The lending team at Southwest Bank: (from left to right) Buddy Iles, Tod Miller, Wade Wallace, Lyle Thornton, Vernon Bryant, Robert Molloy, Marshall Boyd and Carl Cravens.
Southwest Bank in Texas. Beating out competitors in booking new loans has been the foundation of Southwest Bank’s remarkable growth and success. Last year the Fort Worth community bank’s lending production of 86 percent loans to total assets placed it in a tie for 84th place in this year’s 100 best overall top-producing lenders among ICBA member banks.
Vernon Bryant, chairman and CEO of Southwest Bank, attributes the Fort Worth community bank’s loan prowess to three main factors: the vibrant Texas economy fueled by a hot-burning energy economy, highly motivated and well-compensated employees, and a network of loyal investors with whom he originally raised acquisition capital in 2007.
The community bank has travelled far since then, increasing its asset size from $325 million at its founding to a whopping $1.4 billion now. “When we first sold stock,” Bryant reports, “we expected it would make sense for the investors to bank with us, and 90 percent of them do.”
Launching the bank just before the recession actually proved beneficial, since by 2010 the competition was already so mired with problematic balance sheets that those rival banks could not concentrate on making new loans. Southwest Bank, on the other hand, was starting afresh, unencumbered, with ample cash and capital to focus on new loan generation.
Southwest Bank continues to build on its solid business base, with reminders in every shareholder letter that referrals to friends and associates can do nothing but support the stock value. That investor roster comprises about 550 people, between 447 shareholders and 100 debt holders. Visibility in the local community matters too. Somebody represents the bank at local events at least five nights a week, ranging from Chamber of Commerce and school or college activities to nonprofit causes like medical research or the Van Cliburn Foundation, an organization that promotes and supports talented classical musicians worldwide.
Good fortune is also an essential ingredient for excelling in loan volume, Bryant points out, citing robust job economic growth in the Dallas-Forth Worth region. “It helps to be in a good economy, as we are, and it keeps getting better! Texas is so business-friendly, with low taxes and tort reform.”
As the largest locally owned bank in the area, Southwest Bank, which uses the tagline “We take local business personally,” commands a sweet spot for its $2 million to $12 million loans, while regional and nationwide megabanks tend to pursue the area’s bigger transactions.
Another leg of the bank’s loan-production success is compensation. Southwest Bank, which spends no money on advertising, prefers to channel funds into its workforce to further motivate its high-caliber employees. The bank likes to tout how its management and employees have more than 300 collective years of banking experience in its local marketplace. “In our immediate district, we pay well above the average bank,” says Bryant, although in the highly competitive greater Dallas-Fort Worth area, the community bank’s compensation falls in the middle of the pack.
So how does Southwest Bank ensure that the compensation it pays draws the requisite skills and talent? Every prospective hire must complete a predictive index to demonstrate the leadership and team-player qualities, as well as the right balance of introversion and extroversion, work pace and detail orientation that Southwest Bank wants in its workforce.
“We must get the right people on the right seat on our bus, then we make certain that the bus always stays on the right track,” Bryant says.