Deep roots provide stability

By Bridget McCrea


Using FDIC data for 2023, 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.

Jeff Bailey, president and CEO of $852 million-asset Bank of Eastern Oregon, says the agricultural sector is dealing with the “double whammy” of high inflation and rising input costs right now. Crop prices are also receding and affecting profit margins for U.S. agricultural companies.

“They’re getting hit on both sides of the income statement at this point,” says Bailey, whose community bank has 24 locations in eastern Oregon, southeast Washington and western Idaho. On a positive note, he says companies operating in the cattle sector are “doing fairly well” despite also being hit hard by higher business costs. “Cattle prices have remained pretty strong,” he says.

An agricultural bank since its origins in 1945, the Bank of Eastern Oregon is accustomed to rolling with the punches, although Bailey says circumstances are “a bit more intense” right now, both from the income and the expense side of things.

“We’ve seen some margin compression and a slight increase in carryovers this year, but it’s still manageable,” says Bailey.

He notes that through it all, the community bank is sticking with its agriculture customers. “We know we’ll have some good years, some tough years and some really tough years. We ride along with them through those cycles.”

Community institutions like the Bank of Eastern Oregon are “in the agricultural space for the long haul,” says Bailey. “Agricultural lending isn’t just a sideline opportunity that we’re going to get in and out of.”

In fact, he says the community bank takes its responsibility to support rural communities—of which agriculture is a large part—very seriously.

“It’s not just a line of business; it is our business,” Bailey adds. “We see our members at the grocery store, ball games and church; they’re our friends and neighbors.”

BTC Bank
BTC Bank serves a predominately rural market, meaning farmers are frequent customers.

Smart strategies for farmers

With 23 locations in Missouri and Iowa, $1.23 billion-asset BTC Bank operates in predominantly rural markets. Like Bailey, BTC’s president and CEO Doug Fish says agricultural customers are concerned about increasing input costs and shrinking profit margins. This isn’t a new scenario, either.

“These are issues that the industry battles all the time,” Fish says. Add droughts, excessive rainfall and low production yields to the mix, and you get a dynamic industry that’s always on edge.

“These are some of the ‘normal issues’ that agricultural producers and their banks deal with every crop cycle,” he adds, “and we’re looking at the same thing again now in 2024.”

Bank of Eastern Oregon CEO
Bank of Eastern Oregon CEO and president Jeff Bailey (left) speaks with Mehrten Homer (right), owner of Homer Ranch and part owner of Painted Hills Natural Beef in Fossil, Ore.

BTC Bank helps buffer these headwinds by talking to customers about strategies like forward pricing (a contract between buyer and seller that locks in a price for a product to be delivered at a later time) and using live crop production protection coverage.

Farmers and community banks know that agriculture is a long game that doesn’t produce immediate results, but neither do most other types of business. However, in the ag business, there’s another factor: Mother Nature can play a major role in whether crops and other goods become saleable merchandise or not.

Still, agriculture propels its communities and their economies forward. That’s why BTC Bank operates on these three pillars: youth, agriculture and community.

“We’re very active in each of these areas, knowing that all three are vital to rural America’s continued survival,” says Fish. “We provide support in many different ways and hope all three continue to be strong in all of the markets we serve.”

