In this special episode, Sean and Gina welcome Ryan Kilpatrick, Executive Vice President and Chief Brand and Communications Officer from Origin Bank, to the conversation to give real-world insights about relationship banking in the modern era. He talks about how building community through the bank’s people is central to Origin’s story of fostering deeper, more consultative relationships with their customers.
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 at Adrenaline.
Gina Bleedorn: And I’m Gina Bleedorn, Chief Experience Officer at Adrenaline.
Sean Keathley: Gina. I’m really excited about today’s episode. You and I have gone back and forth. And I think we’ve covered some really interesting topics relevant for today’s world.
Gina Bleedorn: I think we need to find out if what we are thinking and saying is playing out and how it’s playing out.
Sean Keathley: I really think it’s time to start talking to some live bankers, some people that are on the front lines. So Gina, as we start this next episode, I’ve got a special treat for you today. I have welcomed our first special guest. So let me introduce now, Mr. Ryan Kilpatrick, EVP, Chief Brand and communication officer at Origin Bank. Ryan, welcome to the podcast.
Ryan Kilpatrick: Sean and Gina, thanks for having me. Looking forward to the conversation.
Sean Keathley: Gina and I have been talking for a few weeks now about banking trends and we felt it was absolutely time to get firsthand account of someone that is on the front lines. And so that’s exactly what we want to do today is have our listeners listen to the Origin story. I actually think that would be a really good place to start. So Ryan, think for a minute as if no one listening on this podcast knows the Origin story. If you could just take a minute or two and set that up for our listeners and we’ll get into the conversation.
Ryan Kilpatrick: Perfect Sean. Thank you so much. And again, thanks for having me. Origin Bank was founded in 1912 in a little town called Choudrant, Louisiana. It gets mispronounced a lot, but it’s Choudrant, Louisiana, North Central part of the state. So have been in business for over a century. We currently are just over six and a half billion dollars in assets as we record this podcast. Locations in Houston, Texas, Dallas Fort worth, across North Louisiana and into Mississippi. We refer to ourselves as a regional community bank, serving our customers, serving our communities and just have a deep philosophy of a strong corporate culture. We put a lot of emphasis into our corporate culture. And we will talk about that a good bit today in terms of what that means and how it impacts our business and how we better serve our customers, our communities. So that’s a little bit about us.
Ryan Kilpatrick: I believe we have probably over 800 employees throughout those three states. We also operate two insurance companies. So we have fun doing what we do. We have a lot of fun at Origin. We met you guys, obviously. Have known you for quite some time. We were originally Community Trust Bank. And back in 2015, we went through the wonderful process, stressful at times, but it was a wonderful process. And thanks to y’all’s help. We’re able to change our name from Community Trust to Origin Bank. And for us it’s really helped us better define who we are, what we do. Certainly I think it’s helped us grow. We’ve seen tremendous growth really over the past decade or so as we were in North Central Louisiana for most of, I guess, our history. 2008, 2009, went into the Texas market De Novo, and to Dallas, and have since grown that market and then gotten into Houston, also gotten into the Jackson Mississippi area, and have continued to grow and went public a few years ago. That was a big part of our history, listed on NASDAQ that has definitely impacted this company in a very positive way.
Gina Bleedorn: Ryan, back in 2015, gosh, time goes by fast, when we met you and you were in the throes of needing to make a decision about your name. One of the things that struck me then as it does today, you mentioned it already, how strong your internal culture is at Origin. You do have fun but in a way that everyone there knows what Origin is and what it means, and at the time, Community Trust. And it was a hard separation of the name from who you were. But talk a little bit about what are some of the things that make Origin, Origin. What are some of the ways that you celebrate your culture at the bank? But pre-COVID, that I know, has certainly been, I think, a big advantage to you post-COVID, but even back when we helped craft your name and your brand, we were just reflecting the culture that was already there and making your brand match it. And that’s what struck me, but talk a little bit about some of the unique aspects of Origin and your culture.
Ryan Kilpatrick: Yeah. For us, and I think for so many banks across the country, culture is oftentimes talked about in banking circles. “Oh, we have a great culture.” And certainly many, many banks do. For us it’s truly been about how do we define our culture and how do we do so consistently? And that’s probably one of the things that I feel like we’ve really excelled at, is how do we define our culture consistently? And so we’ve done that through so many different ways. One of the things that we do that we put a lot of pride in is that every new employee with Origin comes to our headquarters and we go through what we refer to as Culture Day Orientation. And so that’s where they hear from our chairman, president and CEO of the holding company, Drake Mills.
