By Molly Bennett, with contributions from William Atkinson, Ed Avis, and Colleen Morrison

What fits one does not fit all.
Whether it’s products and services, technology strategies or employee benefits, independent community banks decide on their own terms what’s best for their business and their customers. This independence was incredibly valuable during yet another year where clear heads and nimble feet were critical to success. On the next pages, you’ll find our listings of the top-performing community banks of 2021 alongside interviews with some of the winners. In true community bank fashion, each has its own story to tell and its own path to success. —Molly Bennett, executive editor, Independent Banker


By William Atkinson

Less than $300M
RankBank NameCityState3-yr average pre-tax ROA
1The Philadelphia Trust CompanyPhiladelphiaPA9.12
2Brazos National BankRichwoodTX6.11
3First Federal Bank, A FSBTuscaloosaAL5.52
4Allied First Bank, SBOswegoIL5.22
5Nebraska State BankOshkoshNE3.66
6Neighbors BankClarenceMO3.18
7Priority BankFayettevilleAR3.08
8Cumberland Security Bank, Inc.SomersetKY3.07
9Union Bank & Trust CompanyLivingstonTN2.97
10The Bippus State BankHuntingtonIN2.91
11McKenzie Banking CompanyMcKenzieTN2.88
12Peoples State BankCherryvaleKS2.83
14Douglas National BankDouglasGA2.77
15Sherburne State BankBeckerMN2.74
16Home Bank of CaliforniaSan DiegoCA2.74
17First Security Bank of Deer LodgeDeer LodgeMT2.69
18North Valley BankDenverCO2.68
19First Western Federal Savings BankRapid CitySD2.68
20Bank of MontanaMissoulaMT2.68
21First Bank of OhioTiffinOH2.58
22Ultima Bank MinnesotaFosstonMN2.57
23Wyoming Bank & TrustCheyenneWY2.57
24The First State BankAbernathyTX2.57
25First State BankElmore CityOK2.55

Trevor Lavy, chairman and CEO, Priority Bank


Trevor Lavy, chairman and CEO
Priority Bank

Q: What does your community bank do really well?

A: As in any successful team, it is the people who make the difference. Our people work longer, harder and smarter to serve our customers.

Q: Is there anything you think your bank does better than other banks?

No. 7

Priority Bank
Fayetteville, Ark.

$100 million

3-year average
pre-tax ROA:


A: We shove the decision-making process as far down as we can in the bank. Great people don’t want to be micromanaged. They want tasks to complete in which they can see their own influences in the end results. This creates satisfied people and satisfied customers.

Q: Do you have any plans for future improvements?

A: We are always looking to improve, so this means finding more great people to work here who are looking for more than just a job.

Sam Blackard, executive vice president, Peoples State Bank


Sam Blackard, executive vice president
Peoples State Bank

We aren’t doing anything groundbreaking out here. Quite the opposite, really—we often choose to lag behind competitors in offering new products and services purely due to barriers to entry from a pure cost standpoint.

If your definition of a top performer is based on ROA, then the two primary reasons for our level of performance is our leverage and LTD (loan to deposit) ratios. In order to compete as a small bank, we have been forced to keep higher-than-peer capital levels, so that our lending limit allows us to service local borrowers’ needs. If we were to have capital levels more in line with peer averages, we would barely be able to originate and keep mortgage loans of any size.

No. 12

Peoples State Bank
Cherryvale, Kan.

$18 million

3-year average
pre-tax ROA:


The most important thing has been our ability to think outside the box and make deals work that other banks may not be able to. I do feel this is an area in which we excel and do better than some other banks. This isn’t to say we are better bankers, but this is what we have to do in order to carve our niche.

I also feel we have done a pretty good job of keeping down our non-interest expenses, considering that we are a single-location bank. We also price for risk and keep a simple balance sheet. This has allowed us to withstand changes in interest rates without much trouble.