Agriculture: Less than $300M in assets
RankBank NameCityStateAg lender score
1The First State BankBoise CityOK97.2
2Ultima Bank MinnesotaWingerMN96.1
3McClave State BankMcClaveCO95.6
4The Bank Of ProtectionProtectionKS95.3
5Campbell County BankHerreidSD95.2
6Corn Growers State BankMurdockNE95.1
7The First National Bank Of HerefordHerefordTX94.7
8Nebraska State BankBristowNE94.7
9The First National Bank Of DightonDightonKS94.0
10The First National Bank Of FlemingFlemingCO93.9
11Prairie Sun BankMilanMN93.7
12Ergo BankMarkesanWI93.5
13State Bank of BottineauBottineauND93.4
14Home State BankRoyalIA93.0
15First State Bank in TempleTempleOK93.0
16McIntosh County BankAshleyND93.0
17Stockgrowers State BankAshlandKS92.9
18Bank of Cave CityCave CityAR92.8
19Nebraska State BankLynchNE92.6
20The State Bank Of ToledoToledoIA92.6
Agriculture: $300M to $1B in assets
RankBank NameCityStateAg lender score
1Banner Capital BankHarrisburgNE96.6
2Longview BankOgdenIL96.1
3First Iowa State BankAlbiaIA94.7
4Security State BankScott CityKS94.7
5Dakota Heritage BankHunterND92.3
6First Southern BankFlorenceAL92.2
8Security State BankSutherlandIA90.5
9First Independent BankRussellMN89.6
10HNB National BankHannibalMO89.5
11Anchor D BankTexhomaOK88.8
12Dream First BankSyracuseKS88.7
13Thumb Bank & TrustPigeonMI88.7
14Iowa State BankAlgonaIA88.5
15Exchange Bank of MissouriFayetteMO88.5
16American Bank, National AssociationLe MarsIA88.2
17The BankOberlinKS87.8
18Bank of Eastern OregonHeppnerOR87.8
19Citizens State BankLenaIL87.7
20Peoples BankRock ValleyIA87.2
Agriculture: More than $1B in assets
RankBank NameCityStateAg lender score
1First Financial BankEl DoradoAR91.3
2BTC BankBethanyMO87.3
3Bravera BankDickinsonND87.1
4American State BankSioux CenterIA87.0
5Midwest BankPierceNE86.7
6American Bank & TrustSioux FallsSD85.8
7Independence BankHavreMT85.1
8Peoples BankLubbockTX85.0
9Citizens Alliance BankClara CityMN84.9
10Dakota Community Bank & Trust, National AssociationHebronND84.0
11Elkhorn Valley Bank & TrustNorfolkNE82.9
12Blue Sky BankPawhuskaOK82.5
13First Western Bank and TrustMinotND81.1
14Iowa State BankOrange CityIA81.1
15BankWest, IncorporatedPierreSD81.0
16The First National Bank In Sioux FallsSioux FallsSD80.9
17Two Rivers Bank & TrustBurlingtonIA79.9
18Dacotah BankAberdeenSD
19Plains Commerce BankSioux FallsSD
20First Bank of BerneBerneIN78.8



Calling on creativity, consistency and openness

By Ed Avis

When it comes to commercial lending, community banks succeed in any economic environment by forging deep relationships that help both parties uncover new opportunities. Here, three banks share how these characteristics have allowed them to effectively serve their commercial clients.

Beyond checking boxes

Spring Bank
In August, Spring Bank will open up its Brooklyn branch. From left: president and CLO Akbar Rizvi, Brooklyn branch manager ReyJane Gaudin, Bronx branch manager Josefa Ruiz and CEO Demetris Giannoulias.

Spring Bank, a community development financial institution (CDFI) in the South Bronx borough of New York City, serves borrowers that don’t look like the companies larger banks pick and choose. They are small commercial real estate owners, small restaurants, retailers, small mom and pop stores, nonprofits and other local businesses that serve that community. Nevertheless, Spring Bank, which was founded in 2007 is a profitable institution.

Spring Bank
Akbar Rizvi (right) with a customer

“The South Bronx is the poorest congressional district in the United States,” says Akbar Rizvi, president and chief lending officer of the $428 million-asset community bank. “I can tell you firsthand that our clients and customers are not borrowers that fit into checkboxes. We take the time to understand our customers and see how is it that we can help make sense of the story and see if there’s a fit. We’re not afraid to roll up our sleeves and get into the weeds in terms of what the request is.”

For example, when a jazz lounge without a solid cash flow asked for financing, Rizvi looked hard at the proprietor and the property and decided the risk was worthwhile. COVID-19 almost devastated the business, but Spring Bank stood by it.

“Now, that business is thriving,” Rizvi says. “It’s doing better numbers today than it did before the pandemic.”

According to Rizvi, Spring Bank has succeeded because its staff keeps an open mind. “Our team loves what we do, and we treat our teammates and our customers with respect and do the right thing,” he says. “Our customers really appreciate that, especially that we walk them through the process. And we’re happy to take the time to do that.”

Consistency is key

Currency Bank
Currency Bank tapped into a new market of business owners by opening a location in Baton Rouge, La. To celebrate, the community bank held a reception at its new branch.

