Banking and Bankers – Rising Stars of Alabama Banking

Meet 13 emerging leaders in banking, chosen from the standouts of the Alabama Bankers Association’s two programs for talented young bankers — Alabama Banking School and Bankers 2 Leaders (B2L) program.

We’ve used the association’s two merit-based programs as the basis for the selection of our 13 up-and-coming bankers: eight with connections to the school’s BankExec program; five involved with the B2L program. 

The Banking School classes meet at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, one week each for three years.

During each session, students spend a minimum of 40 hours in the classroom and work on case studies in the evenings. They take comprehensive final exams and are assigned home study problems between resident sessions. 

The BankExec program is the third-year training, helping participants graduate with a well-rounded understanding of the cause-and-effect relationship resulting from each decision made in their effort to run a profitable bank. 

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The B2L program offers year round educational opportunities to build leadership skills.

Decision Making

One of the highlights of the final year of Alabama Banking School is participation in the BankExec program. 

“The BankExec program is simply the simulation of the banking environment, ” says Scott Miller, head of the banking school. “It ties everything together they’ve learned the first two years. In year three, we let them put it all into action and run a bank. It’s great preparation for them as they head into those upper management positions.”

Here’s how it works.

Participants are divided into teams and form their banks. 

“As members, you name your bank, assign positions in the bank, and you’re given economic conditions to make decisions. You make eight decisions throughout the week based on the economic environment the bank is in and it includes everything from setting the price on loans, deposits and managing a bond portfolio.”

Then, the teams are judged and ranked based on the decisions they make throughout the week.

“They make a presentation in front of a group of seasoned bankers, 10 banking simulation judges from all across the state, ” he says.  “They also field questions about why they made their decisions.”

Miller says this year the BankExec program will see its 2, 000th graduate in its 38th class. There are 53 members in the graduating class.

Decision Makers

Lauren Yelverton

CPA & Assistant VP, Internal Audit Department
Regions Financial Corp., Birmingham

Lauren Yelverton, who served as the Alabama Banking School Class of 2014 president and salutatorian, was employed as a Staff II Accountant at Mauldin & Jenkins LLC in Birmingham while attending the School. 

After graduation from Banking School, she began working in the Internal Audit Department at Regions Financial Corp. in Birmingham. Yelverton is currently assistant vice president, Internal Audit Staff II at Regions Financial Corp., as a member of the Finance, Capital Markets and Treasury team. 

“BankExec enabled me to see the entire picture of how a bank is run rather than to be focused on one specific area of the bank, ” she says. “It also showed me how any decision that is made can have an impact on other areas of the bank. Decisions such as the pricing of loans and deposits could affect the bank’s Net Interest Margin and ultimately the profit. Decisions about liquidity had to be considered before deciding to invest in a bond. Decisions on whether to make a loan had to be well thought out based on the qualifications of the borrower and the collateral.

“BankExec gave us a unique understanding of different roles within a financial institution and a deeper respect of the impact decisions can have on the company and our customers. Having a CPA background, it gave me a well rounded view of the financial services industry as a whole. And it left me with lasting impressions that now shape my current role today.”

Her own experience showed her that the program is valuable to professionals from many different backgrounds. “It helps students further their experience, network with other professionals, and, ultimately, deliver greater results for the customers and communities we serve.”

Cissy Agboatwala

Mortgage Loan Processor,  Troy Bank & Trust 

Cissy Agboatwala has held the same position at Troy Bank & Trust for 18 years. 

“I love what I do, and, although I have been offered different positions within the bank, I have chosen to continue doing what I love, ” she says.

Currently, Agboatwala is a mortgage loan processor, with responsibilities that include coordinating closing with borrowers, realtors and closing attorneys; preparing and processing closing documentation; thoroughly reviewing loan packages prior to submitting to secondary market investors, and being responsible for booking and funding for bank/secondary closings.

A participant in the Banking School’s Bank Sim contest, Agboatwala’s team was the BankExec winner 2014.

“It was a wonderful experience. I enjoyed the interaction with my teammates during the week, ” she says, adding that the program gives participants a more well-rounded understanding of how each decision has an impact in making a bank profitable. “Bank Sim helps you to understand that it takes every department in a bank to run a bank effectively. The knowledge you receive from participating in the Bank Sim is invaluable.”

Sherry Coker

Assistant Vice President/Private Banker
ServisFirst Bank, Mobile

A graduate of the Alabama Banking School’s class of 2014, Coker has continued to develop as a private banker with ServisFirst, with an emphasis on consumer and business lending.

Currently the assistant vice president/private banker, Coker is “actively involved” in the continued development of the Private Banking Department of the Mobile division of ServisFirst Bank.

“My main focus is establishing and maintaining relationships with private banking clients, ” she says. “I have continued to develop professionally by taking a leadership role in community-related events.”

