Our annual list of the year’s go-getters is here! Read on to see the 75 community banks that took the crown, and hear from nine that shined because of their cutting-edge technology, strategic growth and superior personal service.
By Katie Kuehner-Hebert and Kathryn Jackson Fallon
How we compiled these rankings
ICBA compiled this year’s rankings with the aim of recognizing community banks that are consistent high performers. Using FDIC data, we took into account return-on-assets (ROA) figures from 2016, 2017 and 2018, with 2018 carrying the most weight. We then divided the community banks into three broad segments based on asset size, and ranked each segment based on our three-year weighted average ROA.
Under $300 Million
By Katie Kuehner-Hebert
Two cool programs at Independence Bank
East Greenwich, R.I.
Assets: $63.8 million
3-yr average ROA: 7.20%
1: Working Capital Express Loan program
Also known as the “Cool Cash Connect” program, small-business owners can get pre-qualified in as little as one business day for a working capital loan of $100,000, $125,000 or $150,000. The loans are offered through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 7(a) guaranteed lending program, and Independence Bank is particularly good at it: It is consistently one of the top SBA 7(a) lenders in Rhode Island.
2: SBA Loan Referral Agent Program
Independence Bank actively recruits referral agents to work remotely, supplying them with sophisticated platforms to enable them to serve clients in a variety of industries and locations. For each successfully funded referral, the bank offers up to 1 percent of the loan amount.
3 minutes with …
Kent Landvatter, president and CEO, FinWise Bank
Assets: $116.3 million
3-yr average ROA: 4.04%
What makes FinWise Bank successful?
We’ve developed a very strong SBA and local lending team. Because of technology, we’ve been able to move outside our geographic containments, and we have a loan production office on the East Coast.
We’ve also introduced complementary products for small businesses. Let’s say a merchant selling bicycles comes to us for a loan on a building. We can also offer them a small business working capital loan, as well as point-of-sale financing for their customers. Customers can apply for a loan to buy an expensive bike, and with us they can get an immediate turnaround. This helps the business sell even more products.
“The proper use of technology can really be a big leveler with big banks.”
—Kent Landvatter, FinWise Bank
Why do you call FinWise ‘the financial tech bank with a community heart’?
The proper use of technology can really be a big leveler with big banks. Making banking more efficient really strengthens customer relationships. But we’ve also partnered with a company to build out consumer education in our communities, especially in Title I schools.
Neil D. Grossnicklaus, CEO, Willamette Valley Bank
Q: You have an extensive offering of home loan programs. How does this niche help your profitability ratios?
A: We’re a community bank primarily, with a commercial real estate loan portfolio. It’s a conservative portfolio, so we supplement it with fee income from our mortgage business. We offer conventional mortgages, FHA mortgages, USDA/rural mortgages, VA mortgages, Jumbo mortgages, HARP, Fannie Mae’s HomeReady loan program, and residential construction loans for the individual or for the builder constructing a home for their client.
Willamette Valley Bank
Assets: $261.1 million
3-yr average ROA: 3.12%
It’s uncommon for a bank our size to do as many mortgages as we do. Last year, we did more than 3,200 mortgages totaling $740 million, which is a significant number for a small bank.
We have four traditional banking branches within a 20-mile circle on the western side of Oregon, but we have a dozen home loan centers around the Northwest, including in Washington and Idaho. We tend to be in small communities and not compete in the larger markets, which has a large impact on our profitability.
Q: Why is that?
A: In the smaller communities, personal relationships tend to be stronger. It’s easier to stand out in a smaller community if you have good people who give good service—whereas you sometimes get lost in a large metropolitan area or on the internet, where people are just shopping for price only.
We’re known for taking care of the customer, sticking with them to get the transaction done. We do surveys of all of our customers to see how well we do. I’m very gratified with a lot of the really glowing comments—that [the process] took very little time or that we solved a difficult problem for them.
Q: What else sets you apart?
A: We try to make this a fun place to work. Our Idaho operation came fifth in Best Places to Work in Idaho, and Oregon Business put us at No. 12 on its list of Best Large Companies to Work For in Oregon in 2019.
This does translate into high performance. Our turnover is less because of high employee engagement and morale. The customers who bank with us like our people, whether it’s on the commercial or mortgage side of the bank. Our employees are very active in their communities and are highly thought of. Happy employees translate into happy customers, and that translates into higher profitability for the institution.
Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a writer in California.