Ryan Kilpatrick: They hear from Lance Hall, who’s the president CEO of the bank, other executives. And really we walk through what it means to work here, why it’s important. What are our core values? What’s our mission? What’s our vision? And then how does that apply to how we’re able to impact customers? How we’re able to impact communities on a day-to-day basis. So regardless if somebody is brand new to banking, maybe just out of college and they’re going to start off in the frontline as relationship banker, a teller, as some banks refer to them as or if it’s someone who’s been an executive, maybe with another bank and they’re making a transition to come work for us. So regardless of experience, regardless of position, every employee hears that same message. And that’s been very powerful for us.
Ryan Kilpatrick: What we also have created, what we refer to as a culture book. And it just, as I mentioned, covers a lot of the things that we cover in Culture Day, but it’s in written form. There certainly graphics to go along with it. You guys were very helpful in helping us enhance and really recreate that through our brand change, and so that’s another way. We do annual culture celebrations where every year we go into each one of our markets, Houston, DFW, North Louisiana, and the Mississippi and we celebrate who we are. We give awards to employees, really just celebrate the successes that have been taking place and again, reiterating what’s important. Reiterating our values, our mission, our vision. The things that we believe make us unique. And those are just a few of the examples that we try to do on a day-to-day basis and we think that’s most important. And it’s reiterating those things that make us unique.
Gina Bleedorn: Last question before, I know Sean is just dying to ask you questions, but along those same lines, a lot of organizations are struggling now with their brand. And maybe there’s some decisions around it they haven’t made up until this point and now they’re thinking, “Is now the worst time to do it, or the best time to do it?” Whether they’re thinking about changing a name or solidifying their brand, refreshing it. Talk just for a moment about what that brand change did as we changed the name. As you changed it from Community Trust Bank to Origin and the new brand to go with it. What was that like and how did that impact your business?
Ryan Kilpatrick: Well, and certainly for many of us… I say many, we had a very small team, which I think is very important. I think that certainly input and collective thought is important, but anytime you’re going through a process of trying to change your brand, that can be very, very personal. We’ve been in existence since 1912 and we oftentimes said, “It’s kind of like changing the name of one of your children.” So it can be challenging. Certainly Adrenaline made that easier. Gina, Sean, y’all’s team just was incredible in making us see that, “Hey look, regardless of the name that you guys choose there’s going to be a story to tell. It’s not taking away who you are. It’s more so enhancing who you can be.” And that’s how we looked at it.
Ryan Kilpatrick: We felt like a new name, a new brand was not only going to take us through the next, say five to 10 years, but this was something that we would live with in perpetuity, and look, it has been absolutely incredible. Certainly a name like Community Trust, there’s so many different banks that have community and trust in their names. I’m sure there’s other banks who will listen to this and their name may be similar to a bank an hour down the road. And so I think the uniqueness if you’re passionate about your brand, I think, for the consumer to know that it’s unique to you is critically important. And then the way that you can tell stories around it. For us, the definition of origin is the point or place where something begins or is created.
Ryan Kilpatrick: And so for an entity that’s been around for a hundred years in this specific market, we play to that here. It’s in our foundation, it’s who we are, it’s who we have been and who we will be. But then in newer markets that we went into, for example, in the Texas and the Mississippi market, it was a way for us to talk about new beginnings for new customers. And I believe it’s helped propel us to do some dynamic things in those new markets and certainly has led to us being able to grow and meet new customers and make even a bigger impact.
Gina Bleedorn: Since we changed the name you’ve grown from, gosh, were you around under 4 billion at the time and now you’re over six?
Ryan Kilpatrick: Yes. I mean, I actually I think we were smaller than that at the time. Maybe around 2 billion.
Gina Bleedorn: Oh wow.
Ryan Kilpatrick: I could be wrong on that. But yeah, we’ve seen outstanding growth since we did change our brand. And again, it’s been extremely positive.
Sean Keathley: Gina is trying to take credit for that growth.
Ryan Kilpatrick: She gets some credit for that.
Gina Bleedorn: That’s fine.
Sean Keathley: What I do find fascinating and I’m dying to get in here, but I think the success of this podcast will be if Ryan talks more than all of us is what I’ve seen through the growth, your commitment to the playbook. You have not out scaled it. And it gets hard to take someone from Houston that’s coming in for their first job out of college and give the commitment to talk to Drake and Lance and meet you and the marketing team. And I’m sure you’re seeing dividends and retention and the ability to continue to control the conversation.
Sean Keathley: So that’s a good pivot I want to make. We’ll get into the dynamics of the industry and the markets today, but just talk for just a quick second about, I think, the approach to banking and I think a regional community bank is a good way to tee it up. And thinking about the balance of those cherished relationships and those century old markets where you’ve got great market share and those customers are very important, but new relationships. So just talk about kind of the style origin approaches that appears to be working across different types of markets as you guys scale.
