).
Since 2010, Sabadell United Bank has continued to grow, and now has nearly $5 billion in assets, with 500 employees in 26 offices in six Florida counties. One of the bank’s key business units is Sabadell Bank & Trust, which provides investment management, private banking, and fiduciary services. Banco Sabadell also has a full-service international branch in Miami serving non-resident high-net-worth individuals, families and businesses.
Looking ahead, Hill says Sabadell United Bank has been given some “strong challenges” from its parent. “We want to become one of the largest Florida-based banks by the end of the decade,” he says. “That might mean looking at new markets in the state or acquiring other banking operations.”
At the same, time, Hill wants to ensure that the bank has the people and systems in place to deliver personalized service to its clients. “Fortunately, Banco Sabadell has the resources that allow us to compete with the giant national banks, while our team understands the importance of being as efficient and nimble as a community bank,” he says.
Hill adds the vision of the bank’s founders is still very much a part of Sabadell’s culture. “We treat our clients like partners in the firm,” he says. “We believe in the concept of the banker as a trusted advisor, and we try to deliver that support every day.”
South Florida Legal Guide 2015 Financial Edition