11/8/2006

BankFIRST Launches “Socially Responsible Banking for West Orange County”

Bay Street Church of God in Christ is first loan recipient; City of Ocoee, Winter Garden and Town of Oakland are first depositors

Loans earmarked for affordable housing, business development, conservation, education, non-profit and faith-based groups

West Orange County, FL - (Nov. 8, 2006): Speaking to area business and community leaders, BankFIRST Winter Garden Area President, Julie Kleffel, today announced the launch of West Orange County’s first socially responsible banking program – one that guarantees depositors’ funds will be invested locally to support community needs. Originally launched in the bank’s Winter Park market in November 2005, the program has expanded to include West Orange County and the surrounding area.

Money deposited in the “Socially Responsible Banking for West Orange County” (SRB) program, will be reinvested solely to provide jobs, affordable housing, environmental improvements, and to spur downtown development, improve childcare and support the area’s non-profit and faith-based groups. “We believe social responsibility must begin at home,” Kleffel said.

Bay Street Church of God in Christ receives loan

The first socially responsible loan recipient in West Orange County is Bay Street Church of God in Christ. BankFIRST has committed to a SRB loan to be used to assist the church in building a new day care facility to provide much-needed affordable child care for families in the greater West Orange County area.

“Responsibility is only given to those who have the ability to respond,” commented Pastor Byron Stevenson, Bay Street Church of God in Christ. “The BankFIRST Socially Responsible Banking Program is an answer to a community need thereby empowering organizations to make communities stronger, and the quality of mankind better,” Stevenson said.

City of Ocoee, Winter Garden, and Town of Oakland deposit funds

Among SRB supporters – and its first West Orange County depositors – are the City of Ocoee, the City of Winter Garden, and the Town of Oakland. “I have no doubt that West Orange will reap the benefits from this excellent program spearheaded by BankFIRST,” said Rob Frank, Ocoee City Manager.

The SRB Program reaches far beyond one geographic area, as it will have a significant impact in all three of the communities responsible for initial deposits to kick-start funding. “The Town of Oakland is looking forward to working with this initiative for the betterment of all West Orange communities,” said Maureen Rischitelli, Oakland Town Manager. City of Winter Garden Economic Development Director, Shelly Weidenhamer agreed, stating, “The BankFIRST Socially Responsible Banking Program is a creative example of a public private partnership with the bank, West Orange localities, community leaders and local organizations. We are looking forward to kicking-off the program in West Orange.”

SRB depositors earn a market rate of interest, currently up to 4.50 percent, in FDIC-insured accounts at BankFIRST. A Checking account version of the SRB product is also available. A 12-member Community Advisory Council of business and community leaders will help refer socially responsible loan candidates and work in conjunction with the Winter Park Community Advisory Council to conduct an annual review of the SRB program.

Not a charity – an investment

BankFIRST’s President and CEO, Donald J. McGowan pointed out that the SRB program is not a charity, it is an investment. “Depositors earn interest, and loan recipients pay back their loans so that we can lend these funds again to other worthy local causes,” McGowan said. Further, all socially responsible loans must meet BankFIRST’s underwriting requirements. “We want to make sure these funds are invested wisely – and well.”

BankFIRST’s 7 AM – 7PM West Orange County financial center is located at 13207 West Colonial Drive in Winter Garden. The bank is headquartered in Winter Park, and has additional offices with expanded hours of operation in Apopka, Clermont, Eustis, and Goldenrod, as well as a seventh location in Sanford. BankFIRST has assets of more than $320 million and was founded as a community owned commercial bank in 1989. The bank recently announced an expanded transaction cut-off time of 5 p.m. for added customer convenience.