Coker started banking school in 2012, at that time as branch manager of a locally owned bank. She joined ServisFirst Bank in her current position before starting her second year of banking school.

Coker called Bank Sim the most enjoyable part of the program. “I developed a clearer understanding of the different ways individual teammates worked, ” she says. “We had a diverse group on our Sim team — each with their own personality, strengths and method of handling tasks. In the end, it all came together.” 

Coker said that by the time the last year came around, she had developed an understanding of how all the moving pieces of the bank worked together. “I understood how the current economy, market trends, competition, etc. drove some of the decisions of the bank.”

Kirk Cornelius

Vice President and Branch Manager
West Alabama Bank, Tuscaloosa 

After graduating from the Alabama Banking School, Kirk Cornelius went from being a mortgage loan officer in 2013, to the branch manager of the Woodstock office of West Alabama Bank, to his current position as vice president and branch manager at the Tuscaloosa branch.

As vice president and branch manager, Cornelius says he originates and processes in-house commercial and consumer loans. In addition, he still works as mortgage loan originator in the secondary market and is the bank’s assistant BSA officer.

Cornelius participated in Bank Sim, and his team took Bank Sim honors for banking strategy.

“The key lessons I learned in Bank Sim were how to manage my bank’s assets in an ever-shifting economy — how to be proactive with bank decisions and not just reactive, ” he says.

Jason Davis

CPA,  Jackson Thornton, Montgomery

When Jason Davis began his journey through the Alabama Banking School in 2012, he had concerns about how he would perform. He did not work at a bank and almost everyone in the class did, he says. But he didn’t have to worry. In fact, he was named valedictorian of the Banking School class of 2014.

Davis continues in his role as a senior manager responsible for managing Jackson Thornton’s engagements, which include financial statement audits, internal audits, loan reviews, Bank Secrecy Act audits, Interest Rate Risk audits, ACH audits and other consulting engagements.

Davis participated in the Bank Simulation contest and served as president of the winning bank for Group A in his senior year.

“The Bank Simulation taught me that it takes an entire management team to effectively run a bank, ” he says. “It also taught me that it is important to focus on long-term results, instead of making decisions that only produce short-term benefits.”

Abby Guy

Senior Vice President,  Relationship Manager
River Bank & Trust, Alexander City

After graduation in July 2014, Abby Guy returned to Aliant Bank as SVP, commercial lender.  She continued with Aliant Bank until the end of March 2015, and began working with River Bank & Trust on April 1 as an SVP, relationship manager.

“My current role with RB&T as a relationship manager covers all aspects of banking, ” Guy says. 

“I have the flexibility to customize products to suit client needs. I am able to cover all types of loans, from residential home mortgage, home equity lines of credit, consumer, as well as commercial.”

Guy’s group participated and won the Bank Sim contest. “The biggest thing that I took away from participating in the contest was higher respect for those in the bank that make the decisions regarding the focus of deposits and/or loans and why, ” she says.  

Josh Haisten

Vice President,  Commercial Loan Officer
MidSouth Bank, Dothan

Josh Haisten began Banking School as a loan officer at MidSouth Bank in 2012. During his three years of school, he was promoted to commercial loan officer, and since graduation in 2014 was promoted to vice president.

As a commercial loan officer and vice president, Haisten’s responsibilities include maintaining a strong loan portfolio; increasing loan growth and deposit accounts; properly administering credit worthiness and documentation of loans generated; insuring that all loan decisions, actions and recommendations are based on an accurate understanding of each customer’s financial needs, and promote and maintain a favorable image for MidSouth Bank. 

His team participated and won its group in Bank Sim.

“Bank Sim was a great learning experience and the key lesson I obtained was how each sector (loans, deposits, bonds) influence the bank as a whole, ” he says.     

Sam Whorton

Collections and Security Officer
Farmers and Merchants Bank,  Calhoun County

Since graduating from Alabama Banking School in 2014, Sam Whorton has continued in his job as collections and security officer at Farmers & Merchants Bank. 

In that position, he does in-house real estate evaluations in Calhoun County. “I’m in charge of all past dues, charging off checking accounts and loans, repossessions, foreclosures, bankruptcies, garnishments and levies, ” he says. He also handles security for the bank — counterfeit money, robberies procedures and monitoring security systems. 

Whorton participated in Bank Sim and held the position of CEO for his bank.  

“I learned several things about running a bank from how deposit accounts can drive loans and how being competitive with interest rate can drive growth, ” he says of his Bank Sim experience. “I also learned that each person in the bank brings a different idea to the table and if discussed enough, everyone can help drive a profitable bank.”

He says Bank Sim taught him the “ins and outs” of the responsibilities that CEOs, CFOs, COOs, senior staff and branch managers deal with on a daily basis.

