40 Under 40: Emerging Community Bank Leaders

40 Under 40 group image

Our second annual 40 Under 40: Emerging Community Bank Leaders competition uncovered some amazing talent. They’re branch managers, compliance officers and marketers. They’re lenders, CEOs and innovators. What they all have in common is a deep belief in the community banking model and a passion for supporting their customers and communities with high-tech, high-touch service. Meet our 2020 winners and hear their thoughts on the industry’s future.


By Judith Sears

When challenges call, innovators answer

The banking landscape shifts daily. Key to meeting customer demands are innovative people who think in terms of years, not months. Here are four of them.

These under-40 innovators clearly see the challenges of the disruption remaking the financial services landscape. “Our competition is not U.S. Bank. It’s Amazon, Instagram and the big players in technology that have frictionless, seamless platforms,” says Sara Fosse, digital innovation manager for $1.9 billion-asset Banterra Bank in Marion, Ill.

That creates an imperative to innovate. “We’ve got to be more agile,” says Blake Swafford, senior innovation officer for $361 million-asset SimplyBank in Dayton, Tenn.

For these leaders, embracing change increasingly means partnering with the disruptors. SB One Bank, a $2 billion-asset community bank in Paramus, N.J., recently partnered with Built, a commercial construction platform in Nashville, Tenn., that aims to simplify the draw management process. The community bank continues to look for more fintech partnerships.

“It’s been like night and day for us,” says Ali Mattera, SB One Bank’s senior vice president, technology and digital bank officer. “We weren’t going to be able to build it internally, and it was a no brainer when we found another company to help.”

These under-40 innovators agree that a reliance on core providers can be an obstacle to change. “We were beholden to our core,” says Patrick Sells, chief innovation officer of $500 million-asset Quontic Bank in New York City. “[This reliance] limited our ability to access our data and have best-in-class technology.”

Realizing this, Sells and his team recently built out the community bank’s application programming interface (API) capabilities. The team mapped data into Microsoft Azure, a cloud-based environment. Working around the core has had multiple payoffs for Quontic Bank.

“The platform allows us to automate a lot of reporting and manual tasks,” Sells says. “It’s saved us 500 man-hours a month. And, as an API-first bank, we don’t have to connect to our core if we want to partner with a fintech. We can do it ourselves. That’s taken costs and time out of projects.”

These young executives are also using technology to drive savings. Mattera and the SB One Bank team reviewed the potential of their Microsoft Office 365 suite and tapped into the capabilities of Microsoft Flow to automate and streamline processes. “We were already paying for this,” Mattera says. “Using Flow, things that would take three days to turn around, such as the approval process for remote deposit customers, are now taking two hours.”

SimplyBank had a similar success when a product review revealed time-saving capabilities for the credit department. “Continually auditing current products and technologies is key to maximizing return on investment.”

Using tech to connect
Far from discarding relationship-based banking, these innovators use technology to reinforce customer relationships. SB One Bank’s digital experience team accompanies relationship managers on visits to commercial customers.

“Going on those calls allows us to have that one-on-one experience with the customers,” Mattera says. “We can create opportunities to discuss their questions about the technology. That reinforces the emotional connection with our customers.”

Fosse adds that relationships are key to optimizing technology. “Anybody can implement technology, but it’s training the staff and community on how to use it that is critical,” she says. “That’s where community banks have a leg up. Our customers are our friends and families. We have an opportunity that the bigger banks don’t have to teach customers firsthand.”

Innovation, these community bankers agree, requires a culture shift. To integrate new approaches with established practices, Sells paired a seasoned vice president of operations with a new marketing hire from a tech startup background.

“We had to create a shared language between the two and a process for how we will try new things,” he says. The pair ultimately created a plan that has brought in more than $200 million in new deposits digitally.

Swafford recommends engaging staff in product development, using all-staff meetings and other corporate communications to provide regular updates on new technology or other innovations that are in the pipeline.

“We tell our people, ‘Here’s some crazy idea we’re working on,’” Swafford says. “When it comes, it’s not something that someone just sent out an email about. They’ve been hearing about it for nine months. It helps the staff take an ownership in new ideas.”

