United Community Bank is a regional bank providing a full range of financial services to individuals and businesses. Part of United Community Banks, Inc., United is one of the largest full-service financial institutions in the Southeast, with 18.6 billion in assets, and 161 offices in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee.
GroundBreak Carolinas recently had the chance to speak with Lisa Shelnutt, Commercial Real Estate Division Manager and Senior Vice President, based at United’s executive offices in Greenville, S.C. Shelnutt and her team maintain relationships with real estate developers in the Southeast, providing financial solutions including introductions to potential equity partners, construction loans, permanent financing solutions, deposit services and interest rate risk management solutions.
Tell us about United Community Bank.
We are a regional Bank providing a full range of financial services to business and commercial clients. We focus on differentiating ourselves with exceptional service, putting the highest emphasis on our relationships and partnering with our customers for results-oriented solutions to help them succeed. We have a team of 10 individuals who handle relationships with real estate developers in the Southeast.
What should construction firms look for in the banking or financing partner?
As with anything else, relationships are key. I believe a banking partner who understands your business, can offer advice, is flexible and creative, and is large enough to meet your needs – yet small enough to still provide quality service – can make a big difference in the success of a company. I would also recommend an institution who is committed to the community. As the banking industry sees frequent mergers or consolidations, personal as well as corporate relationships are very important.
Relationships. How do you continually deepen your personal relationships with your clients/customers/staff/peers/leaders?
Relationships are my favorite part of what I do. As we all know, relationships need time to build and grow; you can’t develop a good relationship overnight. Likewise, if not tended to, they can deteriorate. I am a pleaser by nature, which means I enjoy exceeding expectations of others. I think constant communication, honesty, treating people with the respect they deserve, and delivering timely and quality results so others know they can count on you strengthens that bond. It’s important not to treat everyone the same. Some people want to tell you about their personal life, but others are more guarded; always know your audience. A good joke now and then never hurts, either!
As the financing partner, what unexpected roles do you sometimes provide?
Therapist! Seriously, being a true financial partner, instead of simply a loan provider, I find myself sometimes providing risk management strategies to my customers. It seems counter-intuitive because they are coming to the lender for funds, but there are times when I’ve actually talked clients out of investing in a particular asset.
How long have you been in the construction industry? What inspired you to pursue a career in construction? Tell us your story. How did you get your start?
Not really knowing what I wanted to do, I began my career as a Bank Examiner in 1987. This gave me a glimpse into many types of businesses, but early on, I was drawn to real estate development. Being involved in identifiable projects that make a difference in a city was inspiring to me. Since my education was in finance, it seemed natural to me to get involved with that side of the business. So, I started concentrating on financial solutions to commercial real estate projects in 1993 and have been in the industry since then.
What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment?
I love making a difference in our communities. When you look at a city skyline, and know you helped to shape it, it’s very meaningful. I am most proud of a signature development in my home city for which I came up with a very creative financing solution. The developer told me the project would have never happened any other way.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest difference in the construction industry today compared to when you started?
I will deny the instinct to say “automation” here because that has obviously impacted everything. I would say the social climate has changed the way we approach things. The drive to be economically responsible has changed everything from design, materials, equipment, and even disposal of debris extremely different from what we did 30 years ago.
What are some of the economic development trends that may be impacting future projects?
One of the things we are seeing in the Carolinas is a significant influx of population, obviously. As traffic increases due to that population increase, people tend to drive less and less, so you see areas beginning to develop into “pods” where you work, play, shop, and live all within a few miles. You see a lot of that in Atlanta.
Another factor is the unknown of how the “work from home” phenomenon is going to impact where people live. There is one school of thought that people will move further out, thus creating less need for urban housing. Personally, I don’t see that. I believe, especially if you are working from home, you want to be convenient to entertainment and necessity retail.
And, we’ve all seen the real impact of inflation, which may be a result of short-term material shortages but easily leads to long-term trends. As construction prices rise, rents must also to mitigate those increases. Otherwise, construction will slow down. I have seen a couple of projects get tabled until costs stabilize.
Tell us about your educational background.
I grew up outside of Atlanta and graduated Cum Laude from The University of Georgia Honors College with a BBA in Finance.
Career advice you would like to give others.
In our industry, personal relationships are the most important thing. By personal relationships, I mean a mutual feeling of confidence, honesty, and trust. I work hard to protect that at all costs. If you have a client who sees those traits in you, doing business will come naturally. And, there will be bumps in the road, so how you handle mistakes can ruin or solidify those relationships.