South­ern Her­itage Bank ex­pands into Chat­tanooga

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - BUSINESS - BY DAVE FLESSNER STAFF WRITER

“We love this mar­ket and see it as a real area of growth. We’re cur­rently look­ing for a sec­ond branch here in Chat­tanooga.”

— FIRST CI­TI­ZENS NA­TIONAL CEO JEFF AGEE

One of Tennessee’s big­gest com­mu­nity banks is mov­ing into Hamil­ton County with plans for mul­ti­ple branches to tap into what bank lead­ers see as one of the prime growth mar­kets in the state.

South­ern Her­itage Bank, the Cleve­land, Tenn.,-based bank ac­quired three years ago by First Ci­ti­zens Na­tional Bank, cel­e­brated the open­ing of a new of­fice near Hamil­ton Place mall on Thurs­day and is al­ready look­ing to add another branch in the Chat­tanooga area.

“We love this mar­ket and see it as a real area of growth,” First Ci­ti­zens Na­tional CEO Jeff Agee told busi­ness lead­ers and cus­tomers gath­ered at the new Hamil­ton Place Boule­vard branch. “We’re cur­rently look­ing for a sec­ond branch here in Chat­tanooga.”

Agee, who ne­go­ti­ated the $32.2 mil­lion pur­chase of South­ern Her­itage Bank in 2014, said South­east Tennessee is ripe for growth by a “town and coun­try” bank like what he is build­ing across Tennessee.

Agee said he liked the South­ern Her­itage name and re­spected the brand built up by the bank in Cleve­land since its cre­ation in 1999. So although the Cleve­land and Chat­tanooga banks op­er­ate un­der the First Ci­ti­zens Na­tional Bank char­ter, the name on the bank will con­tinue to be South­ern Her­itage Bank.

“I’ve joked with my peo­ple that I would love to have the South­ern Her­itage name for an en­tire bank,” Agee said.

Com­bined, the Hamil­ton and Bradley County banks have nearly $300 mil­lion of as­sets and Agee said he would love to du­pli­cate the suc­cess he has had by grow­ing a

bank pres­ence in metro Mem­phis to about $600 mil­lion in as­sets since buy­ing a $125 mil­lion-as­set bank there in 2003.

“We are in the towns on the out­skirts of ma­jor metro mar­kets (Nash­ville, Mem­phis, Chat­tanooga and Jack­son), but we’re still a good, core com­mu­nity, coun­try bank,” Agee said.

Lee Ste­wart, the East Tennessee mar­ket leader for First Ci­ti­zens and pres­i­dent of South­ern Her­itage Bank, said the bank is look­ing for growth ar­eas in Hamil­ton County to bring its lend­ing team and “town and coun­try bank” ap­proach to the mar­ket.

“This is prob­a­bly one of the best branch teams we have put to­gether any­where,” Ste­wart Agee said of the 8-em­ployee team headed by Craig Miller at the new 3,500-square-foot Hamil­ton Place branch.

South­ern Her­itage is the sec­ond big­gest bank in Cleve­land, Tenn., be­hind only First Tennessee Bank, and op­er­ates three of­fices in Bradley County.

Its par­ent, First Ci­ti­zens Na­tional Bank, is a 128-year-old, pri­vately-owned bank head­quar­tered in Dy­ers­burg, Tenn. Since its found­ing in 1889, First Ci­ti­zens has grown into Tennessee’s 16th big­gest bank with 24 bank of­fices in 11 Tennessee coun­ties.

First Ci­ti­zens has more than $1.6 bil­lion in as­sets and last year the bank grew earn­ings by 18.6 per­cent to $16.4 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to fil­ings with the Fed­eral De­posit In­sur­ance Corp.

“We con­tin­ued to grow even dur­ing the Great Re­ces­sion and we’re al­ways look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Agee said. “I ex­pect the num­ber of banks in the coun­try will con­tinue to de­cline, but we ex­pect to be an ac­quirer, not an ac­quiree.”

Con­tact Dave Flessner at df­less­ner@times­free press.com or at 423-7576340.

“We con­tin­ued to grow even dur­ing the Great Re­ces­sion and we’re al­ways look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties. I ex­pect the num­ber of banks in the coun­try will con­tinue to de­cline, but we ex­pect to be an ac­quirer, not an ac­quiree.”

— FIRST CI­TI­ZENS NA­TIONAL CEO JEFF AGEE

STAFF PHOTO BY DAVE FLESSNER

Jeff Agee ad­dresses busi­ness lead­ers and cus­tomers at the grand open­ing of the new­est branch of South­ern Her­itage Bank.

Lee Ste­wart

Jeff Agee

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