By Karen Kroll
Consider Daffy and Dizzy Dean, brothers and professional baseball players during the 1930s. And the fiddle. And a museum dedicated to bauxite. At first glance, these items may seem to have little in common with each other, let alone a tie to banking. Of course, first glances often prove less than accurate.
If you happen to be a proud Arkansan, you may have already connected the dots. And First Security Bancorp may have you in its crosshairs as a potential customer. Based in Searcy, Arkansas, First Security has flourished by doubling down on its Arkansas roots and catering to the in-state market.
This bank is a repository of information about state history and culture, including the stories behind the Arkansas-born Dean brothers, the fiddle, Arkansas’ state instrument—as well as the bauxite museum located in Bauxite, Arkansas. Not coincidentally, all of First Security’s 77 locations and 1,000-plus employees are located within the state borders.
The benefits of staying in-state
First Security’s approach appears to be working. The bank’s consolidated assets have nearly doubled over the past ten years, growing from $2.72 billion to $5.43 billion.
The decision to focus on Arkansas was launched during the 2008 downturn, says Scott Brady, SVP of marketing. At the time, many banks were availing themselves of funding through TARP—the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Through the TARP programs, the U.S. government, with a goal of strengthening the financial sector, invested in financial institutions. Some of First Security’s competitors who participated in TARP also acquired banks outside of Arkansas.
First Security decided pave its own path forward. “Our leadership said, ‘We won’t take federal assistance to grow because we don’t need it,’” Brady explains. The bank was well capitalized, and had emphasized slow, steady growth. The executive team decided to continue to provide quality service and to focus on the strength of First Security’s Arkansas roots. “We said: ‘We’re here and we’ll continue our emphasis on the local community,’” Brady says.
In 2011, the bank launched its “Only in Arkansas” marketing campaign, says Kristi Thurmon, VP of marketing. At first, the initiative comprised billboards, alongside a significant internal drive encouraging employees to engage customers in conversation on the benefits of the bank’s Arkansas focus.
Then in 2014, First Security launched the Only in Arkansas blog, which generates content highlighting businesses, festivals, food and culture within Arkansas. Its focus, not surprisingly, is the fun, heartwarming and occasionally quirky people, places, and events with ties to the state.
The goal: building relationships
To be sure, the goal isn’t simply to highlight interesting facts. Instead, it’s to use social media to nurture relationships. “Our strategy has always been relationship-focused,” Brady says. “Social media is a good extension to continue that conversation.”
It’s also an opportunity to engage with customers in a fun way that extends beyond checking and savings accounts. There’s a more practical benefit as well: stories about community events, while they need to be accurate and engaging, don’t require the volume of disclosures that a post on, say, checking accounts would.
Thurmon and her team share the Only in Arkansas posts on social media. “We see Only in Arkansas as a branding opportunity and not a sales funnel,” Thurmon explains. “We want people to see our message, ‘everything is great about Arkansas,’ as much as possible.” Recent Facebook posts featured Fat Bottom Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe in Hot Springs, top road trips for fall color and raising a hog for the Arkansas State Fair.
Over the past five years, First Security has posted about 2,500 Only in Arkansas stories. Across all its social media channels, the bank reaches about two million people each month.
As far as Thurmon can tell, few other U.S. banks have taken a similarly lighthearted, often non-banking approach with its social media and online presence.
That’s not to say First Security eschews more traditional marketing approaches. Its social media posts also spotlight First Security bankers out in the community. They also cover the bank’s fleet of about a dozen grills (branded in teal, the bank’s corporate color) as they travel to community events, like football games and fishing derbies.
While First Security has nearly eighty locations within Arkansas, leadership still sees room for organic growth, Thurmon says. For instance, the bank recently entered the Fort Smith market. “We still have lot of communities [that we]may be in and want to grow more—as well as places where we don’t have branches,” she says.
Moreover, management hasn’t eliminated the idea of acquiring other banks, either within or outside Arkansas. “The boss has been clear: if it makes sense, we would make an acquisition,” Brady says.
Of course, First Security also must succeed at the “fundamentals of banking every day,” Brady notes. In spring 2018, it released a major upgrade to its mobile and online banking capabilities. It plans to enable online account openings early in 2020, Brady says. “It’s a continued focus,” Brady says, as more and more business and retail customers interact with the bank electronically.
The changes to First Security’s online banking capabilities complement the activity already underway on the bank’s social media accounts, Brady says. As First Security makes these enhancements, customers will be able to read stories on the blog, ask questions, and comment to online posts, as well as handle more of their banking transactions electronically. “We’re coming full circle,” he says.
Karen M. Kroll is a business and financial services writer and content marketer based in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Email: [email protected].