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Building an Equipment Finance Vertical from Scratch

Date: Oct 12, 2021 @ 05:00 AM

Pinnacle Financial Partners, based in Nashville, TN, in September made a strong move into equipment finance by hiring three industry veterans to spearhead an equipment finance effort with a nationwide scope. Kris Foster joined Pinnacle to lead the equipment finance initiative. Foster most recently served as Regional Sales Manager for Wells Fargo Equipment Finance in Louisville, KY. Foster worked at Wells for 14 years, and previously served in equipment finance roles for CIT, Fifth Third and PNC. Greg Pinchback and Jason Fronheiser joined him at Pinnacle.

Pinnacle has historically helped clients with options for leasing and finance on a limited basis, and Foster, Pinchback and Fronheiser will expand this effort. Foster, in an interview with Equipment Finance Advisor, outlined how he plans to build out the team initially focusing on the Southeast. He has an impressive goal: “Our aspirations are to build out a billion-dollar-plus equipment finance group.”

Equipment Finance Advisor:Why is Pinnacle Financial a good fit for you and your team?

Equipment Finance article with Kris Foster - President of Equipment Finance - Pinnacle Financial Partners

Kris Foster: I’ve been in the equipment finance space for almost 25 years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear to me that I’m most passionate about building something. I wanted to take those 25 years of experience and find a partner that wanted to build with me.

I spent time trying to find who would be that right fit. I talked to a variety of different institutions, and I was lucky Sam Belk, who I had worked with for 14 years at Wells Fargo, is a Senior Lending Officer at Pinnacle. He introduced me to the Pinnacle executive team and the company culture. It’s really hard to find a culture like the one at Pinnacle. The company consistently wins “Best Places to Work-type” awards. I felt the culture right away, tangibly, as I was meeting people. Everybody is trying to do the right thing. Everybody is a shareholder. There’s a very communal team approach here and it really spoke to me. I felt that in my first meetings and then in meeting after meeting. I almost had to pinch myself, is this real?

I think culture is key. And there is also this entrepreneurial vibe. Pinnacle is big enough to take on a larger project, but small enough to be nimble. As I spent more time in the executive suite, I became more and more passionate about wanting to partner and build with Pinnacle.
What a great opportunity for Pinnacle to turn it over to us and let us build out an equipment finance vertical. It was what I was looking for.

Equipment Finance Advisor:  What’s your vision for this unit? It seems like an opportunity to build this unit almost from scratch.

Foster: I think that’s right. There is an associate here who has been focused on the leasing product, so we are doing some leasing. But here you have a $35 billion institution that’s in major MSAs – Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte, Birmingham – and they weren’t taking a proactive approach to equipment finance. The opportunity to push equipment finance, or partnering with commercial bankers, who we call financial advisors. The initial product is going to bring a proactive equipment finance approach to our banking footprint. We currently have customers that we are providing a revolver or treasury management product to, and they’re taking equipment finance elsewhere.

We’re looking to capture more of our customer’s business, continue to offer more products for them. We are going to help them meet their financial needs and provide professional equipment finance advice. My team and I have over 60 years of experience in equipment finance. We are bringing that expertise to the bank. The second approach is equipment finance is a great way to open a door. When you have a revolver or treasury management relationship, those relationships are fairly long term, and it takes time to change those. Equipment finance is an opportunity to open the door and try out our institution.

It’s an easy way to start a relationship. And so not only do we want to catch more of our customer’s business, but we want to find ways to open new doors. Hopefully, by doing a one-off equipment finance deal or more, these customers or these new prospects can get a flavor for who we are and what makes us special. The first throughput will be pushing down into the Southeast, taking care of our customers and opening new doors. That’s the initial plan, but we’re also going to look to be active in the syndications market; we’re going to look to buy deals on a national basis. Those are our marching orders day one. But as Chairman Rob McCabe said in announcing the EF unit: He’s hoping that equipment finance and these specialized industries become a really important part of the overall assets of the bank. We’re looking to grow, and we’re looking to build out a more robust national platform and continue to add new teammates and associates. Pinnacle is ready to commit the capital to equipment finance.

Equipment Finance Advisor: Do you expect to grow and invest in both people and technology?

Foster: Yes, we’re starting from scratch. We have some systems that we can leverage from the bank, but we’re hoping to bring in more technology and talented people. At the end of the day, you win with people. We’ll leverage technology, but we’re going to bring in great people that know how to take care of customers and have expertise in this area.

