Vista Bank Plots Florida Expansion

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Dallas-based Vista Bancshares is entering Florida and has brought on a heavy hitter to pilot the expansion. 

The $1.9 billion-asset Vista announced this week that it has named former Professional Bank co-founder and CEO Dan Sheehan as president of its bank subsidiary, Vista Bank. Sheehan said Wednesday in an interview that his brief includes “assisting with strategic matters throughout Texas,” but added his primary role will be growing Vista’s Florida presence. 

Vista, which operates 16 branches in Texas, has established an office in Palm Beach County — where Sheehan was raised — and expects to open a branch this summer. 

Sheehan, who is also joining the Vista Bancshares board, made it clear Palm Beach County is Vista’s starting point. From there, the plan is to grow “on an opportunity- and event-driven basis. … It’s finding the right entry point with the right people,” Sheehan said.  

In moving into Florida, Vista is seeking to capitalize on the outsize population and economic growth the Sunshine State has enjoyed in recent years. Florida’s population, which totaled 22.2 million people on July 1, increased by more than 706,000 between 2020 and 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Those new residents brought plenty of money with them, boosting the size of the state’s deposit market by 24%, to $878.1 billion, in the same span, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. statistics. 

According to an economic forecast released last month by Comerica, Florida is expected to see continued solid growth in population, payroll employment and wage growth in 2023, though the impact of inflation and higher interest rates will cause overall gross domestic product growth to slow somewhat. 

At the same time, the number of banks doing business in Florida has declined steadily due to industry consolidation. In 2014, the year Professional Bank opened its doors in Coral Gables, the state’s bank count was 267. Eight years later, as of June 30, 2022, it had dropped by 44%, to 186, according to the FDIC.

Florida “is a dynamic market,” Sheehan said. “The deposit inflows are really impressive. If you look at new business and household formation along with the number of jobs created and all the derivative effects related thereto, while at the same time fewer banks existing, the market dynamics are compelling.”

In line with industry trends, Sheehan said Vista plans a lean, branch-lite operation in Florida. “Banking has become more of a people and technology play versus a property play,” Sheehan said. “I think 20 or 25 years ago, the focus was on bricks and mortar. Banks sought locations on hard corners and visible intersections.

“I’m a firm believer you have the right people, you arm them with the right technology, there’s an awful lot of ground you can cover with just a few offices,” Sheehan added. 

Sheehan said his relationship with Vista Bank CEO John Steinmetz “goes back six years or so.” 

“We’ve kicked around the idea of doing something together for a number of years,” Sheehan said. “It just made so much sense to partner in this capacity.”

“We are thankful to have the opportunity to expand our footprint into Florida with a seasoned local professional like Dan Sheehan,” Steinmetz said Tuesday in a press release. “Together, we will provide a concierge-level banking experience to small and middle-market companies and the bold entrepreneurs that risk their capital every day,”

Ken Thomas, president of the Miami-based Community Development Fund Advisors, said he was delighted Sheehan is returning to banking with Vista. As Professional’s CEO, Sheehan was one of a handful of Florida bankers to demonstrate a commitment to affordable housing, Thomas said. 

“He made significant investments in affordable housing the other banks didn’t make,” Thomas said. “Dan Sheehan is the kind of banker we need in South Florida. You see him at the coffee shop and the grocery store. He cares about the community.”

Sheehan was part of the group that founded Professional Bank in 2014. Sheehan served as chairman and CEO of Professional’s corporate parent, Professional Holding Corp., from 2014 to 2022, and chairman and CEO of Professional Bank from 2019 to 2022. Under Sheehan’s leadership, Professional grew to $2.7 billion of assets, reporting net income of $21.4 million in 2021. Sheehan resigned in February 2022, about six months before the company agreed to sell to the $15.3 billion-asset Seacoast Banking Corp. in Stuart, Florida, in a $489 million deal. 

Sheehan said he considered several options for a “second act,” including organizing a second de novo bank. Sheehan saw partnering with Vista, which he refers to as a “111-year-old startup” in Florida as the most attractive option, mainly because an existing institution can hit the ground running in ways a new bank cannot. 

“There are certain economic realities to running a really small balance sheet that doesn’t make a lot of money the first few years,” Sheehan said. A de novo would have a relatively small legal lending limit, and it would be limited in its resources for talent and scale.

Vista’s Florida venture, however, “combines the best of both worlds,” Sheehan said. “We’re starting from scratch. It’s fun to move the needle in that regard, but the infrastructure is already in place. We’ve got a great operations team and a great staff in Texas to support us in so many respects.” 

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