Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Sept. 16 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
Jeff Lynch spent nearly a decade working in the Northwest Arkansas banking market before leaving in 2008. In a roundabout way, he has returned to the region.
Lynch, 56, is president and CEO of privately owned Eagle Bank & Trust Co., a $427 million asset lender headquartered in Little Rock. It is owned by State Holding Co., which is majority-owned by the Harry Hastings Jr. family.
Lynch joined the company in 2008 as the CFO and CEO-in-waiting of Heber Springs State Bank, about 65 miles north of Little Rock. At that time, Heber Springs was also operating under the State Holding umbrella. Lynch’s decision to leave Northwest Arkansas and join the bank was part of a succession plan to succeed his father, Bill Lynch. The elder Lynch was the Heber Springs bank’s top executive from 1991 until his retirement in 2010.
In 2012, the State Holding board of directors voted to consolidate the holding company’s two banks. Although they chose to operate under the Heber Springs charter — which dates back to 1919 — the new enterprise became known as Eagle Bank & Trust Co. The board offered Lynch the bank’s top leadership position. The company now has 13 full-service branches throughout a five-county area of central Arkansas. Assets have increased by 6.3% in the past year, 13% in the past five years.
To stimulate further growth, Eagle Bank opened a loan production office (LPO) in Fayetteville in January 2018. It’s the same city where Lynch started his Northwest Arkansas banking career 20 years ago. He graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1986 and worked for several banks in central Arkansas before joining Fayetteville’s McIlroy Bank & Trust — then owned by Arvest Bank— in 1999 as an area loan manager and commercial lender. That same year, the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal honored Lynch as a member of its Forty Under 40 class.
In 2001, Lynch’s work caught the attention of Springdale-based United Bank, which offered him the chance of fulfilling one of his career ambitions — becoming a bank president.
“Arvest is a great organization, and I loved working there. But it was a huge opportunity [at United] to move from lending into a president’s role,” Lynch said. “That had been a goal of mine, and when the opportunity came my way, I jumped at it.”
Lynch, whose brother Doug is the Northwest Arkansas market president for Batesville-chartered Citizens Bank, said he was “terribly excited” about the opportunity to open an LPO in Fayetteville. His excitement has, so far, been justified. In 2018 the bank closed $45 million in secondary market loans in Northwest Arkansas, Lynch said. Through the first eight months of 2019, that total hit $52 million.
“I know the opportunities [in Northwest Arkansas] and what the market can mean for our organization,” Lynch said. “It was a no-brainer for us to move in that direction.”
Eagle Bank’s Northwest Arkansas expansion hasn’t stopped in Fayetteville. The company opened an LPO in Bentonville in August just off Walton Boulevard. The company now has 10 full-time employees in the two-county area.
Overall, Lynch said a concerted effort was made two years ago to grow the bank’s mortgage division. There are now offices in multiple states.
“We made a huge capital investment,” he said. “We hired 100 additional employees just for our mortgage operation. This year we’ll close about $500 million in secondary market loans. Two years ago, we closed $100 million. It is a significant part of our business now.”
Lynch, who recently celebrated his 31st wedding anniversary, is on the Little Rock branch board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. He is also involved with the Arkansas Bankers Association and said he is excited to see young people showing an interest in a banking career.
That includes Sarah Lynch, the oldest of his two daughters, who is a loan officer for Generations Bank in Fayetteville.
“If you are a helper and want to serve customers, I don’t know of a better career than banking,” he said. “That’s really what our jobs are: helping people reach their financial goals.”