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Five Questions: Ron Hawley

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Ron Hawley, a 29-year banking veteran, is now in charge of the central and southern Missouri area for Regions Bank. He succeeds Mark McFatridge, who left Regions in August to take a position as president and chief operations officer of OakStar Bank.

Q: Tell us about your professional background.

A: I started my banking career in Springdale, Ark., and moved to Missouri in 1981. I joined Boatmen's Bank in Lexington, Mo., and ... was in Lexington for 12 years as president of the bank. I moved to Springfield when Nations Bank bought out Boatmen's in 1997 and worked for Bank of America.

In early 2004, I came to Regions as senior credit officer for the state of Missouri and I picked up the St. Louis metro area along with Iowa and western Kentucky. I had about $2 billion in loans that I oversaw and managed.

Q: What made you decide to come back to Springfield?

A: When the opportunity came to come back to Springfield and run a market again, I was delighted. I love the Ozarks and the quality of life that Springfield provided. Then there was the opportunity to run and manage a market that was very attractive to me. The two combined made an offer I couldn't refuse.

Q: There are 43 financial institutions operating in the Springfield metro area as of June 30, according federal regulators. Are there too many banks in Springfield?

A: Everywhere you go, bankers will say there are too many banks, or that their market is the most competitive. Springfield is no different. The (metropolitan statistical area) is very strong in terms of growth compared to the state of Missouri. So while there appear to be a lot of banks, I'm not sure what the right number is. I think it's a very competitive environment, but I would say that historically, they all seem to do well. These times are challenging, so I would expect the growth of the number of banks to slow, but that's more a reflection of the national market.

Q: How are banks dealing with the economic downturn?

A: For banks, the effect of the economy is that our cost of funds has gone up, just like any other business' cost of goods has gone up. One of the things most banks are realizing is that we have to try to offset the (cost) by charging higher rates. It's such a complex issue. Each segment has its own challenges - consumer banking, real estate, commercial banking. Different banks combat it different ways; some are not making loans, some are charging higher rates, some are shortening maturities, requiring more for down payments and generally trying to make sure credit quality (of borrowers) stays where it needs to be.

Q: Do you think we're in a recession, and when do you expect a turnaround?

A: I do think we're in a recession. I am hopeful that we would begin to see the improvement of leading indicators sometime in middle to third quarter of 2009. I'm hoping at that point we'll make a turn and start seeing consumer confidence starting to rise. One of the positive things we're seeing is that interest rates for home mortgages have dropped, and the government is talking about stimulating sales by setting a rate floor. That's (good), even if it just spurs refinancing.

Interview by Jeremy Elwood.[[In-content Ad]]

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