Currency Bank’s Scott Gaudin worked for legendary University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban while he was in college. And during that time, he learned the value of focusing on consistent behaviors.

Currency Bank

“[Saban] says, ‘As long as you are consistent with the behavior, the scoreboard will look fine. Do the right thing for the right reasons and focus on the behavior,’” says Gaudin, who is chief lending officer and executive vice president of $186 million-asset Currency Bank. “And that’s kind of what we do around here: We focus on being more of an advisor. We’re a for-profit business, obviously, but at the end of the day, I need to be your banker.”

The Oak Grove, La.‑based community bank’s roots reach back to the early 1900s, but Gaudin led a group that purchased the bank—and essentially relaunched it—about three years ago. Taking Saban’s advice, Gaudin is consistent in his approach to lending. He gives each potential borrower deep attention, even those that may not meet the community bank’s typical lending criteria at first glance.

Currency Bank

For example, a local brick mason approached Currency Bank in 2022 for a line of credit. The mason was using a large bank, but it had denied the increase, saying his business was “not mature enough.”

“I look at his books—he’s meticulous. He turns invoices around very quickly. And I said, ‘This works, man,’” Gaudin recalls. “We’ve been helping him since then, and his business has more than doubled in size. So being able to help somebody like that, that’s what community banking should be about.”

Dive deep for better risk management

Live Oak Bank
Live Oak Bank—part of its campus pictured here—found success in commercial lending by identifying niche markets.

When CEO and chairman Chip Mahan founded $11.4 billion-asset Live Oak Bank in Wilmington, N.C., in 2008, he did not follow the traditional community bank model of serving all the businesses in a specific geographic area. Instead, he focused on a single industry: veterinary practices across the country.

Mahan’s father was a veterinarian, and he knew that veterinarians tend to pay their bills on time. So, that industry made sense from a risk perspective. He crafted relationships with key players and organizations in the field and developed staff who understood the business side of veterinary practices.

“Nobody knows more about how to run a vet clinic than our guys in terms of staffing and metrics and this and that,” Mahan says. “So, we take industry expertise and have those guys sit down with our credit guys, [and] come up with a credit box to tell the lenders, ‘You go get that, and the loan [will likely be] approved.’”

Using SBA data, Live Oak leaders identified other industries that are generally a good credit risk and could benefit from the Live Oak model. Today, the community bank serves approximately 6,000 borrowers across more than 30 industries ranging from funeral homes to independent pharmacies.

“The thought process was, you can understand an industry and credit a lot deeper if you have people focused on the industry as opposed to on a geography,” says Mike McGinley, head of small business banking. “Having lenders who are focused on an industry instead of a geography and lending nationwide opens up the ability to scale pretty quickly.”

