Heritage hits sweet spot for RBC, world's 10th-largest bank

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comApril 11, 2012 

Opening ceremonies at the RBC Heritage at the 44th Annual RBC Heritage PGA Tour Golf Tournament at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines.

SARAH WELLIVER, THE ISLAND PACKET

The title sponsor of this week's RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing should need no introduction -- the Royal Bank of Canada has been around for almost 150 years.

It is the 10th-largest bank on the planet, based on market capitalization of $67 billion.

It has 74,000 employees and serves nearly 16 million clients through offices in Canada, the United States and 51 other countries.

It is the sixth-largest full-service brokerage firm in America.

Its 2011 fourth-quarter dividend yield was 4.5 percent.

"We increased our quarterly dividend by 8 percent," CEO and president Gordon "Gord" Nixon is fast to add.

Nixon has been CEO for 11 years, and he's only 55. He is a tall man with a wife and three children, including a son at Duke University. He has a 9 handicap.

Nixon has won top honors from his nation and profession. But his claim to fame may end up being this: When other businesses were roaring to a merger party in the buildup to the meltdown, he said "no." RBC turned instead to a "Client First" strategy. When everything blew up in 2008, suddenly slow and steady looked extremely smart.

"We were able to stay out of larger problem areas," is how that comes out in CEO-speak.

So why does RBC want to paint the Lowcountry -- or at least Harbour Town Golf Links -- its trademark blue?

Nixon and chief brand and communications officer Jim Little told me this week that the answer is, of course, green.

"Golf hits a great demographic," Nixon said.

"People who watch golf are people we want" as clients, Little said.

Specifically, they believe the RBC Heritage can bolster the two wholesale segments of its business: wealth management and capital markets.

Little, who used to drive from Canada to Hilton Head for annual golf outings with eight college buddies, says it's about relationships. "This tournament reinforces our presence," he said. "It makes us to feel more local, to be more local."

RBC invited about 200 people -- mostly clients, but some prospects -- to the Lowcountry this week. They're coming from all over America in two- to three-day waves -- playing on local golf courses, eating in restaurants, boating to Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, playing in the pro-ams and watching golf.

They'll have some receptions in their headquarters, the Inn at Harbour Town beside the clubhouse.

The guests may be corporate treasurers or chief financial officers at Fortune 500 companies, or perhaps someone in estate planning, or government bonds. They may represent institutional clients.

"We want the right people to know more about us," Little said. "We're in the business of establishing and reaffirming trust."

A FULL BAG

Golf enables RBC to press marketing dollars directly against its target, Little said.

"With a golf tournament, you get on-site promotion, client-hosting, and mass branding on TV," he said.

He said there's nothing like the island's beauty on television with CBS Sports anchor Jim Nantz telling the story.

"Hilton Head is a small, local-feeling place, but it feels big on TV," Little said.

Little has orchestrated RBC's deep plunge into golf over the past five years.

The company also sponsors the RBC Canadian Open and eight touring pros: Canadians Mike Weir and Stephen Ames, as well as Luke Donald, Ernie Els, past Heritage champion Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Fred Couples and LPGA player Morgan Pressel.

RBC is a patron and official bank of the PGA of America; the PGA Championship, to be played Aug. 9-12 on Kiawah Island, where RBC will host a "Fan Experience"; and the Senior PGA championship. It is a sponsor of the 2012 Ryder Cup.

And it has invested in developing the next generation of golfers in Canada.

Little insists this will not go away when he leaves RBC for a new job later this month.

Nixon, who hedges about his retirement but indicates he's unlikely to make it to 60, said RBC's involvement with golf is bigger than the CEO.

Both seemed positive that the long-term relationship mentioned in the opening ceremony means more than its new five-year contract.

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