Niche Knowledge

Gary Griffith | The Clay City Banking Co. | Clay City, Ill.

Farming expertise powers Gary Griffith’s agricultural lending success

By Judith Sears

Gary Griffith’s ability to sit down with agricultural customers and analyze their operations is legendary. Raised on a grain and livestock farm in Wayne County, Ill., Griffith, market president and senior agricultural lender for The Clay City Banking Co., knows farm and ranching firsthand.

“Not only can he underwrite for credit, but he can show the farmer where there are weaknesses in the operation,” says Ron Hart, president of the $110 million-asset community bank.

The Clay City Banking Co., headquartered in Clay City, Ill., in southern Illinois, serves a thriving rural economy dominated by the agriculture and oil industries. Together with his staff, Griffith, 61, has brought in over $29 million in new loans to the bank in less than two years—impressive growth for a small community bank.

Griffith, serving his 41st year as a commercial lender, believes that his attention to customers helps Clay City Banking compete successfully in the increasingly competitive agricultural lending market. “Doing a little counseling gives value to the customer for the interest they’re paying,” he says.

Adds Hart: “Many customers have moved their business to us because of Gary. They’ve said they’ve never had anybody go over the information like he did and explain how to make their operations more profitable.”

Griffith is quick to credit his co-workers and urges new lenders to learn from loan processors and head tellers. Tellers, for example, may be the first ones to know who’s buying a home, trading cars or selling a small business while processors can find ways to streamline operations. “Using their experience makes your learning curve much easier,” he says.

Making loans work for both the bank and the customer has also contributed to Griffith’s success. He frequently analyzes financials to find options that improve the transaction for both parties, such as moving short-term debt to intermediate or long-term debt to strengthen a customer’s working capital position.

Like most successful community bankers, Griffith emphasizes building relationships. He’s proud that some of his customers are third-generation relationships, and he takes the bank’s responsibility to benefit the community seriously.

It’s this commitment to building trusted, longstanding customer relationships that Griffith believes has been so important to his success. “Respect the customer and you’ll get that back,” he says.

Judith Sears is a writer in Denver.