Summer Series: Best of Conversations with Banking Leaders, Pt III

In Part 3 of our special summer series where we revisit our discussions with banking leaders, we’re spotlighting the community-first commitment of community banking. In this episode, we talk with Brad Tidwell, President and CEO of VeraBank, and Ryan Kilpatrick, Executive Vice President and Chief Brand and Communications Officer from Origin Bank, about the heart of service at the core of their community financial institutions. Both leaders discuss building opportunity out of that core purpose and how serving their communities through challenges like COVID creates even more connection and growth.

Text Transcript

Intro: This is Believe in Banking, a podcast series for decision-makers, influencers, and leaders. Featuring experts taking on the financial industry’s most pressing issues with insight and empathy. The podcast features information and conversations designed to enlighten and empower. Here are your Believe in Banking hosts, Sean Keathley and Gina Bleedorn. 

Sean Keathley: Welcome to our Believe in Banking podcast. I am Sean Keathley, president and CEO of Adrenaline.  

Sean Keathley: In our last podcast, Gina and I talked about the power of purpose for financial institutions and how a heart for serving customers is really the key to realizing new opportunities for banks and credit unions alike. It’s no secret that as we emerge from the pandemic’s deepest economic impacts, banking is absolutely a service that’s really just critical to our financial recovery – for consumers and communities, both.  So, in this week’s special episode, we’re going to look a little more closely at the community-first commitment from community financial institutions.  

Sean Keathley: To do that, we’re returning to conversations with two of community banking’s most inspirational leaders who have a lot to say about their love for their local and how serving their communities through challenges like COVID, provides an opportunity for even more connection and growth. This week, we’ll hear from Brad Tidwell, President and CEO of VeraBank and Ryan Kilpatrick, Executive Vice President and Chief Brand and Communications Officer from Origin Bank. We’re happy to return to these lively and enlightening conversations about putting the community first in community banking. Hope you enjoy! 

Sean Keathley: Brad, you just summarized why we are so excited to have you in Believe in Banking. It is why you came to mind, as we were thinking about industry trends, the challenges in 2020, and just the notion that there’s only five top five banks, but there are hundreds of community banks. And we think you are uniquely qualified to talk to us about community banking in America, given your background, and the fact that you started your career with what is now become one of the biggest banks in the world. And yet, you’ve still chosen to go home and serve that community. It is exactly why we have you on the podcast. 

Gina Bleedorn: Brad, if I can ask, that moment in time, when you decided in your head, 13 years ago, gosh… And 13 years ago, you must have been just a child, given your youthfulness. But at that time, why did you decide you wanted to be in community banking? 

Brad Tidwell: I guess it was childlike innocence then, I don’t know. At that point, I knew I had to make some decisions about either going to New York or Chicago with JP Morgan Chase. And as I said, I had a great experience at Chase. It was a great company to work for. It’s a company that taught me a lot, I learned a great deal. But I knew that I wanted to have the opportunity to lead my own bank, a bank where I could be the CEO and help guide the folks here, or the folks at whatever institution into the future. 

Brad Tidwell: And so I knew to do that, I might could run a nice piece of JP Morgan Chase’s business, but I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t going to be Jamie Dimon’s successor, nor did I need to be. And so, the opportunity that was presented to me was really pretty easy to accept, when I really thought through, what I believe, the upside was. And quite frankly, 13 years later, that’s proven, more than anything, to be the case. 

Brad Tidwell: And so, it really wasn’t an easy decision, but it wasn’t that difficult to decision, when I stepped back and said, “Longterm, what is it that you really want to do? Do you want to try to make a difference in an organization?” And the answer to that was, I did. And I knew to really make a difference, it needed to be something more like a VeraBank. 

Sean Keathley: Brad, explain the benefit of the east Texas communities, because I think what you’ve just said is so important. There are so many rural communities across this country, and given what’s happened in 2020, there are actually… there’s more focus maybe, on people not being so focused on hitting that city center. Think about 13 years later, reflect back on the benefit of the communities, and really the kind of the mission of VeraBank, and just talk about the brand history. Although the VeraBank brand we’ll get into is rather new, who you are, is not. And just talk about the communities you’re serving across east Texas. 

