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Q&A: Bill Ray, President/CEO, BankPlus

Economic revival

BankPlus CEO believes the economy is on the way back

Oxford native William A. (Bill) Ray is the CEO of BankPlus, one of the fastest-growing financial institutions in Mississippi.  He says the bank’s success is due to an emphasis on providing excellent customer service and the retention of high-performing employees.  He recently sat down with the Mississippi Business Journal’s Nash Nunnery for a conversation about the banking industry.

Q —  As a president/CEO  in the banking industry, do you see any signs that the economy is improving?

A — Most economists generally agree the recession ended in the third quarter of 2009. Economic indicators such as GDP and the ISM manufacturing index have rebounded sharply, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen more than 64 percent since its low in March 2009. A few days ago, I talked to the sales manager at a local car dealership who told me their sales were up 60 percent in January and February of this year compared to the same two months last year.  So, yes there are clear signs the economy is improving both nationally and locally. At BankPlus, we believe in the economic vitality of our state and we will work with our customers to help them through the current economic environment.

Q —  What are the largest hurdles for consumers and small businesses when facing the challenges of economic recovery?

A — When there are high levels of unemployment combined with a lack of consumer spending, it creates an economic cycle that can be hard to break. Our challenge over the past year has been helping our customers, especially small businesses, make the smart financial decisions that will position them for the future. In times like this, we are especially proud that our focus on long-term relationships and proven community banking principles has never wavered.

Q —  Do earnings reports truly reflect profitability?

A — Yes. In our experience, earnings reports do reflect profitability.  Of course, recently we’ve seen changes in accounting standards that are more challenging to read and understand.  In some cases, a company’s negative earnings report could be the result of a change in accounting and not be as bleak as it sounds.  And we all know that the media tends to focus on the negative, especially today. Clearly, the large majority of companies report their earnings accurately, but you don’t tend to hear about that.

Q —  BankPlus has witnessed tremendous growth over the last decade.  What are the main factors attributable to that growth?

A — Just in the last decade, BankPlus has experienced strong growth, growing from $675 million to over $2 billion in total assets. This growth can be attributed to employees offering customers a high level of personal service and the bank’s innovative products and financial services that keep us one step ahead of the competition. We were among the first to offer customers extended hours, with 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. extended drive-throughs at most offices. And we have always offered the widest range of personal and business banking products. Looking to the future, I’m really excited about our wealth management services, online and mobile banking, and now, the workplace wellness services of our new subsidiary, WellnessPlus.

Q —  In your opinion, what is the current state of Mississippi’s banking industry?

A — Historically, Mississippi banks are more conservative than banks in other states and not as susceptible to economic volatility. You can easily see that in the context of real estate when comparing Mississippi to states such as California or Florida. No Mississippi banks have failed during the recession, and BankPlus continues to grow by adhering to traditional principles and proven, long-term strategies for success.

Q —  Which technologies are going to be key drivers in the future of the industry?

A — A key driver in banking technology going forward will be mobile banking—customers will soon expect to manage practically their entire financial life with their phone. We have already adopted this technology with our BankPlus2Go mobile banking product, and soon will be adding an iPhone app, improvements for people who use other smart phones and also enhanced text messaging and alerts. We are also actively investigating mobile deposit applications. BankPlus has a history of offering the latest technological innovations and conveniences to our customers.

Q —  What is your vision for BankPlus in the next decade?

A — We intend to build on our record of growth to remain an independent community bank serving Mississippi. The secret to our success has always been our people. We have a terrific, highly-motivated group of employees who work together as a team to ensure the best possible service for our customers.

Q —  Professionally, what has been your greatest challenge?

A — I became president of BankPlus at age 29, and was named CEO eight months later at age 30. This was during the mid-1980s when the bank only had $90 million in assets and six offices concentrated in the Delta. It was a difficult time for the agriculture industry and many of our ag customers were experiencing financial problems. My greatest challenge was to develop a plan to diversify the bank and limit exposure to any one segment of the economy or geography. Since that time, BankPlus had grown from six offices located in the Delta to over 60 banking offices in 33 Mississippi communities.

Hometown: Oxford
Degree(s): BBA in accounting, University of Mississippi
Hobbies/Interests: Travel and sports
Favorite Meal: Our family Thanksgiving Dinner
Favorite Movie: “Forrest Gump”
Last Book Read: “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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