Wilson Bank & Trust is rebuilding after a storm

Storm-damaged Basement East in Nashville

In early March, tornadoes devastated Tennessee, damaging Basement East, a Nashville, Tenn. music venue.

When its four-county market in Tennessee was hit by not one but 10 strong tornadoes, Wilson Bank & Trust came to its aid by offering recovery loans with under-market interest rates.

By William Atkinson

On the night of March 2 and the morning of March 3, Tennessee and several surrounding states saw several supercell thunderstorms spawn more than a dozen tornadoes and throw baseball-sized hail into the air.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), one of these supercells formed near the Mississippi River in west Tennessee, then tracked eastward across the entire length of the state. The worst of these tornadoes touched down across middle Tennessee during the early hours of March 3, resulting in $1.1 billion in property damages, more than 300 injuries and 25 fatalities. These were the worst tornadoes seen in Tennessee since the devastating storms of April 2011 and the Super Tuesday tornadoes of February 2008.

The NWS determined that, in total, 10 tornadoes touched down across Tennessee during that period in March, including a rare and devastating EF-4 tornado. Many of these tornadoes directly affected residents in four of the nine counties served by $3 billion-asset Wilson Bank & Trust in Lebanon, Tenn., located 30 miles east of Nashville.

“Our board of directors, management and employees all believe that it is important to help rebuild the communities that have supported our bank over the last 33 years,” says John Foster, the community bank’s president. “The communities that need help now are the ones that have helped us have success along the way, so this is an opportunity for us to support them in their time of need.”

A vehicle for recovery

To respond to the devastation, Wilson Bank & Trust began offering 12-month construction loans or 12-month home equity lines of credit (HELOC) to nearby Tennessee residents affected by the storms. The program was designed to aid customers who needed to rebuild from the ground up or just repair damage to their homes or property. To make these loans, the community bank set aside $100 million in funding.

The biggest difference between this program and the community bank’s traditional loans and lines of credit is the interest rates. “They are well below market rate for these types of loans,” Foster says.

Plus, Wilson Bank & Trust has offered these tornado recovery loans beyond its established customer base.

“They are available to any homeowner who has suffered storm damage from the tornado,” Foster says, “as long as the property is located in Davidson, Putnam, Smith or Wilson counties.”

Since making the loan programs available, Wilson Bank & Trust has closed quite a few loans. And more are on the horizon, as many homeowners have inquired about the loans and filled out the applications.

“Families that have suffered a loss feel like they have an option to help them rebuild and a bank that will walk alongside them.”
—John Foster, Wilson Bank & Trust

“At this point, many of them are still deciding on their next steps and settling with their insurance companies,” Foster says. “We believe that, as people begin to settle with their insurance companies and make decisions on the livability of their current homes, we will be able to assist even more customers in the days ahead.”

The program saw an unforeseen hurdle in the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Foster. The crisis has overshadowed a lot of the needs still out there in the four-county area and has slowed down some of the rebuilding. “However, we feel that the activity will increase in the months ahead,” Foster adds.

Community regrowth

Foster says Wilson Bank & Trust’s tornado recovery loans are having their intended impact: helping the community to repair and regrow.

“We know of several families that have received funds through the program and have started to rebuild their homes,” he says. “We have customers who are having to start all over from the ground up and will be using the funds for that. There are others who have had to replace roofs, outbuildings and other damage that was able to be repaired.”

Wilson Bank & Trust’s community has also stepped up to boost participation in the loan program. Several bank customers who were not affected by the tornado outbreak have referred friends and family members whose homes or property were damaged.

Overall, feedback from individual customers availing themselves of the program and from the community at large has been positive.

Foster adds, “Families that have suffered a loss feel like they have an option to help them rebuild and a bank that will walk alongside them to help them get their feet back on the ground during this very uncertain time.”

William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.