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Corporate headquarters in Magee.

Barnes: Brick and mortar will never replace relationships

By NASH NUNNERY

One of Mississippi’s oldest banks is now the state’s number one bank, according to Forbes magazine’s 2019 Best-In-State Banks and Credit Unions edition.

PriorityOne Bank was selected based on the publication’s consumer survey ratings on overall recommendations and satisfaction, including trust, terms and conditions, branch and digital services, and financial advice.

PriorityOne president and CEO Robert Barnes received news of the announcement from a colleague with the Mississippi Bankers Association.

“We have always strived to be the very best and it was a refreshing feeling to have that effort and dedication validated by an outside source,” said Barnes. “We have a great staff and they definitely deserve this recognition and honor. It’s a testament to them and their hard work.”

Headquartered in Magee, PriorityOne boasts approximately $680 million in assets, with 15 branches in 11 Mississippi counties, and operates three mortgage loan production offices. The bank employs 210 most of whom are full-time employees.

Client support is job one at PriorityOne. The bank performs its own customer satisfaction surveys and responds accordingly, Barnes said.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on is providing a superior level of customer service to every person who chooses to bank with us,” he said. “We understand what a privilege it is to have them choose us as their financial institution and we are grateful for the opportunity to serve them. We also believe that we have the best staff and employees, those who believe in true relationship banking and take pride in our organization and the jobs that they do.

“PriorityOne treats customers as people and not as a number or transaction.”

The bank’s slogan, “big bank sophistication and small town values,” wasn’t a product of a slick advertising campaign but was homegrown. According to Barnes, the phrase simply means that PriorityOne offers all of the sophistication and technology of larger banking institutions while still providing a superior level of personalized customer service.

Management team from left to right, are Robert Barnes (CEO), Martha Underwood, Barry Winford and John Mark Williams.

“The phrase was actually coined by one of our branch managers and we feel it describes us perfectly,” he said. “You won’t find call centers or automated response systems here. We pride ourselves on direct contact with our customers and making them feel right at home.”

Chief operating officer and executive vice-president John Mark Williams joined PriorityOne in 2013. He beams with pride of the technological advances offered by the small community bank, and how employees are encouraged to try the new services for themselves.

“Every employee hired comes through the CEO’s office and has direct interaction with him,” Williams said. “Robert (Barnes) addresses our products and services with them, and encourages our employees to take advantage so that they’re the best person to recommend those services to our customers. We make it a point to invest in the banking technologies that are important to them and help make their lives more convenient.”

Williams added that PriorityOne offers several technology-based services rarely found in other community banking organizations, including E-Sign loans, SecurLock debit card protection, BizNow Stored Value business cards, and online mortgage loan applications and account opening.

“We also offer a wealth management division that offers 401ks, annuities, estate planning and financial advice, among others,” he said.

Founded in 1905 as the Independent Bank of Seminary, the bank has undergone several name changes over its 114-year history. Perhaps the most important came in March 2003 when Citizens State Bank was re-branded and changed to PriorityOne Bank.

“The reason for the change was to differentiate ourselves from other banks in the market that had names similar to ours,” Barnes said. “We spent a great deal of time working with an ad agency to find a name that clearly communicated our passion for serving our customers.

“Our name PriorityOne with the attached tagline “Our One Priority Is You” is the driving force behind everything we do.”

Despite being recognized as the number one bank in Mississippi, PriorityOne continues to expand its reach. In January 2020, the bank will move into a 5,000-square-foot branch in the Horne CPA building in Ridgeland after opening a branch in Flowood Market on Lakeland Drive earlier this year.

But for Barnes, brick-and-mortar structures will never replace relationships in the banking industry.

“Our customers are our top priority, and we make it a point to empower our employees,” he said. “Every employee feels cared for and enjoys the family-friendly culture of PriorityOne Bank.”

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