Brad Tidwell: Certainly. Our bank was founded 90 years ago at the peak of The Great Depression in 1930. Banks were failing left and right and some folks in Henderson, Texas had the intestinal fortitude to start a bank serving very, very small communities. Still today, we’re a $2.9 billion bank headquartered in a community of 14,000 people. Until about really two years ago, the largest market we served was close to a hundred thousand. Most of our markets, probably the average size market we’re in, we have 36 branches. The average size market is around 15 to 20,000 in population. So we really do serve small communities to a large extent. And we’ll talk about this a little more, but in the last two years, we’ve gone into the Bryan College Station market. And more importantly, from a size perspective, Austin and Travis county in Texas. 

Brad Tidwell: But we really are a community bank. We really do serve small communities. We have made it, very much, a plan of ours. I guess you could say, we’ve made a point not to go into the larger metro markets of Texas like so many of our peers. Now, we have gone to Austin and we’ll talk about why we see that as a little different here in a little bit. But we feel like that these smaller communities still provide a tremendous amount of opportunity for banks like ours, who are willing to commit to them, and who are willing to put the time and effort into serving them. These communities are very loyal, they’re very stable. 

Brad Tidwell: They’re not growthy, if that’s a word. There’s not a lot of growth in these small communities, but there’s a lot of stability. There’s not boom, and there’s not bust. So it means that, to the extent we stay in these small communities, which we’re going to, we’ve got to focus on organic growth. And we’ve done some acquisitions and we will do some more, but it’s not going to be growth that’s just going to come like you see in an Austin or you see in Atlanta or Charlotte. 

Brad Tidwell: These are communities that need the kind of services that our banks provide. And if we don’t provide them, quite frankly, and nobody will. Or if other community banks don’t, because the larger banks, my predecessors, and the other large banks have largely left these smaller communities. And so, we see it as, it’s a commitment, but it’s a business also. We’ve got to make money at this, like everyone else does. We’re not in this business as a philanthropy, but we’re in it to make money and we believe we can. And we believe we can continue to serve these communities and balance out with other opportunities in higher growth markets that we may move into in the future. 

Sean Keathley: We’ve been working on this Believe in Banking. It was Gina’s idea and her and the team are putting just a tremendous amount of effort in it. 

Gina Bleedorn: A whole team’s idea. 

Sean Keathley: It’s not about… 

Gina Bleedorn: I mean it, it definitely wasn’t yours, but it was… 

Sean Keathley: Believe in Banking is not about Adrenaline. It’s about our real internal belief. That banking is essential and does good. So can you just talk to us maybe kind of go up 30,000 feet and you know, there’s hundreds of community banks. Is it now more than ever important for community banks to serve those communities and impact those neighborhoods and lives? Don’t you think that with the right strategy community banks are in the right position to do so? 

Ryan Kilpatrick: Definitely. I think I love the concept of Believe in Banking. You know, after the 0809 financial crisis, bankers had a negative connotation. To them we obviously better understood why we were in the mess we were in. Community banks weren’t involved in those types of things. But, it still I think impacted community bankers psyche. But you know, I think the pride that we should have as community bankers, who are there for our customers, who are there for communities. Lance Hall, our President, I think has the best analogy or the best story as it relates to what we do. 

Ryan Kilpatrick: I’ve mentioned new hire culture day. We talked about the experience and we get those new employees to tell us about what brands, what experiences stand out to them. Every class, one of the employees says Chick-fil-A. As well they should Chick-fil-A creates an incredible experienced for their guests. Lance points out Chick-fil-A sells, a piece of chicken with two pickles in between a bun. But yet Chick-fil-A gets mentioned in every class that we do. 