Over the long haul, these four innovators say that a paradigm shift is needed to meet today’s demands on the industry. “There tends to be an attitude of, ‘This is the way it’s always been done,’” Fosse says. “Instead, we should be thinking, ‘How should it be done in today’s world?’”

Patrick Sells

Patrick Sells, 29
Chief innovation officer
Quontic Bank
New York City

In a little more than a year, Patrick Sells has helped Quontic Bank grow into a $400 million-asset, financially sound, leading digital bank. Believing that “businesses don’t grow, people do,” Sells combines a systems-driven but people-focused leadership style.

Sara Fosse

Sara Fosse, 34
Digital innovation manager
Banterra Bank
Marion, Ill.

Sara Fosse’s vision is to take the great customer service and down-home feel of a community bank to a national audience. As Banterra Bank’s digital innovation manager, she is spearheading the development of a new, separately branded internet bank.

My leadership philosophy

Sara Fosse, Banterra Bank

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
—Maya Angelou

Ali Mattera

Ali Mattera, 33
Senior vice president, technology and digital bank officer
SB One Bank
Paramus, N.J.

Ali Mattera guided SB One Bank through two acquisitions in the past two years without disruption and oversaw the development of a company-wide intranet. Mattera provides policy advice to community organizations and state legislators on cybersecurity and privacy protection.

Blake Swafford

Blake Swafford, 33
Senior innovation officer
Dayton, Tenn.

Blake Swafford, a second-generation community banker, combines a growth mindset with an appreciation for community identity. Swafford recently led SimplyBank’s lending and compliance staff in producing a groundbreaking risk-based pricing matrix that leverages the community bank’s service and local decision-making.


By Abbi Kiesau

Natalie Adams

Natalie Adams, 32
Assistant vice president of brand development
Royal Bank
Elroy, Wis.

Natalie Adams embodies the best and brightest aspects of community banking. Adams established the bank’s social media presence, and her creativity has allowed Royal Bank to make every marketing dollar count. She also understands that the goal of community banking is to enrich the communities where you live and work. Her leadership philosophy centers around the bank’s core values that she helped to establish: Do the right thing, do whatever it takes and have fun doing it.

Books that inspire me

Natalie Adams, Royal Bank

  1. Start With Why by Simon Sinek
  2. I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This by Kate White
  3. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
  4. Anything by Jim Collins

Tiffany Massey

Tiffany Massey, 33
Human resources director and marketing director
Farmers Bank and Trust Company
Princeton, Ky.

Tiffany Massey approaches her job each day with enthusiasm and a people-first mindset. She’s open to change and diversity in the industry. Her colleague Kim Cook, vice president and compliance officer, says Massey leads by example. She creates, supports and participates in multiple community activities on the community bank’s behalf, including a program to get students interested in banking.

My leadership philosophy

Tiffany Massey, Farmers Bank and Trust Company
Be passionate about where you work, love the people you work with and try your hardest to always make a difference in everything you do.

Heather Dewey

Heather Dewey, 30
Senior marketing representative
First Bank Financial Centre
Oconomowoc, Wis.

Heather Dewey embraces First Bank Financial Centre’s mission to make lives better by bringing it to life every day through her social media work. As a team player who fosters collaboration, she elevates those around her, say colleagues. Vice president and marketing director Jeff McCarthy, Dewey’s nominator, describes her personality and dedication to leadership and community in one word: achiever.

Regulatory Compliance

By Rebecca Lubecki

Paola Than

Paola Than, 34
Vice president and compliance officer
Allegiance Bank

Compliance has no stigma at Allegiance Bank thanks to the leadership of Paola Than. Instead of that thing that gets in the way of doing business, the bank values compliance for keeping banking simple for consumers. Than is known for breaking complex regulations into easy-to-understand parts, as well as creating fluid workflows, training modules and more. Her work has benefited stakeholders and, ultimately, consumers.

Eugene Shvartsman

Eugene Shvartsman, 29
Assistant vice president and head of government affairs
Cross River Bank
Fort Lee, N.J.