Equipment Finance Advisor: How aggressive do you plan to be in terms of adding people to your team?

Foster: Equipment financing is a smaller community of people. I’ve been fortunate to build a strong network over 25 years and plan to use that to build our team. At Pinnacle, we recruit people with 10 years of experience. That is important to us so we always leave the client with someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.

Equipment Finance Advisor: What will equipment finance unit focus on in terms of geographies, industries, ticket sizes, credits, etc.?

Foster: The Southeast is the footprint for the bank. We want to be great in the Southeast, but we are not going to limit ourselves. We hope in time to have a national platform, but initially it’ll be more of a Southeast focus. We plan to be selective and smart throughout the country. There’s really no collateral type that we’re not interested in. We’re interested in all the industries; all the collateral types. What we’re looking for are relationships; we’re looking for good customers that have a proven financial track record and people we’ve known in the past or people we know of in the industry.

There are certain nuances about structuring deals with certain kinds of collateral that we know, but as far as customers, it’s really going to come down to customer selection and finding the right people that want to partner with us and people that want to build relationships. The great thing about equipment finance is most people that acquire equipment have an annual heavy spend of equipment. We’re looking for relationships like that, people that have an annual CAPEX spend that want to build a relationship.

Equipment Finance Advisor: Could you share your goals and objectives for the unit?

Foster: I think short term it is just to be a great partner for the bank and the financial advisors or commercial bankers. We want to start introducing equipment finance to our customers, being complementary; be a great teammate for my bank partners. Then, we’re going to try to build out from there. Our aspirations are to build out a billion-dollar-plus equipment finance group. I’ve seen other banks do it at a great scale. TCF, before they were acquired, did a great job as a smaller asset bank, building a multi-billion-dollar equipment finance portfolio. I think there are great examples of that with smaller asset banks. Building out a multi-billion-dollar portfolio is the ultimate aspiration.

Equipment Finance Advisor: Can you talk a little bit about the two members who have joined you and what each bring to the team?

Foster: All three of us come from Wells, and all three of us knew Sam Belk. And as we spoke with him, we all three shared the same feeling about the possibilities at Pinnacle.

I’m going to start with Greg Pinchback. I worked with Greg at Wells for 14 years. He’s a true equipment finance professional. He has a unique background in the marine industry. He was a marine specialist for us at Wells and has deep relationships down in the Southeast and calling on in the Gulf Region. In the marine space, when we say brown water financing, we’re talking about rivers and inland barges -- the Mississippi, the Ohio, etc. He has deep relationships in the Gulf Region. He understands the clients and what their needs are from Houston, where he’s based, through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Greg’s background in the marine industry fits really well with the footprint we have, but I don’t want to limit him just to marine because he’s called on all different types of industries.

Jason Fronheiser has a strong background from GE Capital and was one of the top producers for the last three years at Wells. Jason’s a bigger ticket structure guy, with a deep understanding of structuring larger transactions. Jason’s going to help us in the syndications market. He’s looking to buy paper for us. We’re hoping to introduce Jason to a lot of the different suppliers out there who are looking to sell paper. He’s going to be active on the buy side of syndications, as we look to buy paper early on and likely continually so in the future. Jason will take us to more of a national platform. I couldn’t be more excited about having these two on my team; they are best in class. They’ve done it at a large institution and had a lot of success. I’m humbled that they had enough faith to do this, and, also, they clearly saw that cultural fit that I felt with Pinnacle.

Mike Dickinson
Editor | Equipment Finance Advisor
Mike Dickinson is Editor of Equipment Finance Advisor. Dickinson has more than 30 years of experience as an Editor and Reporter. He spent 20-plus years at the Rochester Business Journal in Rochester, NY, including 18 years as Managing Editor. He also covered Eastman Kodak, technology, optics and telecommunications, among other areas. His writing and reporting on Eastman Kodak won 1st Place – 2012 National Newspaper Association Best Business Story and the Gold Award – 2012 Alliance of Area Business Publishers for Breaking-news coverage. He also won the Silver Award – 2001 Alliance of Area Business Publishers Best Coverage of Local Breaking News – Global Crossing. Prior to working in the business news arena, Dickinson was a reporter for the daily newspapers in Syracuse, NY, and Batavia, NY. Dickinson holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communications/Journalism from St. Bonaventure University.
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