story by Kim Souza
Fort Smith area native Craig Rivaldo is set to take over leadership for Arvest Benton County on May 1 and the banker will carry his “playbook” and more than 20 years of leadership experience when he settles into his new bank office full-time.
It’s been nearly three decades since Rivaldo lived in Fayetteville as a young banker with McIlroy Bank, now Arvest. He marvels at the growth the region has seen and is eager to get re-acquainted with the community. He and wife Mary Jo and their son Conner will reside somewhere in Benton County, making the final move in the next couple of months.
“I can’t wait to plug into some civic leadership roles once I get settled in. Now I serve on the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce as the incoming chairman (for 2015), University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Foundation Board; Mercy Hospital Board and Fort Smith Area Community Foundation. Being actively involved in the community is part of my core values,” Rivaldo said.
It’s roughly 90 miles from downtown Bentonville to Fort Smith but there are four distinct Arvest bank markets along that stretch of highway and stark differences in the demographics and dynamics among them.
When Rivaldo was tapped to help start the Fort Smith market in 1999 he said the expansion was organic — from the ground up. He left a mature market in Fayetteville to try and build a neighboring market from scratch, aided by a few key acquisitions along the way. In 2010, he became president over the Fort Smith market when John Womack was picked to lead the central Arkansas market for Arvest.
With this move to Benton County, Rivaldo will be at ground zero for Arvest Bank in what is likely its most-mature market in terms of share and brand recognition. Benton County also is one of the fastest growing areas in the country in population, jobs and banking competition. Rivaldo said he had no reservations about taking this position when it was offered.
“Honestly, I thought about some really great leaders like Don Walker, Rob Brothers and David Short who held this position over the years. Being over the bank’s original market I suppose there can be added pressure, but all of the 16 Arvest markets are equally important,” he said.
Some of the key leadership aspects Rivaldo said he brings to this new job include high energy with a no-complacency approach. He said his leadership style is upbeat and he believes in fostering a fun work environment, but never sacrificing quality customer service in the process.
“I believe it is my responsibility to set high expectations,” he said. (That includes himself and the entire market he oversees.) “This is part of the Arvest culture, I understand it. It’s my playbook and key to my leadership style,” Rivaldo said. “I’ve been told I bleed blue and I do.”
His first task as the new leader in Benton County will be to get to know his team
“I looked at the March earnings for Benton County and there is no doubt a talented team is on the ground making good things happen. My goal is keep that unity, provide leadership and make sure the corporate culture stays intact,” Rivaldo said.
That local culture may be in need of reinforcement. The job Rivaldo moves to opened up when Dennis Smiley resigned following disclosure of troubled loans and allegations of fraud. Three banks filed counter complaints against former bank executive H. Dennis Smiley in Benton County Circuit Court on Friday (April 11). Smiley was the president of Arvest Bank Benton County until he resigned on March 13. Following his resignation, 20 Arkansas banks have been trying to get repaid the $4.5 million they lent Smiley over the past seven years.
INDUSTRY CHANGES, CHALLENGES
There are plenty of challenges facing the banking industry and Rivaldo said he spent two days last week in Washington D.C. talking with legislative staffers about “over-reaching regulation.”
“In talking to the legislative staff I don’t think they realize what a burden that regulation is creating for community banks that are having to staff up to handle the added oversight all because of the actions of a few banks. Community banks are the backbones of economies they serve and the added regulations are burdensome,” he said.
Rivaldo agreed that smaller banks have the least cushion to defray ongoing regulatory costs and this is likely to fuel more bank consolidations as a result.
He also weighed in on how technology is changing the business of banking for better or worse.
“My son had gotten a check at Christmas time from his grandmother. At the breakfast table I thought I would show him something when he gave me the check to deposit for him. I grabbed my phone, scanned the check into his savings account and then tore the paper check up. He looked at me and asked if he would ever have to go into a bank again,” Rivaldo shared.
That simple question from a 12-year-old hit home for the veteran banker.
“Banks are going through an evolutionary change. The days of large brick mortar buildings will likely give way to smaller, versatile banking centers now that 60% of banking services can be performed electronically. Banks are going to have to change their way of thinking,” Rivaldo said.