Using FDIC data for 2021, we calculated a lender score out of 100 for each community bank. The score combines the average of the bank’s percentile rank for lending concentration and for loan growth over the past year in each lending category. We then adjusted each score for loan charge offs in each category at certain percentile thresholds.

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Ag lending in the South: Relationships matter

When the owners of a small family dairy asked The Peoples Bank in Marion, Ky., for funding to reopen the business after years of inactivity, chairman, president and CEO Terry L. Bunnell listened. He sensed the family’s passion and liked their idea of starting with selling milk at farmers’ markets, roadside shops and small grocery stores. Another bank might not have taken a chance on them, but The Peoples Bank did. That was about four years ago; today, the dairy is successful and growing.

The Peoples Bank

Marion, Ky.
Asset size: $114 million
Ag lender score: 90.74
Rank in category: 18

“We worked with them with loans to buy equipment and vehicles for delivery and the beginning operational cash needs of the business,” Bunnell says. “The passion they brought to the business is what we’re all about. We want to help people succeed and grow a business, help them accomplish what they’ve set out to do.” Bunnell’s relationship with the dairy owners is not unusual. He attributes the agricultural lending success of The Peoples Bank—a $114 million-asset institution with a loan portfolio that is about 25% ag related—to its one-on-one connections with borrowers. Those relationships show the borrowers that their bank cares about their businesses and wants to help them succeed. In return, those relationships help the bank grow.

“I believe you have to interact with your customers on a regular basis,” Bunnell says. “You’ve got to engage with them to understand their needs. I believe a mistake that is often made is that we assume all farming is the same, and it’s clearly not. Our customers have different needs, and we have different ways to solve those needs.”

Peoples Bank farm customers

Terry L. Bunnell of The Peoples Bank worked closely with Doug and Ally Jones of Legacy Dairy.

Close-knit relationships

Connections with borrowers has also played a key role in the success of $457 million-asset First Southern Bank in Florence, Ala. However, First Southern’s ag lending also benefited last year from the addition of three loan production offices, says Joe Beaver, the community bank’s president and CEO. The bank, which attributes 31% of its loan portfolio to agriculture, opened loan production offices (LPOs) in Mississippi, Florida and Alabama.

“We identified areas that we feel like are a good fit for us and what we do, and we identified the right lender in those areas,” Beaver explains. In each new market opened in 2021, the community bank found an experienced ag lender who was seeking a new position.

Another element to First Southern’s ag lending success is its robust crop insurance business. The bank provides crop insurance to farmers in 11 states.

“Being in the crop insurance business lends significantly to our understanding of ag lending,” Beaver says. “It also indirectly benefits our lending business. Because of our crop insurance business in Florida, I met an experienced ag lender, and circumstances worked out that we had an opportunity to bring him on board. And in New Albany, Miss., the person who led our crop insurance group had previous experience as a lender, and he moved back into that role when we opened the loan production office there.”

First Southern’s new LPOs have pumped up the community bank’s ag portfolio, but, like Bunnell, Beaver knows that it’s ultimately the relationships with farmers that lead to lending success.

“It’s about understanding what the farmers need, building those relationships, building that trust and standing by them when the times get tough,” he says.

