Local banks help the people they serve

Community banks serve their customers by volunteering and helping local charities, schools and organizations

Bank Independent employees work at a local food bank.

In Marion, when the local water system failed earlier this year, pallets of water were trucked in and distributed to the community. 

In Sheffield, when the Shoals CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) offices were in need of a little TLC, a team of volunteers spent a sweltering summer day fixing up and refreshing the facility.

In Ozark, a shuttered manufacturing plant was given new life as a state-of-the-art facility that repurposes tires and creates local jobs. 

Each of these stories of service came not from the dedication of a nonprofit or government entity, but from a local bank — Marion Community Bank, Bank Independent and United Bank, respectively.

Community banks by definition are not a part of a larger multibank holding company. They traditionally have served as cornerstones of their communities, and officials at community banks across Alabama proudly continue that tradition today.

- Sponsor -

“To us, it’s not just an income statement or balance sheet,” says Mike Vincent, president and CEO of United Bank out of Atmore, one of the oldest community banks in the state, celebrating 120 years of service. “We live, we work in the community. We know you, our kids are at the ball field together. We go to church together. We’re at the movies and the grocery store together. It’s seeing your own community grow. We do it because we want to see our communities thrive.”

Scott Latham, president and CEO of the Alabama Bankers Association, explained it this way: “Local banks serve as pillars within their communities, fueling economic growth, building bonds of trust and empowering individuals to thrive. Their presence is not only financial but foundational in serving as cornerstones of stability and prosperity.”

From food and toy drives to disaster relief to providing financial education to residents and investing in the community, local banks help fill a need in mostly smaller, rural areas.

Bryant Bank employees volunteer to support The Brown House.

“Our mission is to serve the residents and businesses in the communities we call home,” says Bryant Bank President Claude Edwards. “When you deposit your money in a community bank, your money stays in the community, with your community bank making loans to neighborhood small businesses, making mortgage loans for homes in your neighborhood and helping grow the community as a whole.”

Some community banks, including Bryant Bank, United Bank and Bank Independent, have branches in several communities across the state, but each serves its local area.

“While we operate across a seven-county footprint, we ensure that each of our communities’ investments — say you’re a community member coming in to give a monetary or an item donation — all of those local donations stay in that county and community,” says Hallie Mauldin, community engagement leader at Bank Independent. “It’s not like we bring all these monetary donations in and item donations and then we split it out evenly across our entire network. It stays in your area, and that’s important for the community to see and be aware of.”

Bank Independent started its Helping Hands Foundation following the overwhelming need seen across many Alabama communities after the devastating 2011 tornado outbreak. Today, the program includes quarterly Share initiatives — a Shelter Share to benefit animal shelters, Food Share to collect food for families in need, School Share for school supplies and a Toy Share to collect toys for the holidays. 

“And we are adding one more share drive to our docket,” says Mauldin. Family Share will soft-launch this year to collect diapers and other needs for area families. “Whether you’re a new mom or whether you’re a senior and you need that extra support, we’re going to fill that need there. We don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like, yet, but we are very proud to kind of continue filling the gap and giving them that bridge that they need.”

Bank Independent was founded more than 75 years ago by Mauldin’s great-grandfather with a core mission of filling the gap in the community from a financial perspective. Today, Mauldin says she is “proud that 75-77ish years later, we’re still finding a way to fill the gap but across a larger footprint. And what we do doesn’t just benefit our customers, it benefits the entire community.”

Bank Independent gathered supplies for the local animal shelter.

Many community banks like Bank Independent have started their own foundations to help meet community needs. Most also encourage their employees to volunteer in the community with paid time to do so. 

“Many of our employees grew up in the communities they now serve as Bryant bankers, so it’s a natural fit for them to give back to their communities,” says Edwards. “We’re proud to support local school athletic programs, nonprofits and a variety of organizations that our bankers are personally involved in. It’s common for us to receive feedback from customers like ‘You guys are involved in everything!’ and we also hear that it’s important to them to have a bank that gives back in such intentional ways.”

