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Small-town bank offers latest in high-tech service

Adapting to change key to success at Bank of Yazoo City

YAZOO CITY – Few Southern cities suffered more from the devastation of the Civil War than Yazoo City. Repeated raids on the town left it in ruins, and sunken warships, their smokestacks exposed at low water, made the Yazoo River dangerous and often impassable.

By the mid-1870s, the city had begun to recover, mainly on the strength of resurgent Delta cotton. But one commodity remained rare – money. Available capital proved a keen obstacle to economic and community development. That in mind, a group of Yazoo City businessmen began discussing and planning the formation of a new bank. After raising $41,500 in capital, the new Bank of Yazoo City received its charter and opened on Oct. 11, 1876.

Today, the bank is still thriving, now with more than $120 million in assets. It’s still locally-owned, and it continues to pride itself on adapting to and being a catalyst for change just as its forefathers did 124 years ago.

“Without a doubt, I would say that adaptability has been the key to the bank’s longevity,” said S. Griffin Norquist, president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board. “There’s a lack of sameness here. The bank has a long history of being a leader in change and an important part of the economic development of Yazoo City and the county. And that role continues.”

Norquist himself has been a catalyst for change and adaptability. A native of Yazoo City and an alumnus of Ole Miss, Norquist returned to Yazoo City after serving as a bank examiner. He took a significant cut in pay to become the Bank of Yazoo City’s internal auditor in 1974. Promoted through the ranks, he was named vice president, senior vice president, president and finally chief executive officer in 1985.

In 1992, Norquist’s son earned an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Finding that plebes could only communicate with family over the first weeks of enrollment by a relatively new technology called the Internet, Norquist promptly went online.

“At first, I only saw how the Internet was going to affect the telephone,” Norquist said. “Then, I started paying my bills online, and I began to see much larger potential.”

In 1997, after having a Web site for about three years, the Bank of Yazoo City launched online banking services at www.byconline.com. It offers account history, check imaging, fund transfers, bill paying and other options such as re-ordering checks, stop payments and direct deposit.

As might be expected, going on the Web has expanded the Bank of Yazoo City’s horizons. The day prior to this interview, Norquist said he personally waited on a customer in The Bahamas. But the online service also offers a significant cost-saver. According to Norquist, check imaging online costs the bank about a half a cent per transaction, compared to a nickel when doing it by way of the traditional paper route.

Frugality is very important to the bank. Housed in its current office built in 1973 on U.S. 49W, just a few blocks from the bank’s original locale in downtown Yazoo City, Norquist not only has no secretary, but his office is still equipped with furnishings that were brought over from the former headquarters.

“My desk probably goes back to 1956, and this is the original carpet,” Norquist said with a wry smile.

Another key strategy is empowering employees. The bank employs more than 30 workers, and each teller has the authority to give $10 on the spot to any customer with a complaint.

“When you allow people the authority and power to do what they have to do, it makes for great morale and increased customer service,” Norquist said.

“In 1985 when I was named CEO, I had a lady come to me and say, ‘I’m sorry to hear about you being named CEO. I thought you were doing a great job as president.’ People don’t care who I am. They may not even know my name, but they know folks out front. That’s who they deal with.”

While Norquist does not take himself too seriously, when discussing both his personal role as well as the bank’s responsibilities in the development and improvement of not only the city and county but the whole Delta, his tone changed.

“Mississippi is fiftieth in everything, yet if you take out the Delta, Mississippi rises to mid-pack in most categories. That’s how bad it is here in the Delta,” Norquist said. “When President Clinton was in Clarksdale, he defined the Mississippi Delta as being a broad area including even southern Illinois. I don’t see that. The Mississippi Delta is a small, highly-defined area that has fingers in Arkansas and maybe Louisiana, but this area has nothing in common with southern Illinois. And if the Mississippi Delta has to compete for funding with southern Illinois, guess where the money is going to go. Our needs are unique.

“The future of this bank depends on expanding and growing our community. We have to move to high-tech jobs. I know the bank will play a large part in adapting to change.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

About Wally Northway

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