Agriculture: Less than $300M in assets
RankBank NameCityStateAg Lender
1Red River State BankHalstadMN95.32
2First State BankRandolphNE94.65
3Security Bank MidwestChancellorSD94.61
4Anchor State BankAnchorIL94.5
5Prairie Sun BankMilanMN94.07
6Bank of LindsayLindsayNE93.22
7First State Bank MinnesotaLe RoyMN93.2
8Bank of HartingtonHartingtonNE92.13
9The Citizens State Bank and Trust CompanyCouncil GroveKS92.06
10The State Bank of WynnewoodWynnewoodOK92.05
11Lincoln State BankHankinsonND91.73
12Security BankLaurelNE91.47
13State Bank of BernBernKS91.42
14Cedar Valley Bank & TrustLa Porte CityIA91.21
15Campbell County BankHerreidSD91.14
16Metz Banking CompanyNevadaMO91.08
17Progressive Ozark BankSalemMO90.96
18The Peoples BankMarionKY90.74
19Silex Banking CompanySilexMO90.6
20Horizon Financial BankMunichND90.56
Agriculture: $300 million to $1 billion in assets
RankBank NameCityStateAg Lender
1NSB BankMason CityIA92.38
2Iowa State BankOrange CityIA92.28
3BTC BankBethanyMO92.13
4American Bank, National AssociationLe MarsIA92.01
5MBT BankForest CityIA91.38
6First Southern BankFlorenceAL91.10
7First State BankBuxtonND91.03
8First Community Bank of the Heartland, Inc.ClintonKY90.71
9First FarmBankGreeleyCO90.53
10Bank of PontiacPontiacIL90.35
11Green Belt Bank & TrustIowa FallsIA90.33
13Classic Bank, National AssociationCameronTX89.96
14United Prairie Bank Mountain LakeMN89.86
15PrimeBankLe MarsIA89.61
16Cattlemens BankAltusOK89.46
17Stock Growers BankFormanND89.43
18Elkhorn Valley Bank & TrustNorfolkNE89.21
19Citizens Bank MinnesotaNew UlmMD88.81
20Farmers and Merchants State Bank of PierzPierzMN88.77
Agriculture: More than $1 billion in assets
RankBank NameCityStateAg Lender
1United Bank of IowaIda GroveIA87.89
2Wood & Huston BankMarshallMO87.37
3Fidelity Bank & TrustDyersvilleIA84.36
4Independence BankHavreMT83.75
5The First National Bank In Sioux FallsSioux FallsSD83.20
6Bravera BankDickinsonND83.07
7Southern Bancorp BankLittle RockAR82.78
8Plumas BankQuincyCA81.80
9First Bank of BerneBlufftonIN81.59
10Minnwest BankRedwood FallsMN80.86
11CBI Bank & TrustMuscatineIA80.66
12Dakota Community Bank & Trust, National AssociationHebronND79.36
13Citizens Alliance BankClara CityMN78.86
14Guaranty Bank & Trust, N.A.Mount PleasantTX78.15
15Guaranty Bank and Trust CompanyBelzoniMS78.10
16OakStar BankSpringfieldMO77.95
17PrimeSouth BankBlackshearGA77.55
18American State BankSioux CenterIA77.46
19Exchange BankGrand IslandNE77.39
20Vista BankDallasTX77.26
Lead Bank team

Lead Bank takes the lead with, from L to R, president Greg Bynum; VP and associate general counsel Shakita Miller; EVP, general counsel and chief risk officer Julie Pine; CEO and vice chairman Joshua C. Rowland; and EVP and chief technology officer Mike Beattie. Photo by Steve Puppe

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Helping consumers get ahead

One of the missions of Lead Bank in Lee’s Summit, Mo., is to help consumers who have difficulty accessing the financial system, especially those who have been historically marginalized. So, when the community bank’s leadership learned of a fintech that needed a bank partner to launch a credit-building tech product, they were intrigued.

Lead Bank

Lee’s Summit, Mo.
Asset size: $738 million
Consumer lender score: 96.6
Rank in category: 2

“Our CEO, Josh Rowland, went to a meeting of the Financial Health Network, an organization that helps consumers improve their financial health, and they said, ‘We should introduce you to this fintech who has this product and needs a partner,’” says Greg Bynum, president of the $738 million-asset bank.

That meeting four years ago led to the launch of Lead Bank’s Credit Builder Account program, which is accessed through an app developed by Self Financial, a fintech. Self Financial handles the technology, including access to online accounts and an app, as well as marketing aspects of the program, and Lead Bank provides the compliance and access to the banking system. It is available to consumers in all 50 states.

Why did this program help propel Lead Bank onto Independent Banker’s Top Lenders list? Because the Credit Builder Account program begins with a $1,000 loan to the consumer, which is deposited into a certificate of deposit at the community bank instead of being disbursed to the borrower. The borrower makes monthly payments over the course of 12 months. Assuming the borrower makes the payments on time, they end the year with an improved credit score and $1,000 in savings.

“In our four-year relationship with Self, we’ve helped in excess of a million consumers establish or improve their credit scores,” Bynum reports. “We’ve been really happy with it. It’s a way to help consumers get access to financial services in a financially responsible way. Some banks see fintechs as competitors, but if you can combine the strengths of the banking industry and the strengths of the fintech, it can really be a win-win.”

Two years ago, Lead Bank and Self expanded the program to include a secured credit card. Since the successful Credit Builder Account participants end the program with $1,000 in the bank, they have the cash to secure the card. More than 500,000 customers have received secured cards through the program.

Lead Bank team

At left, Lead Bank’s CEO and vice chairman Joshua C. Rowland with Greg Bynum, president. Photo by Steve Puppe

Taking the lead on financial literacy

Teaching people about wise money management is a key part of the Credit Builder Account program, Bynum says. “We do a lot of financial education to help consumers know what behaviors help their credit scores. For example, if their outstanding credit card balance gets above 30% of what’s available, that tends to hurt their credit score, so we send a little notice that says they may want to pay it down.”

Self and Lead Bank will probably add more banking products in the future, but they are not rushing things.

“We’re being very methodical about what products we introduce,” Bynum says. “We’re surveying consumers about what they need; that’s how we came up with the secured credit card. It’s important for us to do it in a financially responsible way so that we’re always helping the consumer develop good financial habits and improve their credit.”

