First National Bank and Trust, long-time Destin Chamber member, still going strong
It’s been more than six decades since First National Bank and Trust opened its doors in Fort Walton Beach and for nearly 55 of those years, it has been a member of the Destin Chamber of Commerce.
First National Bank and Trust (FNBT) was started in 1956 by James Tringas and later branched out around Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties to included nine branches in addition to the main office on Eglin Parkway in Fort Walton Beach.
The branch in Destin started in 1978, but FNBT was a member of the Destin Chamber long before then.
“My dad was a big supporter of anything that was going on in Destin,” said John Tringas, who is now at the helm of FNBT.
The Tringas family started out in the theater business. They opened the Tringas Theater on U.S. Highway 98 in downtown Fort Walton Beach in 1941; the building now houses Suds N Cinema.
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“Because (dad) was in the theater business in Fort Walton Beach and he only made money during the tourist season, he understood how the fishermen (in Destin) made money during the season,” John Tringas said. “So, when he opened the bank he had the bank make boat loans to charter boat captains that only had payments during the season.
“And when the chamber came along, he was right there to support it. He saw that Destin was a growing tourist area,” John added.
And Destin Chamber officials don’t take that 50-plus-year commitment lightly.
“I think it speaks volumes for a business who understands the value of what a chamber of commerce is and does, so much so that they’re a member of that chamber for nearly 55 years,” said Shane Moody, president and CEO of the Destin Chamber. “It is really more a reflection on that business than it is a reflection on the chamber.”
“It’s something that makes us proud to say, ‘Hey, this is FNBT and they’ve been members for 50-plus years,’" Moody said. "It’s such a huge compliment to the business, and it’s businesses like this, that are members from their inception or the chamber’s inception, that keeps us going and give us the drive to push and fight for the business community. And they’ve not just been members, they’ve been active and involved members.”
Tringas said they opened their first bank in Fort Walton Beach because it was the economic center.
“There was more commercial activity here than there was in Destin,” he said.
He explained that back then, Destin was the place you went to find waterfront property if you couldn’t find or afford it in Fort Walton Beach.
“Boy did that change,” Tringas said.
Tringas' start in the banking world
Tringas, now 77 and chairman of FNBT, started as a teller and wrapping coins.
“I was fortunate I got to do everything,” he said.
He did bookkeeping, ran bookkeeping machines, ran checks through and sent them out.
“I did everything in the bookkeeping department. It was a bunch of women and me back there filing checks … and they’d forget me. I learned a lot about life listening to those women,” he said with a smile on his face.
Tringas said today when people ask him how he got his job, his reply is, “I outlived everybody and it helped that daddy was the president of the bank.”
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Tringas said the most fun thing he’s done over the years in banking was when he started the credit card department in 1968.
“That was a risky thing to do back then,” he said.
He was challenged to get the department profitable in two years and he did it in 18 months.
“It was a lot of fun putting up signs and decals. I’m very good at putting up decals,” he said jokingly.
“That business has run its cycle. We still do it, but it’s such a competitive market nationwide. But we’re still in the business.”
Changes in banking
“I don’t see a lot of changes in what we do, just the way we do it,” Tringas said.
“In 1968 we went into the data processing business … processing our own stuff, but we didn’t have as much power as this iPhone,” he said as he picked up his phone.
The retail part of the banking business has diminished during the years.
“The biggest change for us is we have become more of a commercial real estate lender than a place where you could come and get your car financed,” he said.
He explained that people used to come in to get their vehicles, televisions and furniture financed. But today, they can get that done right from where they make their purchase.
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"That’s what we did, people would come in and borrow $600 for 12 months,” he said.
But things have changed.
“We focus on what we do good … commercial lending and that’s tied to real estate. Got to be careful, it's pretty hot market out there right now,” he said. “But we’ve survived all the ups and downs. We’re still here and a lot of our contemporaries didn’t make it.
“I don’t think we were smarter; I think I’ve got smarter people,” Tringas said. “My philosophy has always been, it doesn't raise my level of intelligence to hire somebody who’s dumber than me. If I hire smarter people than me, I’ve got a chance of learning something."
FNBT is the only community bank left in the area, Tringas said.
“Right now, because of the stimulus and what’s going on, we’ve got all this money coming into the bank and we don’t have the loan demand to lend it out. It’s a weird time,” he said.
“That’s a lot of the reason why people are getting out (of the banking business) because they don’t see much light at the end of the tunnel,” Tringas said.
He explained that over the years people have come in and offered a lot of money to buy the bank.
“Daddy would say I came here with $700 in my pocket. I’ve had a great ride, I’ve made a lot of money, it’s been a lot of fun, I’ve got a lot of friends. But if I go broke tomorrow, I’ve still got $700 in my pocket,” Tringas said.
John Tringas has no plans to stop now.
When asked how long he plans to keep working he said, “I guess until I’m out there at Memorial Cemetery.”
But longevity is something FNBT can boast about for many of its employees.
Tringas said he has employees who have worked for the bank 38 and 22 years.
“We’ve got 20 something that have been here 20 years,” he said.
“We’ve been fortunate that people have been loyal.”
And just as his employees have been loyal, FNBT has been loyal to the area and the chamber.
“Mr. Tringas is more than just a chamber member,” Moody said. “He is a community supporter, someone who believes in giving back to the community where you live or where you work. And he knows that giving back pays dividends. He’s one of the good guys and one of the good guys who make the business community look good.
“You don’t run into people like that every day, but when you do run into them, it makes you happy and proud to know them,” Moody added.