$300 Million to $1 Billion
By Kathryn Jackson Fallon
3 minutes with …
Bryan Cohen, CEO, and Brad Day, president and COO, Quantum National Bank
Founded by cardiologist Dr. Narasimhulu Neelagaru in 1995, Quantum National Bank serves commercial and retail customers in metro Atlanta.
Quantum National Bank
Assets: $489.8 million
3-yr average ROA: 2.33%
How do you help your clients reach their goals?
Bryan Cohen: While many banks come and go due to both mergers and economic realities, Quantum has been a steady banking partner for nearly 25 years. Our business mantra is “Your Banking Partner for Success,” and we take this very seriously.
How does Quantum blend technology and personal service?
Brad Day: Quantum prides itself in staying at the cutting edge of technology. We combine the technology part of the business and our high-touch relationship to provide our customers with a broad and positive experience. Our lending and cash management teams meet regularly with customers, which shows that each customer is important to us.
“Our lending and cash management teams meet regularly with customers, which shows that each customer is important to us.”
—Brad Day, Quantum National Bank
Cohen: With business lines in SBA lending, residential construction lending and commercial investment lending, we are able to assist a variety of companies in growing their businesses. Our fast response times, attentive service and eagerness to understand our customers’ business models makes us an ideal partner. One way we reach out to our diverse customer base is to provide free seminars that have covered topics such as economic conditions, cybersecurity and residential construction trends.
Pioneer Trust Bank:
Blending the past with the present
Founded in 1924 and solely a trust operation until 1968, Pioneer Trust Bank was one of the few banks west of the Mississippi to survive the Great Depression, says Randy Compton, CEO and co-chair of the board.
Today, it deals mostly with commercial and single-family real estate, commercial and industrial, multi-family, and home equity lines of credit, concentrating on its community and small businesses.
Pioneer Trust Bank
Assets: $501.3 million
3-yr average ROA: 2.32%
Almost every new customer who walks into the $501.3 million-asset community bank is a referral. Compton has been with Pioneer Trust Bank for 42 years and is now working with third-generation family businesses. “You can spend a lot of money on advertising,” he says, “but the best advertising is word-of-mouth and a solid reputation.”
Having both the trust operation and the banking operation is ideal, he says, because Pioneer Trust Bank is there for people throughout their lives and careers. This commitment to continuity is evident in the bank’s physical setup, too: There are no private offices or upstairs suites for staff or officers. “We’re all out in front of the bank when you walk in,” Compton says.
The past decade was a challenge for Pioneer Trust Bank, as it was for the industry as a whole. However, the bank was able to work through any loan issues without calling any loans or reducing credit lines. “We worked with everybody and got through it very well,” says Compton. “As a result, over the past five years especially, our growth has been in the double-digit-per-year asset growth, and our loan growth has been averaging 15 percent a year for the past five years.”
The U.S. economy is slowing a bit, and the biggest concern that Compton has is staying ahead of the curve. He doesn’t see a recession ahead, but he believes the market is going to be a little different. “We’ve been meeting with our loan customers and discussing these issues and preparing them as well,” he says, “and we’re strengthening balance sheets and income statements.” Pioneer Trust is ready for the next chapter in its history.
Bill Wiedel Jr., president and CEO, CFG Community Bank
CFG Community Bank is both a commercial bank and also operates a nationwide healthcare finance business.
CFG Community Bank
Assets: $832.3 million
3-yr average ROA: 2.83%
Q: What sets CFG apart from other banks?
A: We lend to skilled nursing facilities under a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program and ultimately sell the loans to Wall Street as GNMA Project bonds. We service about $3 billion in HUD loans. For healthcare customers that need funding faster … we offer bridge loans. We also offer accounts-receivable financing to our nationwide skilled nursing customers. HUD has never lost money on a loan originated by CFG.
On the Maryland commercial bank side, I believe the quality of our relationship managers and our ability to serve our clients in a timely manner sets us apart. We tailor to commercial and personal customers and their banking needs. CFG is owned by an entrepreneur, and that entrepreneurial spirit pervades our organization. It attracts like-minded, talented people. And this is also the profile of our client base. It is a natural fit. We are small enough to be able to give clients access to not only the president but also the owner of the bank.
Q: CFG was founded in 1927 as La Corona Building and Loan Association. What else has changed in that time?
A: Most everything has changed. Jack Dwyer purchased what was then called AmericasBank in 2009. He integrated the healthcare finance business he had run for 20 years. However, he felt it was important to continue to serve the local business community as well. His goal is to be as successful in the commercial banking sector serving the central Maryland market as he has been in his national healthcare finance business.
Kathryn Jackson Fallon is a writer in New York.