Leading public policy and advocacy efforts, Eugene Shvartsman is the driving force behind Cross River Bank’s strategic partnerships and government advocacy efforts, as he engages policymakers on all levels of government to provide thought-leadership in the fintech industry. Focusing on collaboration and innovation has enabled Shvartsman to spearhead new initiatives and strategic projects for Cross River, the community and the industry at large.

Katherine Koustenis

Katherine Koustenis, 36
Chief compliance officer and CRA officer
Howard Bank

Katherine Koustenis’s vision of community banking was shaped while working as a teller in college. During her time at that bank, she was struck by its “consistent and genuine care” for its customers, as well as the high level of customer service. She quickly realized that she wanted to play a larger role in a community bank that lived its mission and ideals. Her vision of a community bank remains one whose core values include investment in both the customers and the communities it serves. Her many volunteering initiatives include leading a team of Howard Bank employees in teaching financial literacy to students in Baltimore schools, and teaching unemployed people strategies for landing and keeping jobs.

Rachel Wicklund

Rachel Wicklund, 39
Chief compliance officer
Goodfield State Bank
Goodfield, Ill.

Rachel Wicklund doesn’t just understand the demands of a strong compliance management system; she embraces them. Wicklund extended teamwork beyond her Goodfield State Bank colleagues by reaching out to another local community bank to explore an arrangement where each bank’s compliance officer helps the other bank to perform required audit functions. The initiative is now in its third year and has allowed both community banks to conserve resources, remain independent and better serve their communities.


By Beth Mattson-Teig

A Q&A with up-and-coming lenders

Before the COVID-19 crisis hit, we talked with three of the 11 lenders who made our 40 Under 40 list. What did they see as the challenges and opportunities ahead for community bank lending?

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges in community bank lending today?

Randy Vicknair: We have been in the current credit cycle for quite some time. At what point does the current credit cycle start to decline, and have banks made sure they are positioned well, as far as margins and collateral, to protect themselves against it? The industry as a whole is much better positioned than we were for the last recession. A second piece of this question is the experience gap. A lot of banks our size have experienced bankers into middle or upper management, but when you get into junior management, there tends to be a bit of an experience gap; they haven’t been through a major financial crisis before.

Harry Hayes: Community banks still face a significant regulatory burden. Although we have experienced modest relief in this area with the passage of S.2155, community banks still are experiencing significant costs to generate loans to ensure compliance. Specifically, HMDA and TRID requirements make it challenging for community banks to expand mortgage lending activity.

Carrie Fraser: There is competition on every front. Whether it is buying a home, a car, appliances, farm equipment or even crop inputs, they all have financing options to offer. Much of this is done without a level playing field with credit unions and the Farm Credit System. In rural areas, population decline and consolidation is another challenge. What used to be 50 small businesses is now one large business, or what used to be 20 ag producers is a couple of farms. The number of potential customers is dropping, and, as the operations get bigger, the loan requests get bigger and legal lending limits become more challenging.

Joel Smith: The biggest challenge will remain achieving scale to offset increasing demands on overhead. We do a lot of larger transactions because of our niche market working with Native American tribes. Like any other bank, we have to have certain personnel on hand related to compliance and other essential functions. We don’t have the luxury of being able to staff up with someone who does one particular thing or focuses on one industry full time. Our people take on multiple jobs or wear multiple hats.

Q: Where do you see the biggest opportunities for growing lending at your bank?

Vicknair: One of the biggest opportunities we have is our USDA and SBA lending segment. Historically, we originated a mix of loans, and we will continue to do so. But those small business loans are the bread and butter of banking, and we want to get more heavily involved in them.

Hayes: Commercial lending, specifically to small businesses. The markets in which we operate are rural and made up mostly of small businesses. This provides the bank with a tremendous opportunity to expand our lending opportunities to small businesses. Recently, we introduced a Small Business Express Loan that streamlines the underwriting and decision-making process. This program will allow small businesses to access capital more quickly and at the same time provide efficiencies that will allow the bank to increase this type of lending.

Fraser: Continue building personal relationships. Unlike big banks and other lending options, we are still involved in the community. We build personal relationships by visiting at the ball games, attending church together and socializing at community events. These personal relationships allow us to better understand our customer’s needs.

