The business acquisition was a sign of the times.
In August 2016, Huntington National Bank – a historically significant U.S. player for more than 150 years – committed to an industry it had no direct involvement in when it bought Akron, Ohio-based FirstMerit Bank for $3.4 billion.
Specifically, Huntington was after FirstMerit’s RV & Marine sector with its dealer network across 17 states. Huntington had its finger on the RV industry’s pulse. By October, the acquisition led to a 40-percent increase of the companies’ dealer network, going into 26 states, with RV dealerships comprising about 70 percent of the now 1,400 dealerships in the bolstered network.
Paired with a robust lending platform that launched in January, Huntington is primed to become a premier financer in consumer retail loans throughout the Midwest and into the East Coast.
“The history of (FirstMerit’s) program, the credit quality, and our growth was good,” said Tom Wirth, senior VP and managing director of RV & Marine finance. “However, we believed that Huntington could expand beyond (FirstMerit’s) normal growth rate with the size of combined organizations. We could focus on the business and expansion into other geographies, as well as bringing other outside talent that was specific to the RV & Marine industry that had existing industry relationships.”
As Huntington’s RV & Marine product expanded this fall into the southeast, Texas and the northeast, the bank hired sales managers with 20-plus years of RV industry experience, stationing them in New Jersey, Atlanta, and Texas. To handle day-to-day processes, industry expert Chris Renn, who also worked at U.S. Bank, was hired as the new division’s group director.
“We have individuals that know the business – who want to be in the business – and have the experience to talk intelligently with our dealers,” Wirth said. “It’s a lifestyle business. You have a dealer network that I truly believe loves to come to work and service their customers.”
Wirth himself had become a significant force in the RV & Marine game. Back in 2001, as a business manager and national retail executive at U.S. Bank, Wirth led the charge as the banking giant expanded its own RV & Marine finance from a regional program to a national one. Over time, his management helped grow U.S. Bank’s auto, RV, and marine finance assets to $25 billion.
Huntington appears to be on the cusp of a similar growth with Wirth at the helm, prepped to become a “significant player” in the RV industry.
Following the acquisition, the bank rolled out its new online lending platform, powered by Orbit technology, for the RV & Marine product on January 15. The acquisition allows Huntington to offer more dynamic pricing, said Wirth, “while being able to assess risk better with that underwriting system versus” ones from the past.
“We’re three months into that (online) program,” added Wirth, “and we do believe that we’ll be able to leverage the technology even further as we go through the years.” Combining competitive rate programs with master-class knowledge and service is a formula Wirth believes makes Huntington’s new venture “top of the class.” “And if we’re not,” he concluded, “that’s what we’re working toward.”