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VOL. 127 | NO. 39 | Monday, February 27, 2012

Triumph Bank’s Mantra: Say ‘Yes’ to Customer


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Entrepreneurs get in the game for many different reasons. They do it to make money, certainly, and to maintain a degree of control over that money and their professional lives.

Will Chase, right, is president and CEO, and Hilliard Crews is chairman of the board of directors of Triumph Bank. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

For many, though, there is an urge to participate within and for a community they understand, live and work in. These are the reasons Triumph Bank was founded, and why their board, 15-strong, is made up, not of bankers per se, but of entrepreneurs.

“All of these entrepreneurs challenge the traditional banking way of thinking,” said board chairman Hilliard Crews who is the founder and CEO of Shelby Group International Inc. which manufactures and distributes industrial gloves, safety glasses and related products worldwide.

The board members of Triumph understand the process, not only of banking and risk factoring, but of what it takes to begin, maintain and grow a business.

It’s an insight that is brought to board and loan committee meetings where bureaucracy and red tape are cut through, wait times are minimized and processes streamlined. And it’s an environment where there is rarely a simple “no” for an answer.

In fact, Will Chase, president and CEO of Triumph, likens the process to the Bailey Building & Loan company from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“We have an old-timey loan committee … everybody comes in and the loan officer presents the loan,” Chase said.

The idea, he continued, is to have the ability to say “yes” to the customer, and part of the success of the bank has been in trying to figure out how to make that happen.

The idea behind Triumph was to have a locally owned, managed and operated bank that would have local decision-making. It’s the advantage of a true community bank, especially in an era of diminishing trust in faceless institutions with nameless decision-makers.

Where 2008 may have been a year of realignment and circling the wagons for some of them, Triumph saw it as an opportunity for growth and a new commitment to the community as the disgruntled began to shop around to find what might be available, to learn what it was their neighbors want in a lender.

With big banks, Chase said, “generally there’s a hierarchy, there’s a decision process and, depending on where you fit into the process as a customer, the decision may not be made by the people you sit in front of and talk to every day.”

A typical customer of Triumph is the family-owned business owner and operator looking for credit or with an idea for making money, as well as the managers of those businesses, professionals and, even in this uncertain time, homebuilders.

“We like homebuilders, Chase said. “When other people were not being as nice to homebuilders as they should have been deserved to be treated, we stepped in and we’ve been providing capital to that professional group since day one.”

Triumph was founded with $20 million in capital in 2006, a time when banks all over town were being swallowed up by out of town companies – Renasant Bank by The Peoples Bank & Trust Co., Union Planters Bank by Regions Bank, National Bank of Commerce by SunTrust Bank – as an alternative to those looking for a decidedly local institution.

The bank now boasts more than $300 million in assets – greater than 20 percent growth the past two years – and 4,000 customers. Triumph continues with its local approach and is keeping its footprint relatively small with only four full-service locations, including the purchase of Arlington Community Bank last year.

Now in its sixth year, Triumph is concentrating on internal growth and to double in size over the next four to five years. The board is looking to expand the bank’s mortgage operations as part of a long-term plan, having recently gone from a one-person mortgage shop to a four-person team in six months.

“We feel like our best opportunity is for internal growth,” Crews said. “We’ve got a good system, we’ve got some good people and we’ve done real well on asset quality.”

The key to that asset quality, Chase said, is in working with a client to make what might be a “no” to a loan application become a “yes.” It is about optimism in the process, in the customer and in the community itself.

“The numbers are always very important, but character is always No. 1,” Chase said. “Our job is to allocate capital on some basis that’s with a risk adjustment so that we provide a rate that’s competitive in the market place that also gets a return for our stockholders. We probably make more business decisions than we make lending decisions.”

PROPERTY SALES 57 280 1,209
MORTGAGES 55 244 916
BUILDING PERMITS 158 699 2,751