Raja Khalaf – Cadence Bank
Cadence Bank has come a long way since it was founded in 1876 inside the Raymond Trice and Co. store in Verona, Mississippi.
For the past 12 years, Raja Khalaf, a senior vice president and assistant general counsel, has seen and helped guide the bank’s growth to operations in nine Southeastern states.
Cadence Bank’s growth has been fueled by M&A, most recently in Cadence Bancorporation’s 2021 merger with BancorpSouth Bank. The merged banks now operate as Cadence Bank and are the fifth largest bank in the region with total assets of about $48.8 billion.
After the merger, Khalaf and a legal department colleague, Payne Atkinson, worked to combine the individual treasury management services agreements governing the two banks to accurately reflect the products, services and operational processes of the merged bank. The task needed to be completed in six weeks and the smallest details were crucial for customers of the merged bank. Soon after that, they revised the online banking agreement for the merged bank, too.
“The purpose in revising the treasury management services and online banking agreements was to align the goals of the banks that merged and align their operational practices,” Khalaf explains.
Khalaf and Atkinson didn’t write the new online banking agreement and treasury management agreement on their own, of course. It was a six-week process of 15-hour days where collaborating with business and operations teams from the merged banks was essential.
The details were intricate—for instance, they needed to consider what new products would be offered, how all the products would work in the merged bank, and who in the bank should be contacted regarding errors such as treasury management services or online banking, Khalaf says.
He adds the treasury management services agreement sets forth almost the entire relationship between the bank and all of its clients who use treasury management services. The online banking terms and conditions governs the relationship between the bank and all commercial and consumer clients who use online banking services.
“The quality of my work is very important to me,” he says. “I need to maintain a delicate balance between protecting the safety and soundness of the bank, preserving the jobs of 6,000 people we employ and providing excellent service to our customers.”
As a legal generalist, Khalaf focuses on transactional and regulatory matters. That includes vetting required consumer lending disclosures, addressing issues related to establishing and maintaining commercial and consumer deposit relationships, and reviewing documents and procedures for both secured and unsecured commercial and consumer lending.
The bank’s podcasts were the inspiration of Executive Vice President Patrick Pacheco and were first aired about a year before the Cadence – BancorpSouth merger. Now in their third season, podcast episodes over the years have included addressing supply chain challenges, dealing with cyberthreats, creating a brand and how to make a succession plan for a company.
Khalaf helps review the podcast content, including questions, responses and narrative for statements that might be interpreted as disparaging to a third party or that might be interpreted as infringing on a third party’s intellectual property rights.
“It gets the bank’s name out there and it’s a value add for existing and potential customers,” he says. “There’s some insightful information about issues facing growing businesses.”
Khalaf is also responsible for reviewing and negotiating Cadence Bank’s technology contracts and vendor agreements. While mindful of the cybersecurity threats the bank faces, he says he’s also making sure vendors with access to customer’s personal information and data don’t use it for their own purposes, such as selling it to other companies.
“We need to be sensitive about what we’re sharing with vendors,” he says. “We don’t want to violate our own privacy notice we send to customers.”
Experienced with details
Khalaf was born and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. He anticipated a career in medicine—he was a pre-med student at Birmingham-Southern College—but felt having a legal degree would enable him to “stand up for the rights of the downtrodden,” he says.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in English at Birmingham-Southern in 1992, Khalaf enrolled at Samford University in 1993 to earn his J.D. He graduated in May 1996, and then served as a judicial law clerk for Judge Jack D. Carl of Alabama’s 11th Judicial Circuit until August 1998.
Khalaf then entered private practice as an associate with the Trimmer Law Firm in September 1998, where he advised credit unions in Alabama, Florida and Louisiana. While helping clients prepare lending documents and advertising, he also closed residential real estate purchases.
In September 2000, Khalaf joined the firm of Balch & Bingham where his work included reviewing credit card advertising copy and preparing consumer finance disclosures. He negotiated a $10 million purchase of office buildings for a utility company and also helped a municipality annex and rezone 1,400 acres of land from agricultural to industrial use.
In September 2011, Khalaf joined then-Superior Bank, N.A. which merged with Cadence Bank N.A. a year later. The merger signaled a decade of expansion into the Southeast, as well as Texas and Tennessee.
The growth he’s witnessed and contributed to hasn’t changed Khalaf’s approach to his role—details matter, he says.
“Gathering as much information as possible and taking all that detail, making sense of it and creating cohesive thoughts identifying issues out of it is what’s really important,” Khalaf says. “Sometimes the only way you’re going to be able to spot issues is by having a depth of experience. That’s something that you build up over decades.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer IV 2023 Edition here.
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