Ryan Kilpatrick: Yeah. For us, our business model centers around our culture and it centers around relationship banking. I mean, it’s what has been the foundation of who we are for over a century as I’ve mentioned. And certainly for Drake and for Lance, it is just the constant communication to our people, to our employees, that relationships matter so much in our business. And we think it’s through those relationships that we’re able to differentiate ourselves. And the same applies whether you’re in the largest city in Texas or a much smaller market say in North Louisiana, because at the end of the day we believe that our space, where we need to operate and where we can continue to be successful is in the relationship space. And that’s where we’ve been able to thrive. I think for many of our markets that we’ve come into, say, over the past decade or so, it’s been an approach that’s been fresh and enlightening to customers that we bring on.
Ryan Kilpatrick: I like to say it’s the old way of banking with handshakes and face-to-face interaction. Certainly COVID-19 has changed some of that. And we can get into some of those conversations about how we’re taking that approach and making it thrive today. But that’s really what it comes down to regardless of the market size. I mean, you think about it, the Houston Metro has over six million people. Dallas Fort Worth has over six million people in that Metro area. The states of Louisiana and Mississippi combined are just over six million, six to seven million. And so you’re dealing with different dynamics of markets. But at the end of the day people want to do business with people who they trust. That’s a huge component of who we are. Community Trust obviously was our old name. We stood firmly in one of our core values. Actually our first core value is, “Trust is our foundation, earn it every day.” And so it’s through those relationships that we’re able to build trust regardless of the size of the market. We feel like that’s what we strive for and that’s what we’ve tried to do throughout our history.
Sean Keathley: Ryan, you’ve just redone your values and that was really pre-COVID and I think that’ll be the perfect setup to some of the challenges we’ve seen as you’ve gone into 2020, but talk about how you’ve updated the way you talk about your values as the bank has matured and grown, and now you are public, you’re on NASDAQ. I really like how you guys have not forgotten what got you here, but still knew it wasn’t stagnant and it had to be refreshed a bit. So talk about that for a second.
Ryan Kilpatrick: Yeah, definitely. And we did not change our core values when we changed the name of the bank. We wanted to remain true to who we were and what got us to the point that we are in, but trust and innovation and being flexible and forward thinking, respecting ourselves and others is such a big component of who we are. The individual and corporate commitment to our community. Those are some of our values, again, that we just consistently talk about with our employees. Whether it’s emails from our executive team to all employees, whether it’s through and management meetings, we’re always coming back to those values. One of our core values that I like a lot and certainly applies to where we are currently in dealing with COVID-19 and how we’re able to impact customers in a different way, is our ability to be flexible. And we changed our vision statement. We were assessing it, the old vision and thought our focus has not necessarily changed but it’s evolved.
Ryan Kilpatrick: And so our new vision, I think, speaks to that in terms of what our strategy is and what we’re trying to do as a company. And then obviously that’s reflected in our brand. But our new vision says, “To combine the power of a trusted advisor with innovative technology to build unwavering loyalty by connecting people to their dreams.” And we think that’s powerful in terms of time, the relationship aspect of our people, being trusted advisors, and certainly with the importance of technology and how people are interacting and doing business. We want that combination to create this unwavering loyalty that’s going to connect people to all the things they want to accomplish because as bankers, I really think, and we think it’s always been a philosophy of Drake’s. “Let’s help people accomplish the dreams that they want to accomplish.” And so that’s what we’ve tried to do. And I think an example of our ability to be flexible, certainly in these changing times.
Sean Keathley: What was Drake’s first job at the bank?
Ryan Kilpatrick: Drake was a check file clerk, I believe. So he started off really at the most entry level position that you could have at the bank and has worked his way up through this organization. Drake, he was the seventh employee at the time that he started. And so we oftentimes will refer to him as Double O Seven, but he’s held most positions at the bank and truly understands what our people are going through, but Drake’s approach is so team-oriented and certainly Lance’s is as well. And that’s just what’s great about Origin, is when you have leaders who understand what our people are going through, but also know that the team aspect of what we do… Drake talks to every new employee that comes through that Culture Day. And it’s not just him coming in and talking for five minutes and introducing himself, he’s talking for an hour and a half.
Ryan Kilpatrick: And you think about a public company chairman and CEO, who Tom is so critical to him, but he knows how important it is. And he talks about how no one person at the bank today can do every job at the bank today. I couldn’t go down and be in the front lines as a relationship banker, as a teller. The drawers would be unbalanced and we’d have a line probably out the door just like Drake probably couldn’t go work in a wired desk right now. So it takes so many people working together to make this place what it is. And that’s extremely important to Drake that it takes all of us working together to be the best we can be.
