A Private Bank for Business
David Seleski Directs Stonegate Bank’s Rapid Growth
When David Seleski, president and CEO of Stonegate Bank, gets a call from a journalist these days, the conversation usually revolves around Cuba. After all, Stonegate made history on July 21 by establishing the first U.S. correspondent banking relationship with Cuba in more than five decades.
“This is another step in terms of normalizing commercial relations between the U.S. and Cuba,” says Seleski. “The ability to move money easily between the two countries will only increase trade and benefit American companies wishing to do business in Cuba. We are very proud to be a part of this process that is going to benefit both countries in the future.”
But Stonegate is much more than a new player in the intricate dance of U.S.-Cuba relations. Under Seleski’s leadership, the 10-year-old bank has grown swiftly through expansions and acquisitions, while staying focused on serving attorneys, accountants, physicians and other professionals.
“Our mission is to be recognized as the premier ‘Private Bank for Business in Florida,’” says Seleski. “We provide innovative solutions tailored to each client’s needs, along with unsurpassed service, while building a nimble and responsive banking organization that is accountable to the communities we serve.”
A Varied Banking Career
A South Florida native, Seleski earned his bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Florida, followed by graduate work at the University of Virginia. Deciding on a career in banking, he joined Southeast Bank in 1989. He worked in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, where he received his formal credit training and served as a credit analyst and commercial lending officer.
In 1991, Seleski joined Enterprise National Bank in Palm Beach Gardens as a commercial lender, and moved to Compass Bank in 1992. In his six years with Compass Bank, Seleski focused on retail banking, ultimately managing five branch offices with assets totaling more than $250 million.
Next, Seleski served as vice president and manager of private banking for SunTrust for Miami Beach and Bal Harbour, and as regional manager of private banking for Southeast Florida for SouthTrust, where he started the private banking division. In 2002, he became president and chief executive officer of the Southeast Florida division of Florida Bank, N.A., until its sale in 2004 to The South Financial Group, Inc.
Founding a New Regional Bank
With his experience in commercial lending, retail, private banking and overall leadership, Seleski founded Stonegate Bank in 2005 after raising $40 million for the new venture, the state’s second largest capital raise for a bank at that time.
“We are really a Wall Street bank, as 60 percent of our ownership is institutional,” he says, noting that Stonegate’s shares are traded on Nasdaq as SGBK. “Those resources allow us to compete very well with the regional and national banks, while giving our customers the high level of service they expect from a community bank.”
Seleski’s long-term strategy was to build Stonegate into one of the state’s leading commercial banks by understanding its customers’ businesses and moving quickly in response to their requests. “We take a retro approach, and strive to be a financial consultant to our clients, advising them on decisions to open new offices or launch a new business,” he says. “That deep knowledge is one of the strengths we bring to the table for our clients.”
During the economic downturn of 2008-09, Stonegate’s strong balance sheet enabled the bank to grow through acquisitions, while continuing to lend to its commercial customers. “Even when the recession was at its worst, we were helping to finance our clients’ needs,” Seleski says. “As Florida’s economy has recovered, we are seeing very healthy organic loan growth, as well as increased demand for private banking and real estate-related services.”
Stonegate’s most recent expansion was its merger last January with Community Bank of Broward. Today, the bank has $2.2 billion in assets with 22 offices in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Collier, Lee and Hillsborough Counties. “Over the years, we have learned how to integrate both the technology and the people into our organization,” Seleski says. “It takes time to change a corporate culture.”
One of the unifying themes is support for the Stonegate Bank Foundation, which provides college scholarships to high school seniors. On Fridays, staffers “contribute” for the privilege of wearing blue jeans, and make direct donations throughout the year. “A bank is always built around its people, and we have great staffers on our team,” Seleski says.
Seleski is also active in the state’s banking circles and was recently appointed to the Community Bank Advisory Board for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). On the personal side, Seleski and his wife Malaea enjoy traveling and spending time with their dogs. “I am an avid reader of books on European history,” Seleski says. “I find that biographies are often the most entertaining — and most distorted — accounts of important events and periods in history.”
Serving Attorneys and Law Firms
Right from the start, Stonegate has served attorneys, accountants and other professionals and their firms. “The legal community is very important to us, and we understand the cash flow and financing issues they face,” he says. “We also see differences between the local markets we serve, as the dynamics in South Florida are different from Tampa Bay or Naples.”
Seleski says many law firms downsized their staffs during the recession, and are weighing the pros and cons of adding more people in today’s stronger economy. “Some firms believe that bigger is not better, and that’s a different mindset than we saw in 2005-06.”
Another trend in the legal market is the aging of the Boomer generation. “Some partners contemplating retirement are deciding to work longer in today’s low-rate investment environment,” he says. “In general, they are being more cautious in their plans, while looking for ways to improve their returns without taking on undue risk.”
Looking ahead to the next decade, Seleski is bullish about Florida’s future — including the potential business opportunities in Cuba. As the U.S. correspondent bank for Cuba’s Banco Internacional de Comercio S.A. (BICSA), Stonegate hopes to facilitate the flow of funds between the two nations.
“We are striving to support U.S. firms that want to do business in Cuba,” he says. “We are seeing activity from travel and agricultural companies that have been serving that market, as well as other businesses that are now exploring the possibilities.”
Overall, Seleski feels that Florida has “a long runway” for future growth. “With our great lifestyle, low taxation and diversity, people will continue to come to Florida,” he says. “That means new opportunities for attorneys, accountants and bankers to provide valued professional services.”
South Florida Legal Guide 2015 Financial Edition