Future improvements? We’re looking into investing in a new coffee maker.

Tom Swenson

Tom Swenson, CEO and chairman of the board, Bank of Montana


Tom Swenson, CEO and chairman of the board
Bank of Montana

“We use the ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ approach to serving clients,” says Tom Swenson, Bank of Montana’s CEO and chairman of the board. “That is, we look for clients who truly are a natural match for our culture and limited products. If we know we aren’t the best match for them, such as not having the best product for meeting their current needs, we direct them to who we know is better at meeting their needs.”

No. 20

Bank of Montana
Missoula, Mont.

$225 million

3-year average
pre-tax ROA:


Bank of Montana provides truly custom commercial loan solutions for a small number of transactions, compared with other banks. “In these transactions, we are clearly adding value to our customers’ business,” Swenson says. “This approach sacrifices maximum growth and size for strong performance relative to our size.”

The community bank’s business plan is to repeat success stories. “We plan to keep doing what we’ve been doing well—just more of it,” says Swenson. “This will allow us to continue to grow slowly and build long-term value.”


By Ed Avis

$300 million to $1 billion
RankBank NameCityState3-yr average pre-tax ROA
1FinWise Bank Murray UT 9.9
2Willamette Valley Bank Salem OR 8.7
3Stafford Savings Bank Stafford Springs CT 7.98
4Bank of England England AR 7.91
5One American Bank Sioux Falls SD 6.21
6Magnolia Bank, Inc. Hodgenville KY 5.66
7University Bank Ann Arbor MI 5.39
8Central Bank of Kansas City Kansas City MO 4.88
9Apex Bank Camden TN 4.7
10Peoples Bank Mendenhall MS 4.24
11First Community Bank of Tennessee Shelbyville TN 4.22
12Quontic Bank New York NY 3.6
13FSNB, National Association Fort Sill OK 3.52
14Pioneer Trust Bank, National Association Salem OR 3.19
15Chickasaw Community Bank Oklahoma City OK 3.07
16Capital Community Bank Provo UT 2.95
17AMG National Trust Bank Boulder CO 2.92
18First Bank Burkburnett TX 2.89
19Home Loan Investment Bank, F.S.B. Warwick RI 2.88
20HNB National Bank Hannibal MO 2.81
21Genesee Regional Bank Rochester NY 2.69
22BankVista Sartell MN 2.68
23Presidential Bank, FSB Bethesda MD 2.66
24The Bank of Old Monroe Old Monroe MO 2.63
25Citizens Bank Carthage TN 2.6

Stefan Freeman, CEO and president, BankVista

Amy Meyer, senior vice president, CFO and CCO, BankVista


Stefan Freeman, CEO and president, and
Amy Meyer, senior vice president, CFO and CCO

BankVista has been the SBA Lender of the Year in Minnesota for six years running, which positioned the community bank perfectly to help clients during COVID-19. The bank issued 2,182 PPP loans in 2020 and 2021. Recipients included non-clients, many of whom subsequently moved their banking relationship to BankVista.

“We look at risky times as a time of opportunity, not a time to crawl into your shell,” says Stefan Freeman, CEO and president. “That served us well during the pandemic.”

Underlying BankVista’s success has been a management philosophy focused on open debate about how to improve, Freeman adds. The community bank uses the Entrepreneurial Operating System, commonly known as EOS Traction, to keep departmental efforts aligned.

No. 22

Sartell, Minn.

$471.6 million

3-year average
pre-tax ROA:


Another reason BankVista does well is its “people first” concept, says Amy Meyer, senior vice president, CFO and COO. This includes quarterly and annual “client experience” awards for employees who excel, and an emphasis on bank-wide communication to keep associates aware and abreast of the organization’s goals and the role each individual plays.

“We’re truly trying to be a community-focused bank first and foremost, both with our customers and internally,” Meyer says. “I’m proud of everything we’ve been able to accomplish.”

