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Brandon-based Community Bank builds significant presence

Community-focused banks growing strong around state

While consolidation is a fact of life in modern-day banking, it is also true that many community banks are moving ahead with their own competitive strategies, carving a niche with personalized service. Such is the case with Brandon-based Community Bancshares of Mississippi Inc. What began as the $6-million Community Bank in 1968 has since expanded to a $730-million-institution with 20 offices across the state in lucrative areas such as metropolitan Jackson and central Mississippi, the Gulf Coast, Laurel, Hattiesburg and DeSoto County.

Spearheading the progress has been chairman Thomas Colbert. However, Colbert quickly corrects observers by stating that his staff deserves the credit for its ability to work hard and remain competitive in a rapidly changing financial services environment.

“In my opinion, there are two things that make our organization unique in its ability to compete with the best of financial institutions,” Colbert said. “First, we have a huge respect for the individual within our banks. We look at people as individuals and we are focused on providing our people with opportunities for professional development and continuing education. We’re very apolitical in this bank — you’re rewarded on the merits of what you accomplish. Second, we operate as owners — who know and understand the dynamics of their local markets, as eighty percent of our stock is owned by staff, officers and board members.”

While the company’s size and scope have expanded throughout recent years, Colbert said that the bank isn’t driven by being any particular asset size but by being the best it can be. Being the best extends not only to financial performance and business development, but human development and community involvement.

While profits were level last year due to the opening of new offices, assets grew in 1998 by 24%. Return on equity, a key performance ratio, has averaged around 15% for the last 20 years, according to Colbert. While the bank can take advantage of various efficiencies within its system, it isn’t so large that it is burdened by heavy bureaucracy.

“While our banks operate according to the specific needs of their individual markets, we are in a unique situation of being able to take advantage of our ability to share costs in certain areas, such as marketing,” Colbert said.

Another positive element of the company’s structure is the ability of bank presidents to meet once a month to share information on best practices and to learn from one another. Colbert also added that the company’s size makes it nimble enough to make technological changes in a cost-effective manner while offering more sophisticated products, like Internet banking, which it hopes to launch in the next year or so. Another reason why Colbert believes that his organization can do well in larger Mississippi markets is its ability to be responsive to local community needs.

“As banks have merged over the years, there have been instances where the local community didn’t feel that it had the same input into some financial institutions as it once did,” Colbert said.

While Colbert said he is pleased with the results achieved in new market locations over the years, he did not provide any specifics for future market expansion other than to say that good economics and community support are critical to any bank’s success.

“In some markets, our presence was initiated because of local relationships. In other markets, we started from scratch,” Colbert said. “We still have much to keep us occupied with the strong markets we’re already in now.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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