Over $1 Billion
By Katie Kuehner-Hebert
Stearns Bank: Cutting-edge tech, small-town feel
Stearns Bank N.A. has sophisticated online platforms for a number of lending niches and now specialized apps for business customers, but it’s really its people that make it such a high-performing bank, says president and CEO Kelly Skalicky.
“We’re big enough to invest in [giving] people the cutting-edge technologies they need, but we still have the small-town feel when people call us and we answer on the first ring,” she says.
Stearns Bank N.A.
St. Cloud, Minn.
Assets: $2.2 billion
3-yr average ROA: 2.51%
One of Stearns Bank’s specialties is nationwide equipment financing, both large- and small-ticket leasing: medical, optical, laser-cutting and skid steers for landscapers, for example. “We’re very fast, because when business people get a new job, they need equipment and they need it now,” Skalicky says. “Also, the dealer doesn’t want them to leave without buying the equipment, so we’ve got to fund right away.”
The average equipment loan ranges from $7,000 to $10,000, and since many competitors “won’t touch” small-ticket loans, the bank is able to post high volumes: roughly $14,000 to $15,000 a year.
Stearns Bank is also the 15th largest SBA lender in the country. “I’m a huge advocate of SBA loans,” Skalicky says. “People say there’s typically so much paperwork, but I tell them, ‘There’s an SBA loan and then there’s the “SBA Stearns” way.’”
For a $350,000 loan or less, the bank has a streamlined process that enables people to get a decision on a SBA loan within a day. That’s important, Skalicky says, because people need to know they have the commitment of financing to be able to obtain a lease for their small store, to open a spa or landscaping business.
“They need to know they can buy equipment or lease space, so we pair what we learned in the equipment finance division and now we’ve brought those efficiencies and streamlined workflow onto the SBA loan side,” Skalicky says. “We’ve done all kinds of government lending for decades, so we’re a preferred lender—not just one loan a year. We have a dedicated team of 75 people that make it work like clockwork.”
Stearns Bank can also help businesses with tax credit financing. For example, for equipment financing on renewable energy projects, it offers wind tax credit financing to further help fund the project.
For all its innovation, Skalicky says Stearns Bank’s success comes down to its employees. “Here in St. Cloud, we’ve got a really strong work ethic,” she says. “We’re still privately held, and we like to give personal service.”
Metro City Bank
Assets: $1.4 billion
3-yr average ROA: 2.82%
3 facts about …
Metro City Bank
Metro City Bank’s employees, management and board of directors reflect the diversity of its communities. “We believe that it is essential for a bank to speak the language of its customers,” the bank states on its website’s home page. The bank’s president and CEO Farid Tan emigrated from Malaysia in 1993.
The community bank offers a wide range of international services for importers and exporters, including import letters of credit, standby letters of credit, export letters of credit, collections and other essential documents to conduct foreign trade.
Metro City Bank has 17 branches: eight in Georgia, one in New Jersey and two each in New York, Alabama, Texas and Virginia.
3 minutes with …
Khalid Acheckzai, president and CEO, Poppy Bank
Why does Poppy Bank perform so well?
Because of the vision that the board and I have put in place: focusing on our clients, on our employees and on the needs of the communities we serve.
Santa Rosa, Calif.
Assets: $1.9 billion
3-yr average ROA: 2.40%
For example, after the 2017 fires in Santa Rosa, Calif., we took a step back to figure out what the community needs. We came up with a construction loan for people to rebuild their homes, in which a 30-year mortgage was already tied to it. That eliminated the multistep process of taking out a construction loan and then having to separately take out permanent financing. Just making small adjustments like these allows us to differentiate ourselves.
Do you specialize in any way?
We have a focus on commercial real estate lending, construction lending, hospitality lending and we also do SBA lending nationwide, which gives us a much broader network across the country and greatly boosts our profitability.
On the deposit side, all of our branches are in California. Because we leverage technology such as remote deposit capture for our business customers and mobile banking for consumers, we can have branches 15 to 20 miles apart. This reduces costs by not having as many branches and also greatly helps our profitability.
“We’re in growth mode. Our focus is on continuing to build out our branch network.”
—Khalid Acheckzai, Poppy Bank
What are your future plans?
We’re in growth mode. Our focus is on continuing to build out our branch network. We’ve got branches throughout the Bay Area, in Roseville, near Sacramento, and one in Costa Mesa in Orange County, and we’re going to open two more branches this year. We like to grow organically, so we have no reason to acquire, but if a good opportunity comes up, we wouldn’t want to look past it.
Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a writer in California.