Wednesday, June 21, 2006

RBC Centura's Hockey Ties May Pay Off

The Toronto Star, Tara Perkins, 21 June 2006

Hockey hasn't traditionally been the biggest sport in the North Carolina area known as the Triangle.

The region around Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill is known for its three major universities — North Carolina State, Duke University and the University of North Carolina — and their athletics programs.

Sunny Raleigh, home to the Carolina Hurricanes, is also known as North Carolina's "sweatiest" city, according to a Procter & Gamble study released this week that predicted how much sweat an average man would secrete after an hour of standing in Raleigh's average summer temperature.

But, thanks to this season's performance of the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center, the Triangle is learning more about one of winter's great sports.

"Right now, hockey's the main sport in town," says Scott Custer, chief executive of RBC Centura, the Royal Bank of Canada's Raleigh-based U.S. consumer bank, which operates in five states. And as Carolina learns more about Canada's favourite sport, it's also learning more about just who this "RBC" company is.

On Monday night, eyes across North America watched as the Hurricanes took Game 7 against the Edmonton Oilers, winning the Stanley Cup final on home ice, in the RBC Center.

Last week, the Raleigh News & Observer printed a headline declaring "Cup run puts RBC on the map."

The article quotes RBC Centura chief operating officer Ron Day saying, "We're in a place in the southeast where there are still a lot of people not familiar with RBC."

Canada's biggest bank bought Centura Banks Inc. in 2001 for $2.3 billion (U.S.), renaming it RBC Centura.

Just over a year later, the bank secured the naming rights to the Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena, renaming it the RBC Center.

The $80 million (U.S.) deal gives RBC Centura the naming rights for 20 years.

At the time, there was criticism RBC was paying too much.

"People always want to look and try to throw some stones at what you do," Custer said on a cellphone yesterday as he drove from the airport past the RBC Center to last evening's parade.

"If you look back, I think we did a very good deal. It was fairly priced," he said. Adding that, in fact, "you could argue that we got a pretty good bargain."

"We root for the Hurricanes, but does it translate into better business performance (for RBC Centura)? ... I think we can show it's absolutely had a tight connection," Custer said.

The Triangle area is outperforming the rest of RBC Centura's operations, he said.

"We got a lift when we did the naming-rights deal. We got a lift when we announced we were moving our headquarters here. We got a lift when the Hurricanes did well," he said.

RBC Centura moved its corporate headquarters down the highway from Rocky Mount to Raleigh last year.

Chequing accounts are up by more than one-third over the past year, Custer added.

All told, RBC Centura has positioned itself "as kind of the hometown bank here," he said, although acknowledging "we're not the biggest bank by market share, but probably second or third."

And the Raleigh area is learning more about the Canadian owners of its "hometown bank."

"Typically, we're not really associated with a Canadian bank," Custer said. "But here, because of hockey, because we call it the RBC Center, there's more of a Canadian connection."

Custer, who has been with RBC Centura and its predecessors for more than 17 years, said that Monday's "game was the biggest event that we've had in this town that I know about."

"I hated I was not here, but I watched it with a bunch of people on TV," he said.

Custer was stuck at a bankers' convention.

The greater Triangle area is home to about 1.3 million people, he said. Greater Raleigh is home to about 650,000.