Smith: Our bank is positioned to leverage government guarantees to expand lending in our unique target market, which is Indian Country. (Ninety-five percent of the customer base is made up of tribes and native business customers.) In addition to the SBA and USDA guarantees that a lot of banks are familiar with, there are guarantees provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as HUD for tribal housing that we utilize to enhance the credit of our loans. By being able to leverage guarantees and have only the unguaranteed portion fall to be tested against our legal lending limit, we can provide a larger loan, which is a big reason why we can grow a lot faster.

Q: How is your bank using technology to improve the lending experience or create efficiencies?

Vicknair: A huge focus of our bank is to not only expand our online presence but provide deeper online options. We’re doing this through a number of measures. We entered into an agreement last year with nCino. Their platform provides us with the technological framework necessary to not only expand our lending options, but also our online presence and improve our customer service. Another area we are looking into is AI, artificial intelligence. It gives us the opportunity to automate a lot more positions, especially for mundane tasks, which helps to improve our margins by reducing overhead costs.

Hayes: We are constantly looking for new technology solutions that will provide a more efficient process and a better experience for our customers. Identifying technology that introduces automation to our processes accomplishes both of those things. Last year we introduced HelloHome, which allows borrowers the ability to easily apply for a mortgage loan on any device within minutes. This year we are going to implement electronic mortgage closings. We are really excited about this project, because it will provide a better closing experience for our customers.

Fraser: We have several projects that we have recently completed or are working on that will affect loan operations, including changing our electronic scanning to a product that directly links to our core, barcoding on loan documents, implementing an interface between the document prep software to our core and revamping our centralized loan processing.

Smith: We are in the middle of a project to implement technology-enabled workflow tracking to streamline our life of loan process. Being a bank with a small head count, we’re pulled in a lot of different directions. It can be challenging to have to bounce between deals that come to different stopping points in their process. So, we hope it will be something that can help us manage our loans from beginning to end to help us with efficiencies.

Joel Smith

Joel Smith, 36
Senior vice president and chief credit officer
Native American Bank
Denver, Colo.

Joel Smith works to bring financial services to some of the most underserved areas of the country. Notably, he finds programs that will allow Native American Bank to enter into transactions that bring new business, jobs and economic diversity to local communities.

Randy Vicknair

Randy Vicknair, 38
Senior vice president and chief credit officer
First Guaranty Bank
Hammond, La.

Randy Vicknair has spearheaded multiple projects in the areas of acquisition loan due diligence, process improvement and credit administration. He is the team lead in First Guaranty Bank’s partnership with Southeastern Louisiana University for the Conference of State Bank Supervisors student competitions.

Carrie Fraser

Carrie Fraser, 36
Vice president and ag loan officer
The Citizens National Bank
Concordia, Kan.

Carrie Fraser is a banker and a farmer. She has implemented programs to help local farmers while maintaining the integrity of The Citizens National Bank’s loan portfolio. Fraser recently led a project to centralize loan processing, which helped strengthen loan operations.

Harry Hayes

Harry Hayes, 36
Vice president, mortgage origination
Clear Mountain Bank
Bruceton Mills, W.Va.

Harry Hayes leads a team of seven mortgage originators and is the only lender in West Virginia to hold the Certified Mortgage Banker designation. He has enhanced Clear Mountain Bank’s digital presence, implemented a new mortgage operating system and led a branding campaign for the mortgage team.

My role model

Harry Hayes, Clear Mountain Bank
My dad. I cannot describe all that he has taught me. He is the hardest working person I have ever met, treats all people with kindness and respect, and has taught me so much about being a great leader.

Justin R. Proctor

Justin R. Proctor, 33
Executive vice president and director of lending
Bath State Bank
Bath, Ind.

Proctor spent eight years working in public accounting before joining Bath State Bank in 2018. He has spearheaded several initiatives, including redesigning the community bank’s delinquency tracking and loan grading processes and leading a branching project that culminated in a May 2020 opening.

Chris Jundt

Chris Jundt, 35
Senior vice president and chief lending officer
First State Bank & Trust
Williston, N.D.

