Then & Now: Mason’s career path winds back to Fayetteville

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 1,306 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the March 27 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.


For 13 years, longtime bank executive Matt Mason worked in Claremore, Okla., an outer Tulsa suburb 30 miles east of downtown.

Tulsa, he said, is a strong banking market.

“But it can’t touch what’s happening here in Northwest Arkansas,” he added. “Over there, we [jokingly] called it the center of the universe.”

The gravitational pull helped bring Mason back to the booming region earlier this year. In his 27th year as a banker, Mason started on Jan. 13 as Northwest Arkansas market president for Stuttgart-based Farmers and Merchants Bank (F&M). He oversees the bank’s retail and lending operations at nine locations in Northwest Arkansas.

F&M acquired The Bank of Fayetteville (BOF) in November 2015. BOF maintained its trade name doing business in eight branches — five in Fayetteville and one each in Farmington, Prairie Grove and West Fork. F&M also has a full-service branch on Walton Boulevard in Bentonville.

The career move is a homecoming for Mason, a Northwest Arkansas Business Journal Forty Under 40 honoree in 2006. A University of Arkansas graduate (1991; agribusiness), Mason was a commercial lender for BOF from 2003 to 2009 before leaving for Claremore, where RCB Bank maintains headquarters. He was executive vice president and market president for the $3.7 billion asset lender, which has roughly 60 locations in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Mason, 54, said he remembers Claremore fondly, personally and professionally. He developed as a lender. He and his wife raised a family there. Their oldest, a 25-year-old daughter, is married and living in Bentonville. Their son is a junior at Baylor University, and their youngest is a junior in high school.

“When it came down to it, we saw an empty nest [approaching]; all our family is over here,” said Mason, a native Arkansan. “Maybe it was sooner than we anticipated, but the opportunity came up at Bank of Fayetteville. We prayed about it. [Northwest Arkansas] is where we’re supposed to be, so here we are.”

He added that he’s grateful for the opportunity to return to BOF and work for a company that’s been an anchor in the community for more than 100 years. F&M has 27 Arkansas locations, including the eight operating as BOF. With more than $1.7 billion in assets, its Arkansas’ 10th-largest bank.

“Northwest Arkansas is home,” Mason said. “It’s an exciting time in Fayetteville, and I look forward to getting involved with the community and reconnecting with friends and customers throughout the region.”

As a double graduate of the UA with a master’s in agricultural economics, Mason saw grain rather than greenbacks as a career. During graduate school, the Jonesboro native had started working as an economist for the Arkansas Extension Service in Little Rock. In 1994, the Bayou Grain and Chemical Co. hired him as a grain merchandiser.

In 1996, Mason joined Simmons Bank in Dumas as an agricultural lender. While there, he began making small business loans and discovered that he enjoyed helping Arkansas entrepreneurs realize success in their businesses. Seven years and three banks later, Mason joined BOF as a vice president of commercial loans.

He remembered his six years in Fayetteville through a positive lens, when community banks thrived as Northwest Arkansas boomed — until the Great Recession took hold.

“As I explained to my Oklahoma friends, the faucet just turned off one day,” he said. “Things got contentious here in Northwest Arkansas, an opportunity opened up in Claremore, and it checked all the boxes. It was a good fit for our family.”

Mason joked that “nobody’s yelled at him” during his BOF return, and the transition has been smooth.

“Surprisingly, there are a lot of folks who still work here,” he said. “I walked in, and it was just like we were talking yesterday.”

Though there are minor operational changes to adapt to, Mason said a constant is a philosophy he’s developed during his career — building relationships as a community banker. Though banks all do the same thing, their customer relationships can be an essential differentiator.

“That’s kind of cliche among bankers,” he said. “But I challenge our lenders to create a culture where we stand out on the relationship side. We think there are enough opportunities to develop relationships with enough folks who trust us and want to come to us for anything.”