Ryan Dempster, president and CEO, Willamette Valley Bank


Ryan Dempster, president and CEO
Willamette Valley Bank

Willamette Valley Bank has issued more than $1.6 billion in mortgages each of the last two years, but the quantity of loans does not get in the way of personal service. “We strive to bring the community bank model to mortgage banking,” says Ryan Dempster, president and CEO of the bank, which has 17 locations in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. “We’re finding that the mortgage loan process is still a mystery and difficult for many people to navigate, so they’ve come to appreciate a high level of service.”

No. 2

Willamette Valley Bank
Salem, Ore.

$408 million

3-year average
pre-tax ROA:


Dempster says his bank does have the technology to handle mortgage transactions virtually, and some customers prefer that. But there are always real people available for customers who desire a face-to-face meeting.

The community bank’s personal touch extends to commercial banking, Dempster asserts. Unlike customers of many larger institutions, borrowers at Willamette Valley Bank work directly with decision makers. “We have the ability to spend a little more time with the borrower, understanding what their goals are, being able to work harder to make the transaction work for both the borrower and the bank,” he says.

The personal touch leads to developing relationships with customers, he adds. “We get a lot of customers referring new business to us, which is the ultimate stamp of approval in my opinion.”

Philip Pecora, president and CEO, Genesee Regional Bank


Philip Pecora, president and CEO
Genesee Regional Bank

Q: Why has Genesee Regional Bank succeeded?

A: We strategically positioned ourselves to take advantage of the market. We’ve been the number one SBA lender in our market for the past two years, so we were well positioned to assist our clients with the PPP program. We were acting so swiftly that we took care of our own clients, and then we had capacity to take on some customers who couldn’t get [PPP loans] from their regular bank. We converted a lot of those relationships.

No. 21

Genesee Regional Bank
Rochester, N.Y.

$1 billion

3-year average
pre-tax ROA:


Q: How about your mortgage business?

A: Over the past three years, we’ve more than doubled our mortgage business. We did $458 million last year. Because we got into the mortgage business only 10 years ago, we focused on the purchase business, while our competition focused on refi. We were gaining more market share by calling on all the Realtors.

Q: What else increases your success?

A: Technology. We focused on technology to handle the transaction side of our business, to make the back end seamless. That allows us to focus on the personal side of the business. What differentiates us is the personal relationships, but the technology is a must-have. We’re not going to lead in technology [as a smaller bank], but we have to be fast followers.


By Colleen Morrison

More than $1 Billion
RankBank NameCityState3-yr average pre-tax ROA
1 NBKC Bank Overland Park KS 8.31
2 Gateway First Bank Jenks OK 6.35
3 State Bank of Texas Dallas TX 4.17
4 Plains Commerce Bank Sioux Falls SD 4.06
5 Leader Bank, National Association Arlington MA 3.74
6 First Savings Bank Beresford SD 3.71
7 Northpointe Bank Grand Rapids MI 3.62
8 BNC National Bank Glendale AZ 3.52
9 Stearns Bank National Association Saint Cloud MN 3.4
10 Wallis Bank Wallis TX 3.34
11 Metro City Bank Doraville GA 3.27
12 BankSouth Greensboro GA 3.21
13 Cross River Bank Fort Lee NJ 3.08
14 Bell Bank Fargo ND 3.05
15 Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust Company Cedar Rapids IA 2.95
16 CFG Community Bank Baltimore MD 2.89
17 Emigrant Bank New York NY 2.89
18 The Yellowstone Bank Laurel MT 2.86
19 Bank of Utica Utica NY 2.83
20 United Texas Bank Dallas TX 2.63
21 Sutton Bank Attica OH 2.57
22 Anderson Brothers Bank Mullins SC 2.43
23 Meridian Bank Malvern PA 2.43
24 Western State Bank Devils Lake ND 2.42
25 MVB Bank, Inc. Fairmont WV 2.41

Michael Bartkoski, executive vice president and chief operating officer, NBKC Bank


Michael Bartkoski, executive vice president and chief operating officer

Q: What has led NBKC’s growth?