Chris Jundt has earned a reputation at First State Bank & Trust for his unstoppable “will-do” attitude. He serves on the community bank’s technology committee and understands the importance of blending tech and service. As a member of the board, he was an integral part of the bank’s 2019 conversion from a national to a state charter.

Joseph Lutter

Joseph Lutter, 33
Loan officer
Heartland State Bank
Redfield, S.D.

Joseph Lutter is known for being the first person to volunteer to lead bank projects. He takes the initiative to research new products and processes to better serve customers, and he’s a strong advocate of community banking. Lutter volunteers his time on many local boards and is an active member of the Emerging Leaders group of the South Dakota Bankers Association.

Patrick “Jeremy” Pletnikoff

Patrick “Jeremy” Pletnikoff, 39
Senior vice president and commercial and consumer loan manager
Mt. McKinley Bank
Fairbanks, Alaska

As a member of Mt. McKinley Bank’s asset liability committee, Jeremy Pletnikoff plays a key role in setting interest rates, analyzing interest rate risk and cash flows, and considering new investment opportunities. He has spent the past 19 years in the banking industry, all in the state of Alaska. Recently promoted to his current position, he is excited to continue the tradition of Mt. McKinley Bank serving its community.

Caroline Garner

Caroline Garner, 26
Loan officer
United Mississippi Bank
Woodville, Miss.

Caroline Garner knows firsthand how important small businesses are to the survival of a community. She and her family own a small business, and she’s also a member of Main Street Association program in Woodville, Miss. Garner recently became an agricultural lender and took the initiative to seek out the training and resources that would position United Mississippi Bank as a tough competitor in its field.

Nikki Walker

Nikki Walker, 32
SBA specialist
Village Bank
St. Francis, Minn.

Nikki Walker has a track record of tackling new responsibilities. Her path at Village Bank includes positions as a data processor, operations representative, financial analyst, marketing project coordinator, credit analyst, SBA portfolio manager and now SBA specialist. She was instrumental in supporting the creation and development of the community bank’s SBA department, which helped position it as an SBA Preferred Lender.

Derrick W. Hermann

Derrick W. Hermann, 39
Vice president of lending
Waldo State Bank
Waldo, Wis.

Hermann is a dynamic lender who takes a leadership role at Waldo State Bank, mentors employees who he supervises and enjoys engaging with customers. He headed the transition of the community bank’s mortgage lending program to a new correspondent lender. He’s also the chair of the Wisconsin Bankers Association’s Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT) group.

Presidents & CEOs

By Roshan McArthur

Leaders who are pushing the envelope

Being the youngest person in the room has its challenges, but these young leaders bring a fresh perspective to their community banks.

At age 38, Sarah Getzlaff has already been CEO of Security First Bank of North Dakota in Bismark, N.D., for two years. The third-generation banker laughs when she recalls how she got her start. “One day when I was 14, they needed help, so my dad literally woke me up one morning and said, ‘Put a dress on, we need you at the bank.’” Looking back, Getzlaff attributes much of her success to her father’s influence.

“Working my way from the very bottom to the top has really allowed me to gain credibility within my own organization,” Getzlaff says, though she admits that there have been a few instances where her age and gender have been called into question.

“I know when I’ve considered joining committees or been at other meetings, I’ve had some comments like, ‘Oh, you’d be really good on this committee, but how old are your kids?’”

Peter Stenehjem, president of First International Bank & Trust in Watford City, N.D., is a fourth-generation banker, getting his start 20 years ago at 15. Like Getzlaff, he credits his father.

“My dad has been very forward-thinking throughout his career and is still our chairman and CEO,” Stenehjem says. “His quote is always, ‘I’ll give you enough rope to hang yourself.’ So, basically, he’s allowed my brother [Erik] and me to make decisions and push for the boundaries of what we’ve traditionally done as a community bank.

“I’m getting pretty used to being the youngest person in the room,” laughs the 35-year-old. “When I was in high school and college, my dad brought myself and my brother along for challenging conversations, either with an employee or a customer.”

