News Column

Florida Banking: Q&A With Jesus 'Ernie' Diaz

March 18, 2013

Ina Paiva Cordle

Ernie Diaz, TD Bank Regional President for Florida. (PRNewsFoto/TD Bank)
Ernie Diaz, TD Bank Regional President for Florida. (PRNewsFoto/TD Bank)

Jesus "Ernie" Diaz was promoted in late February to Florida regional president for TD Bank after serving as the bank's market president for South Florida for nearly two and a half years.

Based in Coral Gables, he is responsible for TD Bank's retail, small business, commercial and specialty banking operations and lending services throughout Florida, where the bank has grown its network to 171 branches -- which it calls "stores."

For Diaz, it's the latest move in a career that has spanned 28 years and taken him to banks of varying sizes in the region.

We spoke to Diaz -- who goes by "Ernie," which is from his middle name, Ernesto -- on the phone, and then emailed him these questions.

Q. You have had a long career in banking. When and how did you start and what have been some of the highlights?

I started in banking in 1984. At the time, I was working for Barnett Bank in its credit card collections area and attending FIU. When Barnett moved its operations/collections area to Pompano, I decided I needed to make a change and was fortunate to find a job at Southeast Bank in its credit card collections area. After graduating, I was accepted into the bank's management training program, which proved to be the foundation for my commercial banking career.

In 1991, I went to work for Terrabank, a community bank headquartered in Miami. I worked at Terra nine years and was exposed to a number of banking situations that one would typically not have a chance to experience in larger institutions.

In 2000, I went to work for Union Planters in its real estate group and stayed through the acquisition of Regions Bank and the Am South merger. During my tenure at Regions, I was given the opportunity to lead the real estate group in Miami and finally the middle market lending group for South Florida.

In 2007, along with a group of executives from Regions Bank, I went to work for the South Financial Group (TSFG) which was headquartered in Greenville, S.C. I ultimately was given responsibility for its Florida franchise, Mercantile Bank, until the company was sold to TD Bank in 2010. I was the South Florida Market President for TD until my new promotion to Regional President for the state.

Q. Tell us about TD Bank's background, and when and how did the bank enter Florida?

TD Bank is a 150-year-old institution and is the American branch of TD Bank Group out of Toronto. The bank originally came to Florida as TD's predecessor, Commerce Bank, in 2005. TD acquired Commerce Bank and rebranded as TD Bank, America's Most Convenient BankŪ, in 2008.

Q. What growth has TD Bank achieved since then and what is its current presence in Florida and in South Florida?

TD Bank has grown significantly since entering Florida. We have made a few small acquisitions and continued to build new stores to fuel growth and expand our footprint. The bank then acquired the South Financial Group and rebranded as TD in 2011, expanding our Florida footprint in Central Florida and Northeast Florida. Right now we have 171 stores in Florida, 68 of which are in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Q. Do you have any plans to enter Monroe County?

The Florida Keys are an important part of South Florida, and we continue to look for ways to better serve our customers. However, we have no immediate plans to enter the Keys.

Q. What is the bank's strategy for South Florida and for the state? And do you have specific plans for additional "stores?"

TD Bank strives to be a top three bank in terms of market share in all of the markets in which it does business. Florida is no different. We have concentrated largely on expansion in South Florida because of the potential for population and economic growth in the area. We do have plans to open 10 stores in 2013. Additionally, we are working on optimizing our store network and expanding market share in metro areas such as Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville.

Q. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, TD Bank ranked second in the South Florida district in terms of dollars and third in terms of number of loans approved during fiscal 2012: 98 loans, totaling $30.9 million. Is small business lending a focus for the bank here?

Small businesses are a major focus point for TD Bank and SBA lending goes hand-in-hand with this initiative. TD was able to lend through the recession because it did not experience the credit issues seen in most U.S. banks. As a result, we were able to continue lending to South Florida small businesses when many competitors pulled back. We are expanding this critical commercial segment and have a number of products to meet the loan and credit needs of small businesses.

Q. What other areas of lending is TD Bank involved in?

TD Bank is involved in several areas of lending in the retail and commercial sides of the bank. Our consumer products include mortgages, home equity loans and credit cards. In the commercial bank, we do SBA, small business, middle market and institutional loans and real estate. We also have specialty commercial branches that work in areas such as institutional health care and government banking.

Q. How about private banking and wealth management?

TD Bank has identified this segment as an area of growth and opportunity. Additionally, with the large concentration of affluent customers in Florida, we have a tremendous opportunity to deliver our wealth offering to this market. TD's best-in-class wealth professionals help our high net worth customers achieve their financial goals by delivering customized private banking and wealth management solutions. They deliver our comprehensive wealth offerings by building long-lasting relationships and providing exceptional customer service. We have a large TD Wealth office in Coral Gables, as well as in other convenient locations throughout the state.

Q. TD Bank has been deeply embroiled in lawsuits related to convicted Fort Lauderdale Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein. In one suit, a jury decided the bank must pay $67 million in damages and the bank was sanctioned by a federal judge, and in another suit, the bank reached a settlement to pay $170 million. Where does the bank stand today in terms of litigation?

TD Bank has entered into a settlement agreement, subject to approval by the Bankruptcy Court, with the RRA and Banyon bankruptcy trustees in order to conclude pending and threatened litigation claims by the trustees against TD Bank related to the Rothstein Ponzi scheme. While TD Bank believes it has strong defenses to the Trustee's claims, the Bank believes that settlement is in the best interests of all concerned.

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Source: (c)2013 The Miami Herald Distributed by MCT Information Services

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