Then & Now: Bartholomew glad to be NWA banker again

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 1,526 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Dec. 5 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.

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Earlier this year, Batesville-based First Community Bank hired Natalie Bartholomew to lead its entry into the Northwest Arkansas market as community president for Rogers and Northwest Arkansas.

During a recent interview, the 40-year-old Bartholomew said she is right where she’s meant to be, though the road to First Community may have been different than she imagined.

“If you had told me seven years ago that my career path would look like it did, I would never have believed you,” she said. “But I don’t regret any [career] change I’ve made. They’ve all helped me as a banker and leader and given me opportunities for which I’m extremely thankful.”

Bartholomew, whose family has deep roots in Prairie Grove, is a fifth-generation Northwest Arkansas resident and a regional banker for more than two decades. She began her career as a part-time teller for Arvest Bank when she was 18 and spent a dozen years with the company.

In 2013, Bartholomew took a job at First National Bank of NWA as vice president of private banking and marketing, where she helped the bank transition to a new name and logo under new leadership.

The Northwest Arkansas Business Journal included her in its annual Forty Under 40 list two years later.

In February 2017, Bartholomew joined Grand Savings Bank as a commercial lender and chief marketing officer. The company promoted her to vice president and chief administrative officer in January 2019.

Before joining First Community this past summer, Bartholomew spent nine months working remotely as the chief impact officer at Citizens Bank of Edmond (Okla.)

She was eager to return to boots-on-the-ground work in Northwest Arkansas but did not discount the short-term experience in Oklahoma.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have made some great connections, paired with advocating for myself and working hard to have the opportunities to do some great things with some great banks,” she said. “All of them have been great experiences of learning. Things have gone a little differently than I expected, but I’m extremely happy with it.”

Bartholomew said First Community Bank has the connections and relationships to be successful in Northwest Arkansas. The 25-year-old company opened a full-service branch in October in Rogers’ Pinnacle Hills area and will expand regionally over time.

Bartholomew said there are nine First Community employees in the market with services to support retail banking, commercial lending, loan support and mortgage origination. The bank will also soon hire a treasury management officer.

“When we say a full-service bank, we have the capacity to do that,” she said. “We may be a new brand to Northwest Arkansas, but the faces and people are not new. We’ve had outstanding loan and deposit growth, and good things are coming for us. We have the support and empowerment from our team in Batesville to do that.”

In November 2017, Bartholomew launched The Girl Banker blog, advocating for women in banking, working moms and community banking. Numerous banking publications have featured the popular platform. Without seeking them out, the project has made Bartholomew a sought-after speaker for industry conferences and conventions nationally.

“It truly is a national platform that has reached across the country and exceeded my expectations,” she said. “The surprising element that maybe I underestimated was the level of community that the platform presented. I might be the face of it, but it’s not about me. It’s about creating an advocacy space for women in the industry and changing the narrative for young women considering careers in banking. Many young women aren’t, so we still have some work to do to change that narrative.”

Bartholomew said new offerings ahead for The Girl Banker include monthly Facebook Live segments, a newsletter and an updated website.

With a family and two active boys (ages 12 and 6) playing sports, a market entry to lead and the Girl Banker platform to attend, Bartholomew said she is mindful of managing her time.

“I don’t believe in the phrase ‘work-life balance,’” she said. “Sometimes I’m leaning into work, and sometimes I’m leaning into family. You can’t be perfectly balanced. It’s impossible. I have a very good support system, and I wouldn’t be where I’m at and doing what I do without the supportive spouse I have.”