Four years ago this month a group of eight investors, most of them from Northwest Arkansas, closed a deal to buy Grand Savings Bank, an Oklahoma-based lender established in 1981.
The bank had just two branches when it was acquired, one each in the Delaware County towns of Grove and Jay, just across the Arkansas border. Aided by the acquisition of Decatur State Bank in late 2014, Grand Savings now has seven Arkansas branches. It has Benton County offices in Bentonville, Rogers (2), Gentry, Decatur and Siloam Springs, and another in Fort Smith in Sebastian County.
Reflecting the entry into one of the fastest-growing metros in the U.S., the bank’s assets have grown 75% to $377.1 million since the new ownership took over. Deposits have increased 83% to $334.5 million in the same four years. Net loans and leases held by the bank totaled $293.1 million as of Dec. 31. That’s up 74.6% since the end of 2013.
Perhaps most impressive, however, is income growth of 331% delivered for the bank’s shareholders, which now numbers 36. Grand Savings had its most profitable year ever last year with net income of $6.9 million, compared to $1.6 million in 2013. All of those metrics have contributed to the bank’s growing reputation as a successful community bank. Grand Savings ranks No. 3 in the six-county market area with a 1.95% return on assets (ROA), the lender’s best annual performance since 2007.
“We’re very pleased with the growth that has occurred,” said Tommy Coughlin, 36, promoted recently to president of the bank’s Rogers/Bentonville market, encompassing three locations. “The ROA has been there, all our ratios are in line, and that’s made this a lot of fun because we aren’t growing for the sake of growth. It’s healthy growth. A little of it has been through acquisition, but a lot of it is organic.”
To better manage its emerging presence in Benton County, the bank announced an executive reshuffling in March. Tyler Steele, previously president of the Northwest Arkansas market, was promoted to vice chairman of the board of directors, led by his father, chairman Tony Steele, and bank CEO Guy Cable, a longtime Northwest Arkansas bank executive.
In addition to Coughlin’s promotion, Carla Martinez was named market president of Western Benton County, expanding her previous role of overseeing the Gentry and Decatur locations to include Siloam Springs and Gravette, which is scheduled to open later this year. To go with the promotions, Grand Savings also named Natalie Bartholomew chief marketing officer and vice president. She is a Prairie Grove native and has more than 16 years of banking experience in the market, most recently with First National Bank of NWA.
Coughlin, son of the late Tom Coughlin, who was a close friend of Sam Walton as a high-ranking executive with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., grew up in Bentonville, and other Grand Savings executives in the market also have deep and established roots in the region. That is important to the bank’s business model, Coughlin said, to have a community-minded bent and support the towns that support the bank.
“We like to use our network to benefit our customers; that is an advantage,” he said. “In all of our various markets we have folks who are long-term community members and very involved in those communities. Using those relationships is one of the things we do very well. I think it’s been very well received, and it’s a differentiating factor for us.”
‘A LITTLE ABOUT A LOT’
Coughlin joined Grand Savings as a loan manager in November 2013, coinciding with the opening of the bank’s first Arkansas office on Arkansas Highway 72 at the western edge of Bentonville. He’d previously worked for both Arvest Bank and Regions Bank for a combined nine years.
Growing up the son of Tom Coughlin – who worked for Walmart for 27 years and rose to the position of vice chairman – Coughlin was exposed early and often to the retail industry.
“I grew up working in the stores and warehouses, and you learn through osmosis,” he said.
Coughlin graduated from Bentonville High in 1999 and began college in San Diego before returning home. Not sure what he wanted to do, a conversation with a Bentonville banker got Coughlin started down the financial services path. David Short, who retired in 2012 as president and CEO of Arvest Benton County, gave Coughlin some advice he still remembers.
“He said, ‘If you want an opportunity to learn a little about a lot, you ought to look into banking,” Coughlin recalled. “That was good, solid advice. And I took it, and it stuck. When I jumped into it, I thought it would springboard me into something else. It was a natural fit, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Tyler Steele said it will be a challenge for the bank to maintain the growth path of the past four years. “But that is our goal,” he said.
Grand Savings opened two branches in the second half of 2016. A second location in Rogers opened in August at 4201 Pleasant Crossing Parkway, at the corner of Dixieland Road. In Fort Smith, Nick Remy is market president of the bank’s new location at 9117 U.S. 71 South. It started doing business in October.
Expansion to new markets is on the horizon. The opening of a new location in Fairland, Okla., in Ottawa County is imminent, Steele said. Later this year, Grand Savings will apply to establish a branch in Gravette in a former Delta Trust branch at 111 S.E. Second Ave. The bank bought the building in March for $140,000. Only two other lenders have a presence in Gravette — Arvest Bank and Bank of Gravett.
Coughlin said bolstering the bank’s presence in the western half of Benton County has been a focus. He said the bank has been well-received in the area following the Decatur State Bank acquisition, and that’s been a good foundation to make the move into the Gravette market.
“We think that half of the county is going to blossom the next 10 years or so, and being over there and being in Gravette will be good,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of clients over there.”
A long-term goal, Coughlin said, is to enter the Washington County market.
“We would love to find the right spot there, eventually,” he said. “That would make a lot of sense for us because we have some business down there already.
“We have a very active board of directors, and they are great about looking for ways that we can grow the right way.”