Sean Keathley: Ryan, speaking of Chick-fil-A. I actually highlighted that company in one of our episodes of “Ask an expert.” We’ve been watching very closely. It’s a strong brand here in Atlanta that has long thought about the power of people being their unique thing that distinguishes them. Even though they’re in the commodity business, it really is the culture of their individuals. And so take for an example their drive throughs are busier than ever. 

Sean Keathley: Now that people were thinking that’s one of the safest ways to get meals. In the south where it’s hot, you pull up to a Chick-fil-A and you see rows of cars, that they have employees under umbrellas with fans. With handheld devices, taking orders that allow them to accelerate the wait time. It’s not only a commitment to their customer and their deep understanding and their business. The value of your time being one of the most precious things. It’s not executed at the expense of the employee experience because their employees are key to what they’re doing. Not to mention their commitment to technology and the mobile app. Having people pre-order and pulling a parking space in a smiling face, walks out with your order. So Chick-fil-A is a shining example of a culture that is surviving through challenging times by pivoting. Just imagine if that can be so successful with the chicken sandwich, think about the power of a strategy like that with financial institutions. 

Ryan Kilpatrick: They’ve tapped into something. All they’re doing is selling nuggets and chicken sandwiches, but people love them. As bankers, we’re helping people start businesses. We’re helping people get into their first home. We’re helping individuals, maybe who have gone through tough times and need additional capital to be able to survive. You think about that as compared to a cup of coffee in Starbucks case or a chicken sandwich in Chick-fil-A’s case. We have so much opportunity based on not necessarily the products we’re selling, but the way that we can transform an individual or a company by being trusted advisors to them. By setting up and establishing just dynamic relationships. That’s a business I think that a banker should be proud to be in. To know that we can have that type of impact. I think now, as we deal with the pandemic and a crisis, our customers need us more than ever. Our communities need us more than ever. 

Ryan Kilpatrick: I know that there’s so many banks out there across the country who are doing the hard work to be there for their customers and be there for their communities. I think there’s a bright future for community banks. If we’re flexible. If we understand the importance of technology and relationships being interlinked. But also sticking to the foundational values that for instance, with Origin, make us unique and have served us for over a century and hopefully a century more. 

Sean Keathley: Your employees and your customers know why you do it. I think that’s what they believe in. I was an executive enterprise Rent-A-Car for about eight years and Jack Taylor, the founder, an incredible human being. One of the biggest private companies in the US, so much success. But I’ll never forget what I learned in the orientation. 

Sean Keathley: That was as a manager, if you focus on your customer and your employee, the profit will follow. But don’t focus on profit. I just think about that as you run that bank and you guys go community. That one-on-one experience you’re building and the time and expense and communication. Brand classes, all the things you do, it’s clearly working. 

Ryan Kilpatrick: And, hey, I’m sorry if I’m yapping too much. 

Sean Keathley: Pure gold, baby. Pure Gold.  

Ryan Kilpatrick: We could have done a two-hour podcast. 

Gina Bleedorn: This podcast is going to have to be like an hour, but you were talking to this. So Ryan, why do you believe in banking? 

Ryan Kilpatrick: It comes down to people and it comes down to relationships. I feel like we’ve talked about that a lot during this podcast. I think it’s so important to banking. It’s more than transactions. It’s about helping transform people’s lives. That’s why I think it’s important. I mean banking is, Sean mentioned that earlier about being “essential.” I mean if you’re good at what you do in terms of understanding why you’re doing it. For us, our purpose, Origin bank’s core purpose is to enrich the lives of people in our community. The word enrich means to make fuller more meaningful and more rewarding. 

Ryan Kilpatrick: If we do those things’ day in and day out, the impact that we can have on our customers and communities is just incredible. Certainly, in our business as a banker, that’s why we come to work every day. It’s to make peoples’ lives more rewarding and more fulfilling. We have such an opportunity to do that. 

Outro: You’ve been listening to Believe in Banking, a podcast series created to empower decision makers, influencers, and industry leaders in financial services. Be sure to also join us on our flagship site,