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Community Bancshares hits $2 billion in assets — and growing

It took Community Bancshares Inc., the holding company for Community Banks, 96 years to reach the threshold of $1 billion in assets. That happened in 2001. Five years later, assets have doubled to $2 billion for the bank that is now 101 years old.

Community Bancshares CEO Thomas W. Colbert said the company plans to continue growing at the same pace.

“Really, this is just a continuation of what we have been doing for the past 30 years,” Colbert said. “We have been doubling every five years. And we expect to double again in another five years.”

Community Bank’s growth has been achieved largely with internal growth with only two bank acquisitions over the last 10 years in Lucedale and Amory.
“We offer a high degree of personal service,” said Colbert, who is also serves on the board of trustees of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning. “We are hands-on with our customers. We have been able, because of our reputation, to attract additional customers. Our customers are recommending us to their friends and neighbors. That is the reason we are growing so fast. We set out to be a good bank, not a big one. But when you do good things, more people notice and you begin to grow.”

The governing structure makes the Community Banks different. Colbert said they have seven different banks, each with their own board, their own officers and their own staff.

“They make their own local decisions,” Colbert said. “With these banks being separate, they handle customers as individuals.”

Many Community Bank employees are vested in the success of the bank and its customers by being owners of the company through their employee stock ownership program (ESOP). The ESOP owns 18% of the company. Hence, employees have a stake in making good decisions that enhance dividends and the value of the stock.

Colbert sees human resources as the biggest challenge as the bank continues its growth pattern. The bank currently has 600 employees. If the bank doubles again in five years, it will need an additional 400 to 500 people.

“A major challenge would be human resources along with growing pains when you are growing that rapidly,” Colbert said. “What makes us successful is the people in the company.

And while it is gratifying to get to $2 billion in assets, what is more gratifying is to be selected as one of the state’s best places to work in Mississippi by the Mississippi Business Journal.

“We are blessed with a tremendous staff. I am proud of what they have achieved so far, and I am excited about watching them continue their success going forward.”

Community Bancshares president Freddy Bagley said their model allowing banking decisions to be made on the local level is one that works.

“When we go into other areas to start a bank, we have a model in place,” Bagley said. “That is why we can be a community-type bank, but be big enough to offer the services that the customer needs. Being a part of Community Bancshares allows each of the individual banks to be a $2-billion bank when they need to be. That is very significant. They can lend more and take care of themselves much better.”

He said another advantage of the banks banding together is that there are economies of scale from sharing work such as audits and accounting compliance.

As indicated by decreased rates of borrowing and a slump in the new housing market, there are signs the nation could be headed to an economic slowdown. Bagley said there have been signs of this happening for over a year.

“We have mitigated potential problems so we might even be able to take advantage of the fact there might be a downturn,” Bagley said. “About 40% of the total company is insulated because of Katrina. The economy on the Coast and all the way up to Hattiesburg is pretty good and won’t be affected as much if there is a downturn in the rest of the state. Other markets may have some exposure, but we think we have taken proper steps to identity and mitigate any problems.”’

Community Bancshares operates seven independent banks with 36 offices in Mississippi and Tennessee and has a bank charter pending in Florida. The financial institution’s future plans call for more strategic growth throughout the Southeast.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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