The banking environment around Sarasota changed dramatically in the Great Recession as an area with a high concentration of community banks saw many fail, their assets absorbed by other institutions. But in a post-COVID boom, banks today seem more likely to consolidate in mergers large and small. BB&T two years ago merged with Suntrust to form Truist. Georgia-based United Community Banks in 2020 purchased Seaside National Bank. Locally, Seacoast Bank, a Stuart-based, bought Sabal Palm Bank in January and $389 million worth of deposits with it. “We’re excited to enter the highly attractive and dynamic Sarasota market,” said Seacoast CEO Charles Shaffer. So what’s driving this change of accounts? Dennis Murphy, founding president CEO of Gulfside Bank, suggests in many ways, the strength of banking today was born from the hardship finance faced in the region a decade ago. Yes, the recession swallowed many troubled institutions, but those that survived came out battle-tested and strong. Murphy worked for Gateway Bank of Southwest Florida before it was bought by CenterState Bank, which later was purchased by South State Bank. “Now a lot of the legacy banks have been sold,” Murphy said. “They have run the gamut, survived and now have been purchased. But we have not seen a lot of new ones come out of the ground.”

Gulfside, in fact, is one of the few community banks to launch at a time when many institutions in the region folded into larger companies. Advances in technology have both made smaller players able to keep up with major institutions with services offered, but that makes combining assets simpler as well. As for Gulfside, Murphy founded the bank three and half years ago, and the institution hasn’t matured to the point where a merger or acquisition is even on the horizon. But he also still believes in the value of a community bank providing for small business owners in the area it serves. “I still believe relationships matter,” he said.