Amerant CEO Retires

Millar Wilson Steps Down from Amerant, Which He Grew into the Largest Gables-Based Bank

He came to the United States nearly 40 years ago to start an office for a Venezuelan banking group and developed that venture into the biggest bank based in Coral Gables. But you won’t hear Millar Wilson tout his role in building Amerant, the $8 billion-asset bank that has traded its stock on Wall Street since 2018. He’s shy, reserved, and team-oriented, not one to indulge in what he calls “hero-ing.” 

Now, the 68-year-old is retiring, handing over Amerant’s CEO reins mid-March to director Jerry Plush and staying several months as a consultant. We asked the international banker – born in Scotland, raised in Venezuela and educated largely in Britain – about changes he’s seen, the future of banking and more. 

Best Change in Banking?

Digital transformation. I’m all for making it as easy and smooth for the customer as possible. When I came in 1982, the fax machine was a novelty, the laptop didn’t exist, and cellphones were huge bricks. Now, fintechs* are getting their foot in, and it makes banks more responsive. 

*Fintech means financial technology – any kind of technology in financial services, including any firm that provides financial services through software or other technology, including mobile payment apps or even cryptocurrency. 

Future of Banking?

Just about everything is changing. In as little as 10 years, we won’t have checks. Already, our branch of the future in Coral Gables has no teller stations; anybody can take a deposit. Those deposits go into a machine, not a drawer… Many branches also are going to disappear. 

Career Highlight?

Doing the spinoff from Venezuela’s Mercantil group and initial public offering on Nasdaq. It was bittersweet. I started with Mercantil in 1977. They’re very forward thinking and very concerned about their people. Suddenly, we were on our own. It put a lot of responsibility on us as a management team. 

Leading A Publicly Traded Company?

One thing I don’t like is this “short-termism,” that you have to meet targets every quarter. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily in the interest of your long-term investors. 

Your Childhood In Venezuela?

My parents were born in Scotland, and after World War II times were depressed, with rationing. Dad was an agricultural engineer, and Shell [oil company] had just set up a foundation in Venezuela to help the local agricultural sector – how to analyze soil, the best seed to plant… They made him an offer. Dad stayed 29 years. I stayed until age 10 and then went to boarding school in Britain. Venezuela was a phenomenal place to grow up. 

Your Start In Banking?

After university, I worked five years for Price Waterhouse, becoming a chartered accountant. I was living in London in 1977 when Venezuela was booming, oil prices going up. My parents were in Caracas. I thought I’d give it a shot. Mercantil approached me. 

Best Part Of Banking?

The diversity. You have clients, regulations changing, events locally and things happening in foreign countries. It’s never boring. 

Your Wish For U.S. Banks?

The regulations change relatively frequently with changes in government. I don’t like to see the industry politicized. Also, you have to create a level playing field. We’re highly regulated; fintechs aren’t. And credit unions have a significant advantage; for starters, they don’t pay taxes. 

Your Professional Legacy?

It’s all Amerant. [Let them say] he helped create a viable, growing institution and leaves behind a great team that’s going to take it forward. 

Advice To Aspiring Bankers?

Focus on digital. Really get into what fintechs are doing and how to compete. 

Millar Wilson - Amerant CEO Retires