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VOL. 7 | NO. 24 | Saturday, June 7, 2014

Touch of History

First Tennessee gives customers a look at its 150-year past

By Andy Meek

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For its 150th anniversary, First Tennessee Bank didn’t want to only blow out the candles, so to speak.

In addition to commemorating the enviable milestone of longevity in an industry as frequently upended as banking, the Memphis-based financial institution wanted to help customers directly feel the impact of the bank’s presence in their community. At the same time, the bank also wants to let customers literally reach out and touch the bank’s history.

First Tennessee has produced a coffee-table-quality book, “The First 150: The First Tennessee Story,” which lays out its story by putting events into a historical perspective.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

To help with the latter, First Tennessee has installed a touchscreen kiosk in the lobby of its Downtown headquarters. Kim Cherry, the executive vice president of corporate communications for First Tennessee parent First Horizon National Corp., said the kiosk will help present customers a dynamic view of the First Tennessee story.

The kiosk, which was developed with help from Memphis firms Mind Over Data and Design500, also will help put the bank’s story into perspective, showing how historical facts correspond with the bank’s and the state’s development.

To understand how far back First Tennessee’s history reaches, consider that the bank – which has the 14th-oldest national bank charter in the country – was founded in 1864, the year president Lincoln was elected to a second term.

Meanwhile, First Tennessee’s celebration of its milestone year has included a slew of other moves that honor the occasion.

The company also has produced a coffee-table-quality book, “The First 150: The First Tennessee Story,” which lays out its story in a way not unlike the kiosks, putting events into a historical perspective. Already, First Tennessee has given away about 13,000 copies to chambers of commerce, civic organizations and more.

“It combines the history of First Tennessee with the history of Tennessee,” Cherry said.

For example, the book notes how First Tennessee survived the Civil War, yellow fever epidemics, the Great Depression, two World Wars, decades of social change – and how it still endures.

For its 150th anniversary, and for the first time in the Downtown Memphis building’s history, First Tennessee Bank at night is lighting its headquarters at 165 Madison Ave. in a single color – blue.

(Memphis News File/Brandon Dill)

It’s also played a role in the unfolding of that history. In 1864, for example, the federal government chose the bank – originally named First National Bank – to distribute salary payments to Union troops stationed here.

When the yellow fever broke out in 1878, the bank handled relief money donated from other cities, and during World War II, the bank helped provide financing to firms involved in the war effort.

The First Tennessee Foundation was launched in 1993 and focuses its giving around education, economic development, health and human services, and arts and culture.

Beyond education, First Tennessee’s anniversary year also includes a charitable component. For a 150-day period that started March 25, the bank is giving away $5,000 a day, every day, to a different nonprofit.

“When it wraps up, we’ll have given away $750,000,” said Cherry, who a few weeks ago said the bank already had given out about 60 grants. “We started giving away $5,000 a day on March 25, our anniversary day, and that will take us all the way to August.”

Caitlin Markle interfaces with the touchscreen kiosk in the lobby of First Tennessee’s Downtown headquarters.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

Eligible organizations 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.

Already a few weeks ago, Cherry said the bank’s 1 millionth vote was in sight – with almost three months still to go. She added that the public can vote for up to 10 different nonprofits every day from every device they have, including PCs, tablets, smartphones and more.

Among other things the bank is doing for its anniversary celebration, its headquarters at 165 Madison Ave. is for the first time in the building’s history being lit in a single color – blue.

“With all this, we’re trying to invest in and celebrate and give back as much as we can to the state that’s made our first 150 years possible,” Cherry said.

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