Consumer/Mortgage: Less than $300M in assets
RankBank NameCityStateConsumer Lender
1Citizens Guaranty BankIrvineKY94.06
2The Miners National Bank of EvelethEvelethMN93.72
3First Security Bank of Deer LodgeDeer LodgeMT93.39
4The National Iron BankSalisburyCT93.37
5The First National Bank of GilbertGilbertMN93.35
6Bank of BillingsBillingsMO92.94
7Second Federal Savings & Loan Association of PhiladelphiaPhiladelphiaPA92.25
8Bristol Morgan BankOakfieldWI92.01
9Simmesport State BankMansuraLA91.74
10Lowry State BankLowryMN91.42
11Eclipse Bank, Inc.LouisvilleKY91.40
12Collins State BankCollinsWI90.94
13Wrentham Co-operative BankWrenthamMA90.55
14First Federal Savings and Loan AssociationAberdeenMS90.44
15First Security BankByronMN90.43
16Wahoo State BankWahooNE90.41
17Waterman BankWatermanIL90.38
18Woodsfield Savings BankWoodsfieldOH90.37
19Citizens Bank of Morgantown, Inc.MorgantownWV90.34
20Bank of HollandHollandNY90.04
Consumer/Mortgage: $300 million to $1 billion in assets
RankBank NameCityStateConsumer Lender
1Quontic BankNew YorkNY97.94
2Lead BankLee's SummitMO96.60
3North Shore Bank of CommerceDuluthMN96.03
4First Central Savings BankGlen CoveNY94.25
5Passumpsic Savings BankSaint JohnsburyVT92.25
6The Garrett State BankGarrettIN91.96
7Beacon Community BankCharlestonSC91.43
8First BankBurkburnettTX90.80
9Bank of San FranciscoSan FranciscoCA90.73
10Haverhill BankHaverhillMA90.53
11First Capital BankLaurinburgNC90.39
12Sullivan BankSullivanMO89.51
13Chickasaw Community BankOklahoma CityOK89.37
14American National Bank of MinnesotaBrainerdMN89.04
15First Savings Bank of HegewisChicagoIL88.20
16Farmers State BankCameronMO88.07
17The BankJenningsLA87.81
181st Colonial Community BankCherry HillNJ87.67
191st National Bank of ScotiaScotiaNY87.04
20First Federal Bank & TrustSheridanWY86.93
Consumer/Mortgage: More than $1 billion in assets
RankBank NameCityStateConsumer Lender
1Metro City BankDoravilleGA98.27
2Northpointe BankGrand RapidsMI96.28
3Martha's Vineyard BankEdgartownMA93.95
4North Easton Savings BankSouth EastonMA92.70
5MidFirst BankOklahoma CityOK91.91
6Leader Bank, National AssociationArlingtonMA91.41
7Kennebec Savings BankAugustaME90.85
8Main Street BankMarlboroughMA90.69
9The Lyons National BankGenevaNY89.28
10TriState Capital BankPittsburghPA88.18
11Bradesco BAC Florida BankCoral GablesFL87.71
12Bell BankFargoND86.47
13Southern First BankGreenvilleSC86.11
14Blue Ridge Bank, National AssociationLurayVA85.89
15The Superior National Bank and Trust Company of HancockHancockMI85.40
16The Canandaigua National Bank and Trust CompanyCanandaiguaNY85.13
17The Fidelity Deposit and Discount BankDunmorePA85.05
18Northway BankBerlinNH84.61
19First Federal Savings Bank of Twin FallsTwin FallsID83.46
20Anderson Brothers BankMullinsSC83.04

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A sweet spot for underserved commercial clients

“Doing well by doing good” could be the unofficial community banking motto. But in the case of $163 million-asset New Haven Bank, in New Haven, Conn., it is particularly apt. The community bank has succeeded while lending to nonprofits, mom-and-pop businesses and many other clients not well served by megabanks.

New Haven Bank

New Haven, Conn.
Asset size: $163 million
Commercial lender score: 90.00
Rank in category: 19

New Haven Bank is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), meaning that at least 60% of its business must be conducted in low- to moderate-income areas. And it is the only locally owned bank in the city.

“We serve a market that the larger financial institutions really don’t serve well,” says Maureen Frank, the community bank’s president and CEO, adding that its average loan size is about $400,000. “We’ve really developed a sweet spot.”

She explains the bank has focused on serving New Haven’s underbanked community since it was launched in 2010 after a mutual savings bank in town went public and was absorbed by a larger institution.

“When that happened,” she recalls, “the former mayor of New Haven challenged the CEO of that institution to set aside funds so that a community bank with mission-driven objectives could be formed. So that’s where the capital to start New Haven Bank came from.”