Commercial: Less than $300M in assets
RankBank NameCityStateAg lender score
1Republic Bank of ArizonaPhoenixAZ97.0
2State BankRock SpringsWY97.0
3Neighborhood National BankNational CityCA95.5
4Currency BankOak GroveLA94.7
6Embassy National BankLawrencevilleGA93.9
7Millennial BankLeedsAL93.6
8New Haven BankNew HavenCT93.0
9VisionBankSaint Louis ParkMN93.0
10Sherburne State BankBeckerMN92.2
11Grand Rivers Community BankGrand ChainIL91.8
12One World BankDallasTX91.8
13The Idabel National BankIdabelOK91.3
14Huron Valley State BankMilfordMI90.9
15Granite BankCold SpringMN90.9
16The Bank Of KaukaunaKaukaunaWI90.5
17Eagle Rock BankRochesterMN90.3
18Native American Bank, National AssociationDenverCO90.3
19Tri-County Bank & Trust CompanyRoachdaleIN90.1
20Drake BankSaint PaulMN90.1
Commercial: $300M to $1B in assets
RankBank NameCityStateAg lender score
1First Bank of the LakeOsage BeachMO99.5
2GBankLas VegasNV97.9
3OptimumBankFt. LauderdaleFL97.2
4M1 BankClaytonMO95.6
5Capital Community BankPleasant GroveUT94.2
6Barwick Banking CompanyBarwickGA93.2
7Spring BankBronxNY91.9
8Mission Valley BankSun ValleyCA91.7
9Mountain Pacific BankEverettWA91.7
10Bank of CommerceDuncanOK91.0
11Oxford BankOxfordMI90.9
12Sovereign BankShawneeOK90.8
13West Town Bank & TrustNorth RiversideIL90.6
14Western BankLubbockTX90.4
15Merit BankHuntsvilleAL90.2
16The Northwestern BankChippewa FallsWI89.8
17Providence BankRocky MountNC89.7
18The Fahey Banking CompanyMarionOH89.6
19CNB BankCarlsbadNM89.6
20Asian BankPhiladelphiaPA89.5
Commercial: More than $1B in assets
RankBank NameCityStateAg lender score
1Blue Sky BankPawhuskaOK97.6
2SouthPoint BankBirminghamAL95.5
3State Bank of TexasIrvingTX95.4
4Southwestern National BankHoustonTX93.5
5Sunwest BankSandyUT93.4
6Shore United Bank, National AssociationEastonMD92.9
7Southern States BankAnnistonAL92.5
8Security National Bank of OmahaOmahaNE92.1
9Western State BankDevils LakeND91.1
10Stifel BankSt. LouisMO90.7
11The First, A National Banking AssociationHattiesburgMS90.3
12Stearns Bank National AssociationSaint CloudMN89.9
13Community National BankMidlandTX89.4
14Metropolitan Commercial BankNew YorkNY89.3
15Bank Five NineOconomowocWI88.2
16Sabine State Bank and Trust CompanyManyLA88.1
17Live Oak Banking CompanyWilmingtonNC87.9
18Cache Valley BankLoganUT87.4
19Lake Ridge BankCross PlainsWI87.2
20Horicon BankHoriconWI87.1


Dart Bank: Maximizing resources for outstanding results

By Ingrid Case
Mason, Mich.
Historic Mason, Mich., where Dart Bank operates

Dart Bank in Mason, Mich., finds its success through cutting-edge technology and the essential community bank relationship model. The $1.16 billion-asset community bank may rank No. 1 in our Over $1 Billion asset size category for consumer and mortgage lending, but it has just four full-service banking offices and 287 employees. The small but mighty community bank simply maximizes its resources by combining technology and good, old-fashioned customer service, says Dart Bank president and CEO William J. Hufnagel.

Rhonda Olsson
Mortgage banker Rhonda Olsson is just one of Dart Bank’s employees leading the mortgage loan charge

He notes that the combination of high tech and high touch is the key. “Many banks have one or the other, but not both,” he says. Once loans close, Dart continues to service them, giving the community bank another opportunity to answer customer queries.

To give you a better idea of its success, Dart’s loan volume was $971.3 million in Q4 2023, up from $755.2 million from one year earlier. During 2023, total loans increased by $216 million, and deposits were up by $244 million. Those numbers might have been higher, Hufnagel says, but for the current interest rate environment and its effect on the home market.

“There’s a lack of homes for sale,” he observes. Current homeowners might have mortgages at 3% or less, and they’re disinclined to trade that rate for the 7% they would pay on a new loan. When existing homeowners largely stay put, that has a domino effect that drastically reduces the amount of housing stock on the market. New construction can’t fully make up the difference.

Red Jacket Club
Dart Bank honors top loan producers through its “Red Jacket Club.”

Ease of application

However, Dart has made it easy to apply for a mortgage for those who are in the market for a new home. The community bank invests in technology that lets mortgage applicants apply entirely online, uploading required documents and pulling payroll and account information directly from bank records. It offers Fannie and Freddie loans that require fewer documents than in the past and can sometimes permit online appraisals. Skipping in-person appraisals saves these applicants money and time.

Of course, when online mortgage applicants have questions, they still can talk directly to a bank employee. “People don’t want to talk to a computer when they have a question,” Hufnagel says, adding that Dart employees—not an automated system—answer every call.

Dart treats consumer loan applicants the same way it treats mortgage borrowers. Customers can apply online, upload documents and bring questions to a bank employee. A loan portal lets both mortgage and consumer loan borrowers set up recurring and one-time payments, see loan balance and escrow account activity, retrieve statements and otherwise manage their lending relationship with the bank.

