Illustration by Mona Daly

Finance

Lunch With D CEO: UMB Bank’s Zach Fee

The national president of regional banking has UMB Bank growing in Texas and across the south and west.

It’s not quite to the level of Norm Peterson on the old sitcom Cheers, but it’s clear that Zach Fee is a familiar face when he walks into Half Shells Oyster Bar & Grill, a casual seafood joint nestled among a row of storefronts at the Shops of Legacy in Plano. He points out a two-top where he and a buddy usually eat, as we walk to a quieter booth in the back.

Ironically, the president of regional banking for UMB Bank isn’t a shellfish guy. “I just like their salmon; I get it every time,” Fee explains, as he pushes aside a menu a waiter had placed in front of him. “They prepare it just the way I like it—blackened.”

It has been seven years since Fee moved here from Kansas City—UMB’s home base and where he had lived since he was a young child—to singlehandedly launch North Texas operations for the bank. Founded in 1913, UMB is the largest financial institution in Kansas City. Despite its longevity, it has the attitude of a startup when it comes to expansion. “I hired my first banker in March 2013 and my second in July 2013,” Fee says. “There was a lot of patience in the process; everything was about our long-term vision, versus the necessity of driving results.”

That strategy has paid off. In just a few years, UMB has grown from a team of one in Texas to more than 120 associates. It opened its first local office in Craig Hall’s Arts District tower, followed by a location in Legacy, and, most recently,  in the 777 Main Street building in Fort Worth. It also recently set up shop in Houston and Austin.

“If you think about the opportunity for us in a market like Texas—it far outpaces the industry.”

Coming from the “Show Me” state of Missouri, Fee says he was blown away by the welcoming attitude of the business community in North Texas. “I daresay it was almost easy,” he says of locally growing the UMB brand. “There’s a willingness of people here to talk to newcomers and say, ‘I’d love to hear your story. It’s probably borne from the fact that there are so many transplants here. But even the Dallas blue bloods would still take my call.

“I’ve also been surprised at how many relationships I have with competitors, and how we help each other all the time,” Fee says. “We have clients today who were referred to us by other brands; that’s shocking to me.”

After experiencing success statewide, Fee is now working his magic on a national scale. A year ago, he was promoted from president of the Texas region to president of regional banking for UMB. He’s now overseeing all commercial operations for the bank’s eight-state footprint. But, in a nod to the UMB’s future-forward culture, he’s doing so not from the mother ship but from Dallas. “We want to continue to grow south and west, so this is the place to be,” Fee says.

That growth  will continue to come both organically and through acquisitions. “We have undersized market share in every market we’re in outside of Kansas City,” Fee says, adding that loans are up in Texas 31 percent, year over year. “If you think about the opportunity for us in a market like Texas—it far outpaces the industry. … The challenge is how to be a growth company while retaining what you’re really, really good at, in a world that has regulatory burdens and other pressures,” Fee says. “I think we do a pretty damn good job at it.” 

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