Brent Smith of LINKBANK in Camp Hill, Pa., entered the community banking world in a very different way and credits a great team for his success. His small team of key investors with backgrounds in banking and finance purchased a charter that was “really small and had some credit issues,” he says. They turned it into a highly successful community bank of which he is now president at the age of 37.

Asked what challenges have come with early success, Smith says, “I’ve gone through a transition personally of accepting that I don’t have the tenure that other people do. For a while, I tried to prove that I could compensate for that, but I’ve had to own in a humble way that I don’t know some things.”

Making connections
Andrew Pyles, 39, took a more circuitous route to his current role as president and CEO of Eclipse Bank in Louisville, Ky. He previously worked in a large community bank, where he took a leadership position in a smaller rural market, before returning to Louisville and being promoted from within Eclipse Bank.

Pyles has noticed certain advantages to his age. “I joke sometimes that I’m on the cusp between the millennials and Gen X,” he says. “I can relate to the millennials because I’m almost one of them, but I can also say, ‘Those darn millennials. I know, they’re challenging!’”

Getzlaff has found that her age helps make connections. “I think it gives me an advantage in the workforce with our own employees,” she says, “because I feel like I’m in the same position that a lot of them are in. When I was first having babies 10 years ago, it was, ‘Oh, you have to stay home today?’ Now what I hear the most within our own office is, ‘Thank you for being understanding. It’s so awesome to work with someone who gets what it’s like to have a sick kid.’”

Encouraging advancement among employees is critically important to all four. “My heart is there,” Smith says, “because Andrew Samuel, our CEO, took a shot on me at 26 or 27 with no real qualifications, but hired me as a person, giving me opportunities to learn. Not many college graduates have come out in the last 10 years and said, ‘I want to be a community banker.’ So, there’s not a breadth of talent there to go after. So, we’ve said, if it’s not there, then let’s create it.”

All four agree that a broad, team-focused approach to leadership succession is vital.

“Being a $3.5 billion bank, we are required to have certain levels of succession planning in writing,” Stenehjem says of First International Bank & Trust. “For all of the key positions, we take a stoplight approach. We have an emergency successor identified, then we have somebody that’s maybe three to five years away, and then some individuals that we could groom for that position down the road.

“For those individuals we identify for certain positions,” he continues, “we will make sure that we have a career conversation to make sure it’s what they want to do. Then … an active planning process begins, identifying the tools and training the individual needs to be successful.”

Stenehjem’s vision for his family’s community bank is a bold one, which has included expansion into the hospitality industry and the recent purchase of a fintech company. “If you look at the banks that are innovating right now,” he says, “they’re probably some of the ones that have younger decision-makers in there that are pushing the envelope.”

Peter Stenehjem

Peter Stenehjem, 35
First International Bank & Trust
Watford City, N.D.

A fourth-generation banker overseeing 28 branches, Stenehjem is deeply invested in his community and has spearheaded considerable expansion at his family’s community bank. Under his supervision, the bank made its first nonbank acquisition: Kotapay, an electronic payments processor.

Books that inspire me

Peter Stenehjem, First International Bank & Trust

  1. Make Your Bed by Admiral William McRaven
  2. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham

Andrew Pyles

Andrew Pyles, 39
President and CEO
Eclipse Bank
Louisville, Ky.

Described as a dynamic trendsetter, Pyles joined the struggling Eclipse Bank in 2016 and has turned its fortunes around dramatically. He is also a board member for the Healing Place, a shelter for people struggling with substance abuse.

My leadership philosophy

Andrew Pyles, Eclipse Bank

Lead by example. Never ask your team to do something that you aren’t willing to do.

Brent Smith

Brent Smith, 37
Camp Hill, Pa.

One of the founders of LINKBANK, Smith oversaw asset growth of more than $250 million in just a year after its inception. He is deeply invested in the next generation and in moving banks forward through digital innovation, as well community prosperity via the LINK Foundation.

Sarah Getzlaff

Sarah Getzlaff, 38
Security First Bank of North Dakota
New Salem, N.D.

A member of the community bank’s team since age 14, Getzlaff believes that small banks can provide cutting-edge technology alongside personalized customer service. She is a fierce advocate for regulatory change and is the incoming chair of ICBA’s Housing Finance Committee.

