First Tennessee Celebrates 150th Anniversary

By Andy Meek

First Tennessee Bank is using Abraham Lincoln’s famed top hat as a symbol of the milestone the venerable financial institution is celebrating this year.

First Tennessee Bank, founded in 1864, is planning a series of celebratory events this year to mark the company’s 150th anniversary.

(Daily News File/Brandon Dill)

That’s because the Memphis-based bank was founded in 1864, the year Lincoln was elected to a second term. This year marks the bank’s 150th anniversary, and First Tennessee – which has the 14th-oldest national bank charter in the country – plans to blow out the candles, so to speak, in a big way.

One element of the yearlong celebration starts next month. On March 25, First Tennessee is kicking off 150 Days of Giving, during which the First Tennessee Foundation will give away $5,000 every day to a different nonprofit.

“The winners will be determined by online voting that’s open to the public,” according to material First Tennessee distributed to the media this week.

Voting will open March 10.

Votes will continue to count throughout the 150-day initiative. Organizations that are eligible are nonprofits the First Tennessee Foundation – which gives away $5 million each year – has supported since 2008, either through a direct grant or matching gift for a First Tennessee employee’s donation, which makes more than 1,000 nonprofits eligible.

There’s still plenty more to come for First Tennessee, which also holds the distinction of being the largest bank still based in Tennessee.

“The First 150: The First Tennessee Story,” for example, is a coffee-table book that will celebrate the company’s history, copies of which will be provided to libraries across the state as well as employees, retirees, community leaders and some customers.

The company’s Downtown Memphis headquarters, 165 Madison Ave., will get some attention. A permanent interactive exhibit will be on display there celebrating the company’s history, and the company also is doing something to the building it’s never done before – lighting it in a single color.

From March 25 through the end of the year, the building will glow in blue.

First Tennessee financial centers will carry signage promoting the anniversary, and colorful banner stands will tell the company’s story in every location. And there’s still more.

Government proclamations from cities and towns around the state are planned to declare March 25 First Tennessee Day. A version of the celebration also will happen inside the company, as managers host team celebrations and present employees with an anniversary book, commemorative lapel pin, a top hat and a “logoed leather gift item.”

The bank is also taking the party straight to customers, with a “traveling anniversary party” that will visit First Tennessee locations around the state.

The milestone, it should be noted, comes amid a period of considerable change for both First Tennessee and the banking industry as a whole, with technology and mobile banking especially reshaping the old business model centered around bank branches and the simplicity of making loans and taking deposits.

Bryan Jordan – chairman, president and CEO of First Horizon National Corp., First Tennessee’s parent company – said at an industry conference recently that the bank is rethinking the size and configuration of its branch network.

The bank, for example, launched a concierge-type service in uniquely configured branches at three locations around Tennessee, including one in Memphis. As part of the test, the plan called for giving customers a concierge-type service, with someone greeting them immediately at the door and staying with them through the end of their transaction.

With more banking being done on cell phones, less brick-and-mortar is needed in the company’s network, which is why Jordan has gone so far as to call this period “an inflection point” in branch banking.

In spite of that industry change, though, the messaging for the 150th anniversary celebration also includes something about the future – a specific nod to “the next 150.”