A: We have been fortunate to develop deep partnerships with some great fintechs. This line of business has been a significant contributor to our growth in non-interest-bearing deposits and fee income. Most importantly, it has changed the way that we think about product delivery and customer acquisition.

We also have seen growth in our nationwide home loans business. While it has been a favorable market, our success reflects an intentional focus on our people, custom technology development and customer reviews/satisfaction.

No. 1

Overland Park, Kan.

$1.04 billion

3-year average
pre-tax ROA:


Q: How did COVID affect you?

A: The disruption in our daily lives was a rallying point to try out new ideas. We doubled down on our efforts to take care of our people, and we found that some of our roles performed better remotely. We learned a lot about how our teams work that will allow for greater flexibility moving forward.

Q: How does your team contribute to your success?

A: We have been laser-focused on building the best teams possible, and we have been recognized as a top employer five years running. Any success that we enjoy is the result of having great people.

Michael Solberg, president and CEO, Bell Bank


Michael Solberg, president and CEO
Bell Bank

Healthy cultures are what separate a lot of the high-performing banks. We focus pretty heavily on building a culture that attracts and retains great people over the long run, and that really has paid off with lower turnover and still an ability to go out and organically attract employees in new growth markets for us.

At the end of 2021, we gave every employee $10,000 as a bonus to thank them. Five thousand dollars they got to keep, and $5,000 they had to go out and give to a family or an individual or an organization in need.

No. 14

Bell Bank
Fargo, N.D.

$10 billion

3-year average
pre-tax ROA:


One of the things we’re super proud of as a community bank, in every city and every part of the country, community banks lead the way with giving back. What makes our program a little different is it’s not our owners or our board or our executives deciding where to invest these millions of dollars, it’s our 2,000 employees.

It really gives meaning to the work that we all do at the bank every day. If you take care of people, the numbers take care of themselves.

Harold Reynolds, chairman and CEO, BankSouth


Harold Reynolds, chairman and CEO

For BankSouth, celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2021 came with some icing on the cake: It was also one of the community bank’s top performance years to date. Climbing to just under $1.2 billion in assets, the Greensboro, Ga.-based bank attributes its growth to a hot housing market, its focus on builder and home mortgage lending, and the economic success in its markets.

No. 12

Greensboro, Ga.

$1.2 billion

3-year average
pre-tax ROA:


“We just saw huge growth in homebuying; we originated and put in homes for about 6,000 families last year,” says Harold Reynolds, chairman and CEO. “We were very instrumental in developing this area, and to see the change and the opportunities it’s generated for so many people and businesses, and to know you’re a part of that… that’s community banking.”

But this success doesn’t stem from happenstance. Reynolds points to BankSouth’s focus on innovation as a contributing factor. The bank has run a program for more than five years where employees submit ideas for addressing pain points, and those suggestions make their way to executive management and subject-matter experts for consideration and, frequently, implementation.

“I don’t pass an opportunity to make a pitch for innovative ideas,” Reynolds says. “We’ve had some huge wins coming out of that. We’re not afraid to try things that we haven’t done before.”

How we compiled these rankings

ICBA compiled this year’s rankings with the aim of recognizing community banks that are consistent high performers. Using FDIC data, we took into account pre-tax return-on-assets (ROA) figures from the past three years, with the most recent year weighted at 3x, second most recent year at 2x and third most recent year at 1x. We then divided the community banks into three broad segments based on asset size and ranked each segment based on our three-year weighted average ROA. A bank must have a rating of C or higher by Kroll Bond Ratings (formerly LACE) to be considered for ranking.

William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois. Ed Avis is a writer in Illinois. Colleen Morrison is a writer in Maryland.