New Haven Bank team

L to R, New Haven Bank’s Tom Whitbread, William Hice, Maureen Frank, Iris Velazquez, Michael Aquilino and Richard Venditto focus on serving underbanked communities. Photo courtesy of New Haven Bank

PPP for the people

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was important to New Haven Bank’s success in 2020 and 2021. The community bank netted $32 million in loans those years, including about 200 loans in 2021 for $21 million.

“We lent to retailers, restaurants, nonprofits, small mom-and-pop stores, barber shops, beauty salons, day cares, churches … we did not turn anybody away,” Frank says. “We embraced the spirit of the PPP and handled anybody who came our way. More than half of our loans were to noncustomers.” She says that a third of the noncustomers commented that their current bank at the time either would not give them a PPP loan or would not help them with the process. In contrast, New Haven Bank expended energy making sure all of them were served.

“We spent a lot of time with small businesses whose finances might not have been very sophisticated,” Frank says. “For some of them, their payroll was just a checkbook register.”

Attention to detail

That kind of close attention is part of the community bank’s normal routine. For example, to better serve nonprofit clients, New Haven Bank works to understand the business models and funding sources of each. That diligence pays off: Frank says the bank has not had to deal with any delinquent loans among its nonprofit clients.

The future looks bright enough that New Haven Bank is currently seeking locations in two nearby towns, West Haven and Hamden.

“We’re excited about expanding,” Frank says. “We’re one of the very few banks that received a charter after the financial collapse in 2008, and we’re still going. Any de novo is a challenge, but it’s been rewarding, and I think we’ve helped a lot of people and hope to continue to do that as we grow.”

Commercial: Less than $300M in assets
RankBank NameCityStateConsumer Lender
1Barwick Banking CompanyBarwickGA99.54
2State BankRock SpringsWY98.55
3California International Bank, N.A.WestminsterCA96.09
4Kendall BankValley FallsKS96.00
5United Bank of PhiladelphiaPhiladelphiaPA95.83
6PeopleFirst BankJolietIL95.57
7CapTex Bank, National AssociationTrentonTX94.41
8Unity National BankHoustonTX94.07
9The Home Savings And Loan Company of Kenton, OhioKentonKY93.52
10North Valley BankDenverCO92.87
11American Bank of Beaver DamBeaver DamWI92.82
12SouthernTrust BankGorevilleIL92.82
13Embassy National BankLawrencevilleGA92.00
14Southern BankSardisGA91.59
15BCBank, Inc.PhilippiWV91.45
16FMS BankFort MorganCO91.27
17Eagle BankPolsonMT90.93
18First Colorado National BankPaoniaCO90.45
19New Haven BankNew HavenCT90.00
20Ergo BankMarkesanWI89.66
Commercial: $300 million to $1 billion in assets
RankBank NameCityStateConsumer Lender
1MRV BanksSainte GenevieveMO97.87
2Quaint Oak BankSouthamptonPA97.74
3Flagship BankClearwaterFL96.82
4Crown BankEdinaMN96.30
5Dundee BankOmahaNE95.72
6Asian BankPhiladelphiaPA95.35
7SouthPoint BankBirminghamAL94.89
8Falcon National BankSaint CloudMN94.71
9American State BankArpTX93.88
10Simply BankDaytonTN93.69
11OptimumBankFt. LauderdaleFL93.32
12Greenwoods State BankLake MillsWI93.25
13Plains State BankHumbleTX93.07
15Prime Alliance Bank Woods CrossIL92.68
16Mechanics & Farmers BankDurhamNC92.49
17Bank of Wisconsin DellsWisconsin DellsWI92.21
18Texas Heritage National BankDaingerfieldTX92.02
19CommerceOne BankBirminghamAL91.48
20First IC BankDoravilleGA91.30
Commercial: More than $1 billion in assets
RankBank NameCityStateConsumer Lender
1State Bank of TexasDallasTX97.34
2Cogent BankOrlandoFL96.97
3CFG Community BankBaltimoreMA96.44
4Encore BankLittle RockAR96.34
5Poppy BankSanta RosaCA96.19
6MVB Bank, Inc.FairmontWV94.15
7Forbright BankChevy ChaseMD94.11
8Bankwell BankNew CanaanCT93.97
9Woori America BankNew YorkNY93.23
10Pacific National BankMiamiFL92.96
11TriState Capital BankPittsburghPA92.10
12Southern States BankAnnistonAL91.67
13One Community BankOregonWI91.35
14Metropolitan Commercial BankNew YorkNY90.63
15Summit Community Bank, Inc.MoorefieldWV90.47
16Transportation Alliance Bank, Inc.OgdenUT89.78
17Israel Discount Bank of New YorkNew YorkNY89.75
18Park State BankDuluthMN89.21
19Blue Ridge Bank, National AssociationLurayVA88.83
20Central BankStorm LakeIA88.22