Sean Keathley: It’s so foundational to what’s made you guys successful. And I love when people are able to scale that kind of success. And it does come down to people. As we get into a transition, Ryan, I want to talk about how much harder you’re working for the same results. I want you to think about you’re at the Squire Creek bar and Lance is telling you the vision of the bank and what he needs to continue to build out as he’s got a track he’s on and now, of course, the CEO of the bank, and then you agreed to take over brand marketing and eventually communications. And could you have ever imagined, when you guys shook hands, that in 2020 you’d be working this hard on living the brand and being so focused on every word and every communication?
Ryan Kilpatrick: I mean, we joke around the bank that, I guess, the whole COVID-19 pandemic really came to light in March. So we had this joke that, “It’s like March 95th today. Who knows what day it is?” But I think here we are four to five months into this process, and I don’t think anybody could have predicted that we’d be still dealing with some of the stuff we’re dealing with, but we’ve got to do it. We’ve got to find ways to be successful. We have to find ways to be there for our customers. And that’s so critically important right now, but your point about words matter so much. And one of my roles dealing with our communication, it is so critically important to be able to communicate effectively.
Ryan Kilpatrick: And I think there’s probably a lot of companies out there, a lot of banks out there who may be reluctant to communicate whether it’s internally, whether it’s externally. It’s so critical to be able to communicate effectively, to tell the message that needs to be told. And I’ve told one of our regional presidents, our Louisiana president, he did an incredible job. His name is Larry Little. He did an incredible job and was really over our PPP process over the past few months. And we had some great conversations early on. There was so much back and forth at the time when that program was first passed by Congress. There was just different information that people were hearing. And me and Larry talked and we both agreed if we’re not communicating and there’s a void in communication. Truly there’s never a void in communication. Something always fills that void. Usually it’s inaccurate information. It’s what somebody is hearing.
Ryan Kilpatrick: So even when you don’t have all the answers, it’s okay to tell your people that, “Right now we’re still gathering information. We’ll be in touch with you and we’ll communicate when we know more.” So that’s probably been one of the biggest learning experiences, I think, not only for me, but for the leaders within our company. Is making sure that you’re communicating effectively, particularly during a time like this because employees in particular, they want more information to be successful and to know what they need to be doing and what are you doing as leaders for them. And I think the same applies externally for customers. They want to hear from us. And we’ve really tried to make an effort to make that happen through all of our different channels. Social digital, through our website and certainly one-on-one as we’re having phone conversations with customers, reassuring them that, “Hey, we’re here for you. We’re going to work with you to get you through this time.”
Gina Bleedorn: Ryan, what’s been the role of social? You mentioned it, but talk about how that channel’s maybe had an increased a significance post-COVID as things are changing daily. And how have you used social? What are your thoughts?
Ryan Kilpatrick: Look, all of these different channels, I don’t think you can operate them separate and apart from the main brand. I mean, socials, so critically important. Equally as important, say, as your website, but all of us probably have a cell phone sitting in front of us. As I was driving through Atlanta, actually, last week, it was a little bit unnerving to see how many people are looking at their cell phones half the time I was stuck in traffic. So that was probably okay. But when you’re driving that can be a little scary, but-
Gina Bleedorn: Are you one of those people, Sean?
Ryan Kilpatrick: I’m sure Sean was working diligently not looking at a cell phone. But yes, social, goodness. I mean, we all know our spouses, our kids, our parents, and grandparents are using social to connect and to communicate. And so for us and our brand as we went through really, say, the introduction of COVID and how that was impacting whether lobbies were open or closed, communicating how we were keeping our employees safe and healthy and how that was so important to making sure our employees knew that we wanted to keep them safe and healthy.
Ryan Kilpatrick: So we really used social, particularly at the start of the pandemic to communicate what we were doing. Look, our brand marketing team is just outstanding and we have an incredible social media coordinator who really interacts. Tries to go above and beyond to interact with our customers who choose to interact that way through social channels. And so I think we’ve been very effective with that. We’ve been very deliberate in terms of what messages we want to convey. And I think we’ll continue to use social, hopefully, in a dynamic way to communicate with our customers really a back and forth conversation.
Gina Bleedorn: Back to the beginning of the pandemic you just referenced and when it was, let’s say March 25th instead of March 125th, talk about what was on the ground experience of PPP. We know that was, you mentioned it, and it was a crazy, in some ways, a very stressful time for banks. Talk about that. What did Origin do during that time?
