Roy W. Talmo, a prominent business leader and banker whose aggressive growth of Lake Worth-based First American Bank and Trust created a financial powerhouse that also became the state’s largest commercial bank failure of its time, has died. He was 85.
In an obituary published in The Palm Beach Post on Sunday, Talmo was described as having died peacefully on April 7 in Palm Beach County. The obituary characterized Talmo as a lifelong banker, businessman and entrepreneur.
It also called him a “strong man with a stoic Norwegian manner” who was loyal but “not afraid to battle politicians and take risks.”
Talmo’s maverick tendencies paved the way for the creation of a dominant Palm Beach County-based bank. Through numerous acquisitions and aggressive real estate lending, Talmo took a small bank with $11 million in assets and created a major financial institution that stretched from Miami-Dade to Brevard counties, at one point boasting 40 branches and assets of $1.5 billion in the 1980s.
In Palm Beach County, some of the leading legal, education and business leaders served on the bank board, including the late personal injury lawyer, Robert Montgomery Jr., and Edward Eissey, former president of what is now known as Palm Beach State College.
J. Michael Burman, a West Palm Beach lawyer who used to do work for the bank, recalled Talmo as “very entrepreneurial … The bank’s interests were in a lot of different businesses in this community.”
By the time the bank was seized in late 1989, it was down to 33 branches but still had 630 employees. It also racked up $80 million in losses during the prior 21 months. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., after declaring First American insolvent, had to pump $500 million of taxpayer money into the bank to protect depositors.
Ken Thomas, a longtime banking analyst in Miami, said First American became a seminal moment in bank regulation. He said regulators made a mistake by delaying the bank’s shutdown, even as losses mounted and capital dwindled.
“The FDIC learned it had to have prompt closures,” Thomas said. “They learned a lot from Roy Talmo.”
Many of those who knew Talmo said he was very attached to the bank. “It was his family,” Talmo attorney Steven Chaykin told jurors during a 1996 federal criminal trial, when Talmo was charged with breaking banking laws.
The bank was, for a time, also Talmo’s financial downfall.
When the FDIC seized the bank in 1989, Talmo was the bank’s largest shareholder, although many Palm Beach County residents, as well as bank employees, also owned stock in the bank as part of their retirement.
All were wiped out with the takeover, including some investors who had put their life savings into the bank’s unsecured notes.
Subsequently, Talmo was charged in federal court with conspiracy and misapplication of bank money. It was the third time prosecutors had tried, unsuccessfully, to put him in prison.
He was acquitted in August 1996, wherein he pronounced: “They took away my bank and financially ruined me, but they didn’t get me.”
Talmo was born in Rochester, Minn. He served in the Army and then earned a B.S. degree in finance and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Minnesota. In 1959, he moved to Florida to work for First National Bank in St. Petersburg, becoming the nation’s youngest bank president at age 27, according to his obituary.
He is survived by his brother, Robert Talmo, of Carlsbad, Calif.; his sister, Shirlie Frick of Palm Beach Gardens; two sisters-in-law and 14 nieces and nephews. Efforts to reach family members were not successful.