As Simmons Bank's 120th anniversary approaches, the Pine Bluff-based company has found regional success expanding its footprint into five of its surrounding states over the past 13 years.
A bank that had established many branches across Arkansas before 2010 was ready to grow outside the Natural State.
"We were sort of in a mire," Simmons CEO George Makris Jr. said. "We had a lot of capital, a lot of equipment, a lot of liquidity, excellent asset quality, a great group of associates, but the territory we served was not a growth territory. Really, the only market we were in that today is considered a growth market is Northwest Arkansas."
But Northwest Arkansas, a fast-booming area known for mixing successful corporations with natural beauty, experienced what Makris called "severe problems" during the stock market crash of 2008. Left with little room to grow, Simmons sought access to growth markets by acquiring banks.
Since 2010, Simmons has acquired 14 different banks, starting with Little Rock's Metropolitan Bank and institutions in Springfield, Mo., and Union City, Tenn. Simmons now has a presence in major cities and other communities in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee.
"As you can see, we accomplished what we set out to do, which was establish a footprint where growth is a long-term opportunity for us," Makris said.
That and more than a century of staying power give Simmons plenty of reason to celebrate its anniversary, which is Thursday.
"It's just a good opportunity for us to get together as a Simmons family and remind ourselves about the legacy of the bank, the staying power of the bank, our community roots," said Makris, who served on Simmons' board before being appointed CEO in 2013. "We're going to have celebrations across our footprint in a couple of weeks."
Makris didn't reveal all the celebration plans, adding that activities are "planned internally," but he said War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock will be used for a company celebration.
The stadium is one of a few sports venues the bank has sponsored in recent years. The football field at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's Golden Lion Stadium and the former Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis now bear the Simmons name.
The purchase of Metropolitan, according to Makris, gave Simmons more associates in Little Rock than in Pine Bluff. Thus, its corporate offices are in both cities.
"To be quite honest with you, the infrastructure from a technology standpoint in Little Rock was light-years ahead of what was available in Pine Bluff," Makris explained. "When you think about internet access, speed and backup, that was not available in Pine Bluff, and that was a real risk as we grew and became more independent on self-serve for our customer base. Little Rock just had more infrastructure, and still does, than Pine Bluff."
But Makris does not want to be mistaken -- Simmons is still headquartered in the city where it was founded on March 23, 1903.
"Our headquarters are in Pine Bluff, and as far as I'm concerned, it always will be," the Pine Bluff native said. "That's where our charter is when we are recognized by investors and analysts and others as an organization. It is Simmons First National Corporation of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and I think that's extremely important for us to remember."
Not only that, Simmons' Pine Bluff workforce includes about 300 employees, and it has not gone down amid the company's growth, Makris said.
Simmons is also changing its footprint in Jefferson County, establishing new branches like a recently opened location off Sheridan Road in White Hall and remodeling its busiest branch on 28th Avenue in Pine Bluff.
"With a contemporary and sleek style, our White Hall branch serves as the new prototype design for our branches, incorporating floor-to-ceiling glass and LED lighting to provide visual appeal during the day and evening," said Ed Bilek, Simmons' executive vice president and director of investor and media relations and corporate insurance.
The collapse of California's Silicon Valley Bank has spawned concerns from depositors over the safety of their money, but Makris pointed to the fact that Simmons has paid dividends for 114 consecutive years when asked about his bank's stability. Bilek cited research by DividendPower.org revealing that Simmons is one of only 24 U.S. publicly traded companies that have done so for at least 100 years.
"We are a community bank, which means we have lots and lots and lots of customers," Makris said, adding that only 10% of Silicon Valley's bank deposits were insured. "When you take a look at the percentage of our deposits that are insured by the current FDIC limit ($250,000), it's 68%. That ought to give people great comfort."
Also, Simmons has raised its dividend for a 12th consecutive year, earning the title of Dividend Contender from the website because it has done so for 10 to 24 years. To put in perspective, DividendPower.org noted that Simmons is one of 347 companies out of nearly 6,000 companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ to increase its dividend for that long as of Dec. 16, 2022.
"The banking industry looks, generally, more like Simmons than it does Silicon Valley Bank," Makris said.