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Banking competition fierce in fast-growing DeSoto County

Bankers in DeSoto County describe the banking competition there as fierce and intense. That’s because it’s Mississippi’s fastest-growing county and banks want to be where the action is.

With no indications that the area’s growth will abate, some 22 or 23 different bank companies and hundreds of branches are open for business in this North Mississippi county that is a bedroom community for Memphis. Mississippi and Tennessee banks — old and new — continue to locate there.

The newly chartered DeSoto County Bank opened in Horn Lake less than a year ago. “Banks will gravitate to areas with the best economic vitality and growth,” says president Bill Renovich. “The market is good here and that increases the competition for banks.”

He says DeSoto County leads the state in growth and median family income, has the lowest unemployment; low crime rate and good schools that are part of the vibrancy of the area.

Renovich, who moved to the area from Laurel two years ago, finds DeSoto County a very different market from Laurel. “It’s fast paced here. There are a lot of things to do and a lot of ways to spend money,” he says.

This new bank is developing relationships with customers one on one, letting people know what it offers. It sees a lot of potential and is considering opening other branches in the county.

Sycamore Bank is also new to DeSoto County, having opened a branch in Southaven in July of 2005 in its first venture into the county. The venerable bank was founded in 1900 in Senatobia. President David Dowdle says the Southaven Branch, located at the busy intersection of Goodman and Getwell roads, is profitable and meeting expectations.

‘Extremely fierce’

“We’re focused on location and personnel to combat the competition here which is extremely fierce,” he says. “What makes this market challenging is that all the banks are seeking lending and customers. We want to grow at a measured pace. The last thing we wanted to do was go up there and develop credit problems.”

Dowdle and Renovich say the loan demand is heavy because of the county’s unrelenting growth, making for very competitive rates and services among banks. With all the construction and development, there’s enough lending to go around.

“The greater challenge for us is on the deposit side,” Dowdle says. “A lot of people are moving to DeSoto County from Memphis and already have an existing bank. Maybe where they work in Memphis. I think all the banks would say that.”

One of the ways Sycamore Bank is dealing with that challenge is through a direct mail campaign to the area’s zip codes to keep up awareness.

“We feel like if we can get them in the door, we can keep them coming back,” Dowdle says. “DeSoto County is in the top 25 growth areas in the nation. It will continue to be a growth market and the competition will continue to be intense.”

Jeff Frazier, president and chief operating officer of Community Bank, NA, with offices in Memphis, Olive Branch, Southaven and Hernando, has watched banks increase in the county for several years.

Quality service and staff key

“There were 11 different banks when I started and now that has more than doubled,” he says. “I moved to Olive Branch in 1993 when the population was 1,700 and now it’s 28,000. I can understand why banks want to come here.”

He feels there’s no substitute for quality service and staff when it comes to meeting banking competition. “We get to manage our banks and make decisions locally,” he says. “That gives us an edge. We have very little turnover and do a lot of good recruiting so we can build relationships. We’re committed to this county.”

Frazier agrees that the area’s growth shows no signs of slacking, and he thinks good government and good schools are part of the county’s success.

Although Community Bank is building another branch and may add others, he says it’s never been its goal to have the most branches. Instead, it is adding new technology so customers don’t need as many branches. One of those is by providing customers with remote capture machines that are tied to personal computers and scan paper checks.

“The machines have controls to protect customers and can’t scan the same check twice,” he says. “It’s a real break through. We’re looking at new ways to serve customers with Internet banking and other technology so they don’t have to come to the bank as often.”

Sycamore Bank hopes to open a branch in Hernando this October. “It will be a little different for us in that it’s a self-contained city,” Dowdle says. “We think it will be good for us. A portion of our customer base lives there and we have personnel and a board member living there. It won’t be as much of a change for us as going to Southaven was.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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