Brad Bolton, president, CEO and senior lender for Community Spirit Bank in Red Bay, grew up with deep ties to community banking, so it’s no wonder that his prestigious role of chairman-elect of the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) is especially meaningful to him.
“I followed in my father’s footsteps in banking,” Bolton says. “From attending my first ICBA conference in 2011, I knew I wanted to get actively involved in its advocacy and service to community banks, which are critical to the economic health of communities and this nation.”
His father, Billy Bolton, served Community Spirit for 40 years and currently is chairman of the board. One of Brad Bolton’s three daughters as well as his two sisters, brother-in-law and niece also work at the bank, which is owned by its shareholder employees. “My family and our employees are committed to serving the people in our community. Although my dad is retired, he still comes to the bank every day,” he says. “It’s personal for us. We know our customers.”
But that personal connection is not unusual for community banks, Bolton says. Those banks provide 55% of all business loans and 83% of all agriculture-related loans, even though they account for only 25% of all banking assets across the country, according to ICBA statistics. “Community banks are relationship oriented,” Bolton says. “They’re the only type bank in one third of all counties in the United States and are focused on the people of Main Street vs. Wall Street investors.”
According to ICBA, community banks have 50,000 sites nationwide, representing 99% of all banking locations and employing more than 700,000 people. Community banks hold more than $5 trillion in assets, $4.4 trillion in deposits and $3.4 trillion in loans. “Big banks get all the press, but we have major impact behind the scenes.”
Community banks became ever more tuned into their communities during the COVID-19 crisis, quickly instituting new technologies to help serve customers remotely when necessary. They also worked extra hard to get PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans to customers, including ICBA lobbying to get a third wave of loans more accessible to farmers and the self-employed, Bolton says. “We are high tech as well as high touch. While the big banks were cherry picking loans, we supplied 60% of all PPP loans,” he says.
Notably, community banks provided 72.6% of PPP loans provided to minority-owned small businesses, 71.5% to women-owned small business and 63.4% of PPP to veteran-owned small businesses saving millions of jobs.
“We don’t just serve some of the community, we serve all of the community,” Bolton says. “Our mantra is to be accessible, responsive and accountable.”
Bolton, who got his start in service to ICBA after attending his first ICBA national conference, is a member of the ICBA executive committee in the role of chairman elect. He served as vice chairman last year and will follow ICBA Chairman Robert Fisher to become chairman next year. “I wanted to get involved and kept volunteering,” he says. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would put me on a track to the chairs of ICBA. I’m only the second person in Alabama to so serve, an honor of which I’m deeply grateful.”
Bolton currently serves on ICBA’s board of directors and is chairman of the Federal Delegate Board. He is also on ICBA’s Policy Development and Nominating committees and is the Executive Committee liaison to the Bank Operations and Payments committee and as ex-officio member on the ICBA Reinsurance board of directors.
He previously served on the ICBA board of directors as chairman of the Bank Education Committee and has also served on several other committees. “I have thoroughly enjoyed actively participating in the organization all these years because I believe in its mission,” he says of “the only national advocacy organization that exclusively represents community banks.”
ICBA, which was formed by community bankers in 1930, keeps Bolton and its thousands of other members informed of a myriad of issues important to their economic survival and ability to serve their communities. It advocates for legislation friendly to its member’s needs. “We are constantly getting communications, and we get additional updates and insights during ICBA conferences across the country,” Bolton says.
Current issues ICBA is focused on are many. One is trying to level the business playing field with Farm Credit System (FSC) lenders, which ICBA believes enjoy unfair government advantages, and credit unions, which don’t pay taxes. “Community banks pay $12 billion in local, state and federal taxes each year, which means that it’s more difficult for us to provide as competitive rates to our customers,” Bolton says.
But Bolton isn’t so focused on ICBA’s national strategies that he neglects leadership on the local front. The second-generation banker is highly active in his community and region. A Red Bay City Council member, he also is an appointed member of the Franklin County Community Development Commission. He serves on the Legislative Committee of the Mississippi Bankers Association and is an appointed member of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Board’s Community Depository Institution Advisory Council.
Bolton holds a degree in business administration from the University of West Alabama. He is a graduate of the Barrett Graduate School of Banking in Memphis, Tennessee.
He succeeded his father as president and CEO of Community Spirit Bank in 2011.
“My father has been proud of my and other family member’s efforts to carry on his tradition and well serve the people of the communities where we are located,” Bolton says. “We all feel fortunate to have been blessed with a life that’s built on strong relationships and service.”
Community Spirit, the oldest business in Red Bay, was founded as the Bank
of Red Bay in 1908, a year after the town itself. It currently has four branches in Alabama, in Red Bay, Redmont, Russellville and Vina, and one in
“It may be hard to believe that someone that grew up and still lives in Red Bay, Alabama, could rise to become one of the chairs of the ICBA, but it’s just a testament to the community focus of our organization,” Bolton says.
Kathy Hagood and Scotty Kennedy are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. She is based in Homewood and he in Red Bay.