B2L — Practicing Leadership

Bankers 2 Leaders (B2L) is a division of the Alabama Bankers Association designed for bank professionals who want to advance their careers and pursue a leadership track within their banks. 

The division offers leadership training, networking opportunities, political awareness and community service opportunities throughout the year, says Scott Latham, president and chief executive officer of the Alabama Bankers Association.

“We commonly refer to them as young bankers but they can be any age, ” Latham says. “It’s a really strong core group of individuals. Some are already running their banks or in many cases being prepared to run their banks.” Educational events are scheduled throughout the year, along with networking opportunities. “Depending on the location, it could be a coach coming in to talk about teamwork.”

“This is a group within our association typically of younger bankers who seek to hone and develop leadership skills through interactions with each other, and the exchange of good ideas, ” Latham says.

Leaders by Example

Josh Barnes

Senior Vice President
Peoples State Bank of Central Alabama, Grant

“I started when I was 15, ” says Josh Barnes. “I worked bookkeeping back in the days when you had to file real checks. I worked during summers, ran the drive-thru and worked a little bit of everything.  Since graduating from college, I’ve been loan officer, assistant vice president, vice president to senior vice president.”

Today, says Barnes, “I manage the day-to-day operations of the bank. I still do a little bit of everything, from having a cup of coffee with our older customers, discussing what’s happening with the market and interest rates, to community service. If a customer needs to cash a check, I still do that for them.”

“For us, staying on top of technology is important. The B2L program is helpful because you can learn from peers from other parts of the state. And staying on top of technology regulations and having the knowledge of the operations field is very important these days.”

Eric Jacks

Branch Manager
First Community Bank of Central Alabama, Prattville

“I started as a part time teller in April 1995 with Compass Bank in Montgomery. I’ve worked auditing at Regions Bank, and commercial lending at Compass, SouthTrust, Alliance Bank and River Bank. Today I am branch manager at First Community Bank of Central Alabama in Prattville.”

“As branch manager, this is the first time I’ve managed a team of people. Also, I’m back into retail banking. When you’re in commercial, the offices are off to the side and there’s not a lot of walk-in traffic. Now I get to interact with people all day.”

Says Jacks of his B2L experience, “The biggest thing for me has been working with people from different backgrounds with different perspectives and getting everyone to share their individual opinions while keeping everyone focused and working toward the same goal.”

Chris Latta

Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
Farmers and Merchants Bank,  Jacksonville

“After college, I went to work for NBC Securities Division in Birmingham. I came back to Merchant’s after I got my graduate degree in 2002, starting as a financial advisor. In 2009, I started working more on the banking, and in January of 2012, I became CFO of the bank.”

“I’m still involved in the Investment Division. As CFO, I’m definitely involved in a lot of the financials of the bank. I try to keep the loans priced at a certain level and work to ensure good financial stability in the bank.” 

“Being able to work with a team and getting others involved to accomplish a task is very important, ” says Latta of his B2L experience. “There’s no way we could accomplish anything without the tellers doing their job, administrative assistants doing their job, operations handling their job, every job is important. Communicating openly with employees is important.”

Meredith Nelson

Senior Vice President,  Marketing & Training
Southern States Bank, Birmingham

“I started my banking career in 1990 as an operations assistant with the Alabama Bankers Association. After a few years in public relations, in 1998, I joined The Bankers Bank as a correspondent banker. In 2008, I joined a newly formed Southern States Bank, where I still am today.  

“My role at the bank is primarily to ensure that our bank is proactively marketed to carry out our mission of providing excellent customer service and cutting-edge products and services, while maintaining shareholder value. I also manage our internal training program.”

Nelson says, “Being passionate about what you do, being trustworthy and leading by example are strong leadership skills that I feel contribute to a successful banking career. From the teller line to senior management, you can never have enough leadership training.

Clark Rainwater

Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
Merchants Bank of Alabama,  Cullman and Arab

“I started with Merchants Bank as controller in February, 1995, so I’m celebrating my 20th year anniversary this year. Since I’ve been here, I’ve gone from vice president, senior vice president and, this past April, was promoted to executive vice president and CFO.

“Each year I’ve added on responsibilities as I’ve grown with the bank. I’m totally responsible for all financial planning and analysis for the bank and our bank holding company. That includes a $60 million to $70 million investment portfolio. Among other things, I handle capital issues, liquidity issues and interest rate risk.” 

“Integrity is first and foremost, ” says Rainwater of the B2L lessons. “There are many important leadership qualities, but that’s the top of the list for me. Good communication skills and being personable and service oriented are all important, too.”

Wendy Reeves and Tammy Leytham are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Reeves is based in Huntsville and Leytham in Mobile.

Text by Windy Reeves and Tammy Leytham

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