“Our Bryant bankers make serving their communities an integral part of their everyday roles,” says Edwards. “One way we do this is through our annual Turning Banking into Thanking initiative. Each year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, our bankers nominate, select and recognize deserving nonprofits throughout the state that are serving the community every day. In 2023, we recognized 30 organizations by participating in service activities that support their overall mission and through monetary donations. We frequently receive feedback and comments from our employees that their ability to serve their community as a Bryant banker is one of their favorite aspects of their role.”

Community involvement is beneficial and rewarding from every aspect, agrees Kayla Peeples, executive assistant and marketing director with Noble Bank in Anniston. “We get to see the impact made within our community, which reinforces the importance of what we do,” she says. “It is also so rewarding for our employees to both be given the opportunity to take that active role in the community but also for them to get to see firsthand the difference they are making. We have had numerous customers tell us they were looking for a bank and specifically came to Noble Bank because of our community involvement.”

An employee from Noble Bank in Anniston shares story time with local children.

United Bank asks its employees to find their passion and get involved, says Vincent. “It can be a lot of different things, whether you’re part of the local Rotary or Lions Club or whether you’re volunteering at the food bank or whether you’re going to schools to teach children about savings or whether you are packaging up groceries at a church for distribution or Habitat for Humanity or whatever it is.

“We don’t do that because ‘Hey, tell me how many checking accounts I got out of our involvement in Habitat for Humanity,’ right? We do it because it’s the right thing to do. And when our communities improve, it’s the proverbial rising tides lifts all ships — it’s good for everyone.”

MidSouth Bank in Dothan encourages employees to give their time through the bank’s True Blue workplace volunteer program, says Jessica Barefield, MidSouth’s community relations coordinator. The bank also tries to stay involved in the community by focusing on financial literacy, introducing a series of educational workshops in 2022.

“[We] collaborated with educators in local high schools to implement classes on budgeting, money management and the value of saving,” says Barefield. “This series has engaged a large portion of our staff as they rotate through teaching opportunities. As financial teachers, we engage with students and equip them with financial skills that will help them be successful in their financial journey.”

R. Guy Davis Jr., president and CEO of Marion Community Bank, says that while their bank donates funds and employee time to local causes, the most important way their bank gets involved in the community is by reinvesting local deposits in the community.

Bankers from Marion Community Bank participate in local events like the Kidney Walk.

“You will see our bankers volunteering all over the community…in churches, schools, civic clubs and nonprofits,” he says. “And every year, we have a local Community Commitment Project in each of our communities, where we not only commit money, but our employees participate in fundraising or volunteer efforts to support a particular cause.”

But on the financial side and most importantly, he says, “We provide much-needed capital to small businesses.”

Vincent says one of the distinctions for United Bank is that it is a designated CDFI, or Community Development Financial Institution. “It’s a designation from the Treasury Department that basically means that we’re serving areas that are lower- or moderate-income areas. That designation has opened up a whole host of opportunities for us that we can bring to these areas. It could be small things like small loan programs to credit-challenged borrowers. It’s to everybody’s advantage to have a more knowledgeable citizen base who can access funds from a bank rather than somewhere like a title loan place or check-cashing facility. These are things and tools that we can bring to communities that don’t have it, including first-time home buyers programs. It offers a lot of tools both small and big.” 

Alex Jones, president of United Bank Community Development, says United Bank is the only CDE (Community Development Entity) in the state. “That’s another designation that we have from the Department of Treasury,” he says. “And just to give you an idea of what that can mean, we’ve received almost $400 million in federal tax credits, and we’ve received funding from the Capital Magnet fund that we use for affordable housing in the state. And on the new market side, the tax credit side, we’ve created more than 5,000 jobs. While on the housing side, we’ve helped finance more than 2,600 affordable housing units. These things can be game changers for a lot of these more rural communities across the state, and we are pleased to have the resources to offer them.” 

Jennifer G. Williams is a Hartselle-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.

This article appears in the May 2024 issue of Business Alabama.

The latest Alabama business news delivered to your inbox