By John Schaffner

Four Buckhead banking executives and the president of the Georgia Bankers Association painted a picture during a recent panel discussion for the Buckhead Business Association (BBA) of a local banking industry that is not, for the most part, in dire trouble because it has stuck with traditional banking and mortgage practices.

Participating in the panel discussion at the BBA’s quarterly luncheon meeting Oct. 16 at 103 West were Marvin Cosgray, the president of Buckhead Community Bank; Charlie Crawford, the president of the Private Bank of Buckhead; Pam Hubby, the executive vice president of Georgian Bank; and Doug Williams, the president of Atlantic Capital Bank. Joe Bannen, the president of the Georgia Bankers Association, moderated the session.

Bannen began by telling the audience of more than 200 members of the BBA and their guests: “We need to keep things in perspective. Ninety-six percent of the banks in the U.S. today are well-capitalized.”

He said that of the 8,000 banks across the country, only 117 are on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s problem bank list.

“However, we have just seen dramatic changes in the financial industry, and we live in unprecedented times,” he added. Thus, the timing of the BBA program, “Banking in Buckhead — Solid Advice in Turbulent Times,” was on target.

Speaking to a banking industry that changes “two or three times daily” in recent times, Brannen asked the group who would have expected that just days before the luncheon U.S. taxpayers would have invested $250 billion into the nation’s private banks.

“Many people are confused, concerned and wondering how they are individually affected,” he said.

Brannen said we are seeing a return to Georgia bankers’ style of business, “a traditional, conservative, highly regulated model.”

That was confirmed by the panelists when they were asked what problems or opportunities they see and what kind of loans they are making.

Cosgray said his bank is back in the mortgage business and into Small Business Administration loans. Crawford and Hubby said their banks are lending money, and Hubby added: “We have capacity. Nothing has changed except we are looking at each opportunity day to day.”

Williams said many of his Atlantic Capital Bank customers have the opportunity to expand their businesses and to refinance their income-producing properties. His bank is financing a modest amount of construction loans and still providing lines of credit.

“We’ll make a loan to anyone who has a reasonable chance of paying us back,” Williams said.

One of the first questions the bankers were asked was how recent financial events have affected the Buckhead banking community.

“We’re fortunate to live in a community that is vibrant, resilient and has had superior growth over other metropolitan areas over time,” Williams said. “We are going through tough times. But Atlanta, and Buckhead in particular, has the underlying resiliency to be in good shape. We have strong banks in Buckhead, and we continue to service the needs of customers.”

Hubby was asked to address the bright spots in the marketplace.

“I think one of our bright spots is that we’re not sitting in our offices. We’re not hiding under our chairs worrying about the economy. We are here networking to make something happen. Atlanta is a high-growth area, and especially Buckhead. Just look at the skyline,” she said.

She also praised the federal action to help small businesses stay in place.

The panel was asked what mistakes people are making in this period of economic turmoil.

Williams said people need to keep their income flowing and should not take on risky ventures. Cosgray warned against trying to time the stock market. “No day trading,” he said. “Stay the course. Keep doing what you know what to do.”

In response to a question from the audience, Williams said: “The wise investor is sitting tight. It is foolish to go to cash.”

Money market accounts and certificates of deposits are a good idea, he said.

Crawford predicted a slow recovery.