My leadership philosophy

Sarah Getzlaff, Security First Bank of North Dakota

Treat people how you would like to be treated when you have a problem. It’s easy to treat others how you wish to be treated on a day-to-day basis, but true character is revealed when challenges arise.

Loren Brown

Loren Brown, 37
President and CEO
Ascent Bank
Helena, Mont.

After working as an executive for a much larger bank, Brown led a group of local shareholders to purchase Ascent Bank, which allowed the community bank to stay independent. He invests heavily in his employees’ education, and in his spare time, serves as a leader in a local Boy Scout group and a board member for area hospital, St. Peter’s Health.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown, 39
President and senior vice president
Legend Bank
Sherman, Texas

Brown is president of a new full-service location that recently opened to serve the communities of Sherman and Dennison, Texas. He serves as the chair of the Legend Leaders Committee, a group of emerging leaders within the bank, as well as on numerous boards, including the Grayson Crisis Center, Greater Texoma Utility Authority and the county rotary club.

Harvey Lott

Harvey Lott, 36
Division president
PriorityOne Bank
Magee, Miss.

A great example of leading by example, Lott is not afraid of jumping in to get things done, whether it’s sweeping floors, developing a training program for his lending staff on new regulation, or getting involved with Mississippi Young Bankers. He recently spearheaded a major music festival within his community and was instrumental in bringing in nationally recognized talent.

My role model

Harvey Lott, PriorityOne Bank

Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation. His calm demeanor and strong sense of empathy have helped me form my own management style. His ability to make decisions in a crisis while thinking two or three steps ahead are things any banker in a management position needs to be able to do effectively.

Banking & Branches

By Jenna Jean Grundtner

Jenilee Bransteter

Jenilee Bransteter, 37
Business banking manager
First Bank of Berne
Berne, Ind.

Jenilee Bransteter leads with a vision for ensuring the community banking model remains successful for both First Bank of Berne and the industry. That vision led her to optimize an initiative to enhance the development of the bank’s existing senior management team and future leaders. Her group developed a game-changing program to align the community bank’s mission and values with training.

Kelvin Luster

Kelvin Luster, 38
Branch manager
Home Bank
Lafayette, La.

Kelvin Luster puts customers first by creating an exceptional service experience. His insistence on cross-training the entire branch team has proven to be so successful that Home Bank is implementing the same model in other markets. Outside the bank, Luster uses his master’s degree in secondary education to volunteer at several schools, where he teaches children about financial literacy.

My leadership philosophy

Kelvin Luster, Home Bank

Like Richard Branson, I endeavor to train my staff well enough so that they can leave, but I do my best to treat them well enough so they don’t want to.

Nick Thurston

Nick Thurston, 39
Market director
The Bank of Tampa
Tampa, Fla.

Nick Thurston serves on the board of several Plant City, Fla., community organizations in an effort to do what community bankers do best: make connections and build relationships. It’s why Thurston was handpicked to bring banking to Plant City. In May 2019, as several other nearby banks were closing or going through mergers or acquisitions, Thurston helped open a loan production office in the heart of the city’s downtown.

Joshua Marron

Joshua Marron, 38
Senior vice president and chief banking officer
The Park Bank
Madison, Wis.

Armed with his motto, “When we win, we win together,” and his get-it-done mentality, Joshua Marron has revamped numerous teams within The Park Bank. Thanks to his leadership, the community bank saw record earnings in 2019, and its assets grew from $750 million to more than $1 billion in just three years. Marron brought his passion for supporting the community to the workplace by encouraging employees to use their 16 annual paid volunteer hours.


By Rebecca Lubecki

Jim Lyons

Jim Lyons, 38
Executive vice president, chief operating officer and commercial lender
First National Bank of Louisiana
Crowley, La.

Jim Lyons believes there will always be room for community banking. Another of his visions is that First National Bank of Louisiana will be in its community for years to come. His goal is to always offer innovative products that can compete with bigger banks in the market, but to also offer things that they cannot compete with: personal service and local decision-making. As chief operating officer, Lyons has proven that community banks can have a strong compliance program and still make profitable loans.

