Roots—Not Just Branches

Leadership Team—Citizens Bank of Las Cruces’ executive management team, from left: Jed Fanning, Tim Hargrove, Ruth Christopher and George Ruth.
Leadership Team—Citizens Bank of Las Cruces’ executive management team, from left: Jed Fanning, Tim Hargrove, Ruth Christopher and George Ruth.
Citizens Bank of Las Cruces
Las Cruces, N.M.
ROAA in 2015: 2.07 percent
ROAE in 2015: 21.77 percent
Assets: $489 million
Retail locations: Six
Employees: 111
Founded: 1970

By Ruth Christopher

Last year was our strongest earnings year ever. It’s remarkable whenever you achieve a goal like this. However, what makes it even more remarkable is that in 2014 we suddenly and unexpectedly lost our longtime president, Justin Harper.

Although Justin is not with us to celebrate this accomplishment, much of the credit belongs to him and the team he assembled, now led by George Ruth, president and CEO, an accomplished leader and talented banker. We are also fortunate to have a strong and engaged board under the exceptional leadership of Chairman Tom Hutchinson, an outside director who, along with his wife, owns and operates a prominent business in town.

As a team, we can sum up our philosophy with the following statement: “We have roots, not just branches.”

As a community bank, Citizens Bank of Las Cruces has roots in our community, in our history and in our culture. We are as deeply committed to our community as a tree commits its roots to the soil. It is this focus that distinguishes us from the big banks and other financial institutions that merely have branches in our community. This focus has been a major key to our success. This is our legacy, and it helps us know who we are and gives our customers and staff a sense of family.

Our journey to becoming a high-performance bank began many years ago. Since 2001, we have received the distinguished recognition by Independent Banker as a “Best of the Best” community bank, 14 of the past 15 years. The foundation for this achievement is our dedication to professionalism, maintaining high customer-service standards, building an empowered talented team, and preserving mutually beneficial customer relationships.

In the mid-1990s we developed core values and standards to share with each existing and potential staff member about who we are and need to be. As a result, every one of our staff members is a member of “the first team.” We have no second team. We also began taking a more serious approach to our strategic planning process and established an incentive-based compensation program with measurable team and individual goals that supported the strategic plan.

In 1996 we built upon this base with a major shift in culture and reorganization. We realized that we needed to make it easier for our customers to do business with us. After analyzing our existing policies, procedures and organization, we restructured from eight departments to three major departments. This led to a positive change to our corporate culture, improved operational efficiency, enhanced internal communication and teamwork, and, most importantly, improved service to our customers.

Other contributors to our success included increasing non-interest income, thanks in a large part to our outstanding mortgage department, and continued attention to acquiring low-cost deposits. Additionally, when loan growth slowed in our market area, we looked to other communities where our lending team had expertise and familiarity.

We have never lost sight of the importance of a strong balance sheet. It’s our philosophy that you never have enough in your loan-loss reserve when you need it, so we maintain strong reserves and have always made provisions to our allowance. We stay true to our core banking principles: Know and service our customers, closely monitor asset quality, and maintain a strong capital position.

Now back to our roots. We were fortunate to have a founder and longtime chairman in Jim Ikard, an individual with amazing vision and patience. Without his leadership, dedication and perseverance, we would not be the bank we are today. We look forward to another successful year as our roots continue to grow and our branches become even stronger.

Ruth Christopher ( is executive vice president and chief financial officer of Citizens Bank of Las Cruces. A CPA, she began her banking career with Citizens Bank as internal auditor 32 years ago.