Alabama’s Best Small-Medium Employer: Southern States Bank

Appreciation Beyond Good Compensation

A full-service community bank, Southern States Bank specializes in business lending and banking services for small- to medium-sized companies, business owners and professionals. Based in Anniston, with additional locations in Birmingham, Opelika and Sylacauga, the bank employs 62 people.

Stephen Whatley, an Alabama native who worked out of state for large corporate banks for more than 40 years, launched Southern States Bank in 2007. His goal was to build a true community bank that would understand and value the needs of modern day customers. Due to widespread mergers and acquisitions in the banking industry, many customers’ only banking options were large national or regional banks. Whatley wanted to build an institution where bankers would know their customers on a first-name basis and would have the flexibility to offer products and services that would fit the needs of the customers in their communities.

People eating lunch

To ensure that the bank is meeting local needs, it uses local advisory boards in each of its communities. Made up of local business owners and leaders, these boards play an active role in determining how the bank will proceed and where its focus will be. “There is a strong demand, maybe as strong as there has ever been, for independent banks that are locally owned by the communities that they are in and have input and representation from local boards that actually have authority, ” Whatley says.

Known as “the Common Sense Bank, ” Southern States management emphasizes that it is not hung up on systems and policies. Instead, its leaders are focused on building relationships with customers and allowing those relationships and the needs they reveal to dictate the services they provide.

That philosophy has clicked with residents and business owners in the communities where the bank operates, as well as with bank employees. As it has grown, Southern States has become known as an attractive employer for those in the banking industry. Its employees enjoy a competitive package of health care benefits, along with a generous incentive compensation program. But competitive salaries and benefits aren’t the only reasons people want to work there. An array of employee recognition policies and programs ensures that employees always feel appreciated. The company also hosts an annual company picnic at Whatley’s family farm, annual holiday parties at each office and Employee Appreciation Days. For those staff members who want to further their formal education, the bank offers a tuition reimbursement program.

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“We have a positive, pleasant work environment with open, frequent communication and accessibility to the CEO and senior management, ” says Meredith Nelson, senior vice president of marketing and training. “We offer an attractive and competitive benefits package and frequently show employee appreciation.”

Text by Nancy Mann Jackson

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