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VOL. 125 | NO. 91 | Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Above and Beyond

Banks pull out all stops for service

By Andy Meek

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Bank of Bartlett employee Kathy Jackson gives customer Laurens Vesey, 81, a bag of popcorn.  The bank fires up an old-fashioned popcorn machine every Friday for its customers.
Photo: Lance Murphey

Banks try a little of everything to get customers in the door and build goodwill in the communities they serve.

A slightly higher rate on CDs than the bank down the street is paying; tellers who remember details like where a customer’s children go to school; fundraisers; sponsorships.

Bank of Bartlett has one of the more unique approaches among community banks in Shelby County: Every Friday and Saturday, the private, family-run bank serves customers piping hot bags of a familiar white, fluffy snack.

The bank cranks up a movie theater-sized popcorn machine painted bright red and decorated with old-fashioned, yellow lettering.

As if that’s not enough, a plate of fresh-baked cookies is often set invitingly nearby.

“The aroma fills every nook and cranny of every bank,” said bank president Harold Byrd. “Our main office has about 20,000 square feet, so no matter where you are in the bank, everybody knows when the popcorn is going.”

Bank of Bartlett has served popcorn to customers for all of its 30-year history. Every time the bank opened a new branch, a new popcorn machine was brought in to continue the tradition.

It’s mostly about fostering an old-fashioned feel of the bank as a community gathering spot.

Bank of Bartlett employee Kathy Jackson prepares a batch of popcorn. The popcorn and cookies are a tradition at the bank every Friday for customers.
Photo: Lance Murphey

“We thought this was a good way to make families and children feel welcome,” Byrd said.

Customers frequently grab a bag of popcorn when they come in to make a deposit. They’ll chat with bank tellers and officials like Byrd while watching TV in the lobby.

It’s an example of the new spirit that pervades banks in general as they work overtime to ditch their image during the recession when they came to be seen as profit machines peddling time bombs disguised as houses.

Large banks now are tripping over themselves to see who can design the simplest, most basic account statements free of accounting and legal jargon squeezed for years onto the same sheets of paper.

The banking industry’s “C” word is commercial real estate, and in one annual report and shareholder meeting after another, bank executives – when they can – tout how little exposure they have to that scourge.

Bankers can also identify with the old adage about all politics being local.

Regions Bank last week coordinated a Share the Good Week across the 16 states Regions serves.

Roughly 350 events were scheduled, including several in Memphis. Events like Regions employees providing dinner for volunteers and families at the St. Jude Ronald McDonald House.

The recent flooding in West and Middle Tennessee was another opportunity for local banks to pass the hat.

The SunTrust Foundation donated $50,000 to the American Red Cross in support of its flood relief efforts in Tennessee communities.

“SunTrust and its teammates are active members of the communities we serve, and this donation on behalf of our foundation is one more way for us to support and aid those areas and our friends and neighbors adversely affected by the storms and unprecedented floodwaters,” said Johnny Moore, SunTrust’s Memphis Region president and CEO.

Regions is offering personal and business loan payment deferrals, credit card account assistance, penalty-free withdrawals from CDs and a variety of consumer and business loans and lines of credit for flooding victims.

The First Tennessee Foundation has set aside as much as $500,000 to provide to Tennesseans affected by the storms. That maximum amount will come by matching employee and customer donations.

First Tennessee Bank is also offering financial assistance for flood victims. For current borrowers, the bank is offering limited-time payment deferrals and credit card limit increases.

The bank is also offering the possibility of real estate loans, unsecured loans and new and used auto loans for new borrowers affected by the flooding.

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 312 16,192
MORTGAGES 0 293 18,685
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 0 0
BUILDING PERMITS 0 655 33,126
BANKRUPTCIES 0 237 10,737
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 112 5,198
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 127 11,344
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 94 3,867

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