By Jay Albrecht
UCBJ Associate Publisher
UPPER CUMBERLAND – Effective March 1, 2020, SmartFinancial (parent company of SmartBank) acquired Progressive Savings Bank (six branches in four counties) and The Rains Agency (an independent insurance provider), paving the way for a new banking presence in the Upper Cumberland region.
This is the second of two stories introducing SmartBank to the area. The first story detailed the history of SmartBank and its general operating philosophy. This article focuses more on the acquisition of Progressive and the positive changes customers will experience.
According to President and CEO Billy Carroll and Chairman of the Board Miller Welborn, there were several positive attributes leading them to the acquisition of Progressive Savings Bank. From location and people to opportunity and insurance, Progressive was a “smart” expansion that fit the SmartBank way.
“We always liked the Plateau region,” said Carroll. “We believe you can get more efficient if you have some density, and we needed some density as we moved west toward Nashville (from the Knoxville area).”
But prime location is far from the only factor making Progressive attractive to Carroll and Welborn.
“We do a lot of work on the front end,” explained Welborn. “The tendency is to look at the balance sheet and the income statement and then evaluate the team members in the market. We turn it upside down.
“We do homework on the town, the board they have, their client base, their associates mix, what are their goals, what is that bank’s strategy, how do they articulate that up and down the chain of command. If the culture doesn’t work on the front end, and we don’t think it’ll work in our culture, we’ve walked away from pretty good deals.”
Progressive’s solid foundation was a credit to founder Lyndon Rains and, later, his son, Steve. More recently, Cookeville businessman and Progressive’s Chairman of the Board Ottis Phillips drove the bank’s forward momentum prior to the acquisition.
“Progressive had a good culture that the Rains family had instilled,” stated Carroll. “And that continued under Ottis Phillips’ leadership. Ottis is a great businessman and entrepreneur, and someone we wanted to serve on our corporate board. We are very excited to have the Phillips family involved in our company.”
See related story: SmartBank brings its ‘wow’ factor to the Upper Cumberland region
Adding an insurance product line to the bank’s portfolio was a top priority for SmartBank. The Rains Agency’s insurance offerings bring a wealth of opportunity to each of SmartBank’s locations.
“It’s one of the things we were really excited about with this opportunity,” said Carroll. “It’s a great line of business that complements the bank. It’s a strong independent agency, and we’d love to add insurance producers in our key markets.
“Lyndon (Rains) had a great vision, he just never got the bank big enough to take advantage of it. We have enough scale to start appropriately leveraging those product lines. We have a really good core team here (locally) that we’re anxious to support and invest in.”
“The Rains family did a phenomenal job of building a brand and building that book of business,” added Welborn.
According to Carroll and Welborn, Cravens and Company Wealth Management and Progressive Tax and Accounting, both businesses formerly tied to Progressive, are now their own entities. They will enjoy an informal partnership with SmartBank to allow for cross-referencing clients as appropriate, and they remain tenants in the Cookeville branch location.
The PPP Experience
The year 2020 has been, by all accounts, one for the ages. In the banking world, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was a huge portion of this year’s challenges. SmartBank feels it was somewhat of a separator for banks who were willing to go the extra mile for their clients.
“A lot of banks just didn’t want to do the PPP (loans) because it took a bunch of extra work,” stated Welborn. “But I think the work paid off, not only in income for us, but it’s the right thing to do for our clients.”
SmartBank handled about 2,800 separate PPP loans totaling $293 million, which bank officials say is four to five times their fair share based on size.
“We had the resources and used that to our advantage,” said Carroll. “We still operate as a community bank where you can pick up the phone and call the chairman of the board, the CEO, or the local market president. But you’ve also got a big bank sitting in your corner, so when you need to make something happen, we can help get that done.”
What Changes Will Customers Experience?
While Carroll and Welborn are insistent on bringing positive change to the Upper Cumberland banking landscape, at the same time, they hope customers will feel at least as comfortable doing business as before the transition to SmartBank.
“We want them (customers) to feel as comfortable, and quite frankly more comfortable, coming in and seeing the same individuals they’ve seen in the last several years,” said Welborn. “We want them to bank with who they’ve been banking with but with a few more tools in their toolbox to do what they do a little bit better. We’re a conservative bank, and we want to help you get creative and solve your needs.”
“We want people to walk in and have a great experience with us,” added Carroll. “They had that with Progressive, and I think we can enhance that. We think the changes they’ll see will be positive from a customer service standpoint. But the day-to-day consumer shouldn’t see a lot of change.”
What SmartBank brings to the table is a more technologically advanced platform for helping a wider range of customers, both business and personal. Its mobile banking system offers features Progressive customers did not have available. SmartBank also offers its own Fannie/Freddie underwriters, greater expertise in residential mortgages and a full retail investments platform, just to name a few positive additions to the portfolio.
By adding the Progressive group to the mix, SmartBank feels there’s an expanded opportunity to help more businesses with loans, given its larger loan capability.
“We still believe in a lot of local (loan) decisions,” said Carroll. “We can sometimes get approval in a day as long as we have correct information. We’ve got some really good folks to help with those decisions. We want to make sure you’re structuring your debt the right way, and we want to say ‘yes.’”
For SmartBank, measuring success doesn’t just come from company financials or stock price. It comes in the form of positive referrals.
“Can we be an advisor to you, and your family and your friends?” asked Welborn. “If you feel good enough about us to refer family and friends, we feel like we’ve been successful.”
SmartBank now operates 36 branches across Tennessee, Alabama and the Florida panhandle, employing approximately 480 associates and voted a “Top Workplace” four years in a row. For more information about SmartBank or to contact a branch, please visit https://www.smartbank.com.