Chris Hemmings

Chris Hemmings, 39
Senior vice president and chief administrative officer
Summit Bank
Eugene, Ore.

“People feel safe talking with Chris,” says Mic Marcotte, director of human resources. “He is the go-to problem-solver [at Summit Bank], whether the problem is business- or personnel-related.” Chris Hemmings is known by his peers to have an honest and genuine leadership style. According to his nominator, Hemmings believes community banking embodies the American dream. When community banks lend to small businesses, they help business owners realize their dreams. In the spirit of helping clients, Hemmings led a project focused on Summit Bank’s quarterly Business Confidence Index for local businesses.

What inspires me

Chris Hemmings, Summit Bank

I’m a fan of NPR’s TED Radio Hour. It’s a great opportunity to think about the larger questions: how to view things differently, how to think in unique ways, how to search for solutions and the power of perspective.

Natalie Bartholomew

Natalie Bartholomew, 37
Chief administrative officer and vice president
Grand Savings Bank
Bentonville, Ark.

Many community bankers recognize Natalie Bartholomew from her blog and social media. As the Girl Banker, she advocates for the advancement of women in the banking industry and for a better work-life balance. At Grand Savings Bank, where she oversees human resources, marketing and strategic planning, she’s been responsible for launching a new website, a blog and an employee ambassador program. Bartholomew also led the effort to overhaul the bank’s customer care center, including hiring experienced frontline staff to ensure they deliver best-in-class service to the bank’s customers.

Thomas L. Rasey Jr.

Thomas L. Rasey Jr., 38
Senior vice president and chief operations officer
The Farmers Bank of Appomattox
Appomattox, Va.

Thomas L. Rasey Jr.’s peers describe him as a tireless advocate for community banking. Rasey began his 10-year career at The Farmers Bank of Appomattox as a loan officer. He was promoted to a loan administration position and, from there, served on several committees with the Virginia Bankers Association, where he’s currently chairman of the Emerging Bank Leaders committee. Rasey is passionate about connecting young talent with leadership positions in Virginia’s community banking industry. He serves as a mentor in the community bank’s mentorship program, which he helped form.

Shaunna Padgett

Shaunna Padgett, 37
Vice president and strategic and operating manager
First National Bank of Michigan
Kalamazoo, Mich.

Shaunna Padgett carries the unofficial title of First National Bank of Michigan’s “go-to, can-do” person. No task is off limits for Padgett. She worked to upgrade products and services at the community bank to remain competitive, and she is developing and implementing a three-, five- and 10-year plan. Her initiative, efficiency and productivity have not gone unnoticed by leadership. Padgett has been identified as part of the community bank’s succession plan.


By Courtney Welu

Danielle Bull

Danielle Bull, 39
Vice president and controller
Dart Bank
Mason, Mich.

Danielle Bull came to Dart Bank from a larger regional bank to promote community banking and make a grassroots impact. Bull dedicates herself to training and supporting her team both personally and professionally. She leads by example, spearheading several projects to help meaningfully understand the bank’s numbers. Outside of work, Danielle has been a member of Sparrow Foundation’s Women Working Wonders for more than 13 years.

Carlos Oliva

Carlos Oliva, 35
Vice president, financial reporting manager and division controller
Bethesda, Md.

One of EagleBank’s youngest vice presidents, Carlos Oliva leads SEC financial reporting. By asking the right questions and putting relationships first, he’s been able to help his team drive profitability and growth, leading a team that executed a major credit rule and model connecting credit drivers to historic behavior. He also launched a tax preparation service for low-income communities, increasing the average refund by $2,000.

Nominations for next year’s 40 Under 40 open in January!

Are you, or someone you know, 39 or younger and a rising star in the community banking industry? To learn more about 40 Under 40 and to sign up to be notified when nominations open, visit independentbanker.org/40under40

Judith Sears is a writer in Colorado. Rebecca Lubecki is associate editor of Independent Banker. Beth Mattson-Teig is a writer in Minnesota. Roshan McArthur is a writer in California. Abbi Kiesau, Jenna Jean Grundtner and Courtney Welu are editorial assistants with Independent Banker.