Ryan Kilpatrick: Well, we like to operate in teams. We feel like a small team is able to be so much more impactful than, say, one individual who’s just trying to get information others. And so we put together a team, Larry Little led that, who I referenced earlier and just did a great job of, I think, communicating with our lenders who are deeply involved in the process, but also our credit partners within the bank. One of our credit partners was on that team, a guy named Justin Carrier and he just was outstanding. But to see the way that our employees were just committed to the process and look, I love this place and I feel like we’re the best bank in the world, but so obviously I’m biased, but it wasn’t about, “Hey, this is just part of the job.”
Ryan Kilpatrick: I mean, our people were working goodness, 15, 18 hours a day. There was a process where you had to submit your applications through the SBA portal. We had submissions at midnight just like, I’m sure, so many other banks did as well. At two in the morning, and we were working different shifts, our bankers were. And just to see the level of commitment, it was so impressive and heartwarming, and it wasn’t just a commitment to Origin. I mean, truly it was a commitment to our customers who they deal with all the time and they realized, “Hey, I need to do everything possible to make sure that my customers are going to get this PPP money so they can pay their employees and continue to function as a business.” So just like any other time, although it’s extremely different, but banking is so personal to our people. They’re extremely passionate about it.
Ryan Kilpatrick: And when you have that combination of incredible people who are committed to one singular goal, amazing things can happen. And we were able to see that through the PPP process. I’m proud of our group. I think obviously PPP is still open and ongoing, but we did over $560 million in PPP, the total, and over 3000 loans to those customers. And what I find most impactful is that of those clients who receive PPP funding, that impacted over sixty-five thousand employees of those businesses. And that to me, was the true intent of the program. And it’s been nice to see that in action and how customers have been impacted by it.
Gina Bleedorn: Wow. When you put it that way, that’s a new lens. And isn’t it true that as a testament to your commitment to communication, you were in fact communicating to some of your business owners that in fact you were telling them where they were in other banks.
Ryan Kilpatrick: Yeah.
Gina Bleedorn: That and still processing their loans.
Ryan Kilpatrick: Yeah. And it comes back to customers just craving information and whether it’s good or bad. But yeah, we had a prospect who’s done some business with us. We were not their primary bank, but they had applied at another bank in one of our markets and hadn’t heard from that bank after the application had been given to them. And so they start getting worried, as you can imagine, and they come see one of our bankers, and of course they’re working very diligently to get their application and to find out where they are in the process. And sure enough, their application had been submitted by the other bank and they were actually in the queue, but it was our banker who was the one who told them that information. And if you think about that, certainly that customer’s going to have a different feel of who they should bank with moving forward.
Ryan Kilpatrick: So I think it’s a great example of how communication is so critical. We mentioned social media earlier, we’ve got text messages, emails. At the end of the day, it takes a little effort to pick up the phone and call a customer and have that one-on-one conversation. And that’s what I think sometimes gets missed in this age of technology that we live in. The one-on-one conversation even through the phone is so impactful. And that’s something that our bankers continue to do when it comes to updating customers and having those conversations with them in terms of how we can be trusted advisors to them.
Gina Bleedorn: Ryan, this conversation has been amazing. We have covered everything from how to really be connected to your communities and serve them to understanding and living and breathing your own culture and your own brand internally with your own people to what that brand looks like emanated outside your walls. Your halo effect to deepening real relationships with real customers and the idea of relationship banking that Origin has always held dear, and ultimately being a trusted advisor for those you serve and that’s why your customers love you. So thank you.
Sean Keathley: I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much.
Ryan Kilpatrick: Well, Sean and Gina, I mean, thank y’all. Look, I treasure our relationship and thank you for the partnership that we’ve had, but it’s become more personal than just a business partnership. And look, I’ve enjoyed the conversation. I feel like we could probably talk for hours and hours on this stuff, but thank y’all for what y’all are doing. I think this concept of Believe in Banking is so important and y’all are helping, I think, tell that story. So as a banker, I’m extremely thankful and appreciative that y’all are doing it and look forward to more conversations in the future.
Sean Keathley: I think we need some more time with you, Ryan. We’re going to bring you back for our next episode. And what I’m thinking about, there’s a lot of things that are on the minds of our listeners that I know you can speak to, and we could talk about the idea of relationship banking in the COVID era. How do you utilize technology but making sure it’s not impersonal and you live up to that personal banking? And then let’s think about even the future face of being purpose-driven in a post-COVID era, given that’s where we all want to eventually get. So we would love to have Ryan back for another episode and continue this exciting discussion.
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, believeinbanking.com.