Dart Bank
Dart Bank CEO and president William J. Hufnagel (left), COO, mortgage banking Tim Sambaer (center) and SVP, mortgage banking Bryan Clark (right) discuss their loan production process.

Flexibility is everything

The community bank’s employees are based in four traditional branches, located in Mason and three other Michigan towns. Dart Bank also has nine loan production offices where employees only handle lending administration. But unlike the majority of banks, 80% of Dart employees work either hybrid or full-time from home.

Hufnagel says that flexibility and professional respect help Dart hire and retain high-quality employees. “We empower people to make decisions and take care of clients, and no one gets in trouble for making decisions,” he says.

Workplace flexibility, especially letting employees work from home, also helps attract and retain quality workers. Dart has employees living and working in 19 states, which has helped it find more customers throughout the U.S.

“Technology, manager support, flexibility and treating people like professionals,” Hufnagel says. “The right people love that.”

Consumer/mortgage: Less than $300M in assets
RankBank NameCityStateAg lender score
1Community SavingsCaldwellOH99.3
2Warsaw Federal Savings and Loan AssociationCincinnatiOH97.5
3Grand Bank for Savings, F.S.B.HattiesburgMS97.0
4Brazos National BankRichwoodTX96.1
5Brighton BankBrightonIN96.0
6The Bank Of OrrickOrrickMO95.7
7First Federal Bank, A FSBTuscaloosaAL95.7
8Farmers BankParsonsTN95.1
9Neighbors BankClarenceMO93.2
101st Federal Savings Bank of SC, IncWalterboroSC92.1
11Luminate BankMinnetonkaMN91.8
12The First National Bank In CooperCooperTX91.4
13Citizens Savings Bank and Trust CompanyNashvilleTN91.3
14Randall State BankRandallMN90.7
15Community State BankBrookIN90.6
17Odin State BankOdinMN90.3
18Dickinson County BankEnterpriseKS90.1
19Union Bank & Trust CompanyLivingstonTN90.0
20Cedar Rapids State BankCedar RapidsNE90.0
Consumer/mortgage: $300M to $1B in assets
RankBank NameCityStateAg lender score
1Beacon Community BankMount PleasantSC92.6
2Sanibel Captiva Community BankSanibelFL92.4
3University BankAnn ArborMI91.8
4Citizens State BankHudsonWI91.6
5First Capital BankLaurinburgNC91.3
6Great Midwest Bank, State Savings BankBrookfieldWI90.0
7The Fisher National BankFisherIL90.0
8Heritage Bank & TrustColumbiaTN89.6
9Citizens Bank of West Virginia, Inc.ElkinsWV89.5
10First Exchange BankWhite HallWV88.5
11Pendleton Community Bank, Inc.FranklinWV88.4
12The Riddell National BankBrazilIN88.4
13High Country BankSalidaCO88.4
15First Central Savings BankGlen CoveNY88.0
16Shoreham BankWarwickRI87.8
17Community Bank DelawareLewesDE87.8
18Belmont Savings BankBellaireOH87.5
19The Poca Valley Bank, Inc.WaltonWV87.3
20Seamens BankProvincetownMA87.1
Consumer/mortgage: More than $1B in assets
RankBank NameCityStateAg lender score
1Dart BankMasonMI93.3
2Roscoe State Bank, a division of Cornerstone Capital Bank, SSBRoscoeTX92.4
3Main Street BankMarlboroughMA91.6
4Evolve Bank & TrustMemphisTN91.1
5Pioneer BankAlbanyNY89.6
6Apex BankCamdenTN86.3
7Bradesco BankCoral GablesFL85.0
8First Federal Savings and Loan Association of LakewoodLakewoodOH84.4
9Central BankHoustonTX84.6
10Fidelity BankMetairieLA84.3
11First Federal Savings Bank of Twin FallsTwin FallsID82.0
121st Security Bank of WashingtonMountlake TerraceWA82.7
13Shore United Bank, National AssociationEastonMD81.7
14Two Rivers Bank & TrustBurlingtonIA81.7
15Stifel BankSt. LouisMO81.6
17The Farmers National Bank Of CanfieldCanfieldOH80.7
18First State BankSaint Clair ShoresMI80.6
19First Savings BankJeffersonvilleIN80.4
20BayFirst National BankSaint PetersburgFL79.0