Stan Wilmoth is president of Heritage Bank of Nevada, a six-branch bank that operates in western Nevada.
You’re a small banker in the sense that you are president of a small bank. Rather than running away from it, you actually use the bank’s size in promotions and advertising. Who came up with that idea?
I think in our marketing plans during the initial phase of the bank was to be that problem solver for small businesses in our market. That was the one advantage we had as a community bank, was that we could react. We knew the market, and we were problem solvers. We had decision makers on the ground that could help change peoples’ lives. We knew that, if you talk to customers of large banks, their number one complaint was when they had a problem they couldn’t get ahold of a decision maker. So we decided that, if the majority of their complaints was that, we’d got after that market.
It’s hard to imagine the same technique working for big banks. How do you say, “We’re big”—and have it sound well?
I don’t know how they do that. And frankly, I wouldn’t go back to working for a large bank again because you’re handcuffed because they want to centralize the decision-making process, and it prohibits local guys from making decisions.
At this time of the year the most visible banker is usually Henry S. Potter. How do you feel about having him as a representative?
[Laughs.] Well, George Bailey really had the right idea. He took local deposits from his friends and neighbors, he gave them a decent return on their deposits and loaned it out to his friends and neighbors that needed the money to build homes and improve their lives. And even in a point of crisis they were able to rally the town around them to support [measures against] what could have been a catastrophe.
Where do you go from where you are?
The size of our bank will be predicated on loan demand because we have plenty of liquidity. … We’re looking for qualified borrowers and the size of the bank will be predicated upon how many qualified borrowers we can find in the near term. And we’re looking for those guys. That’s a fallacy that banks are frozen up and aren’t making loans. That’s just wrong. We’re trying to make loans as quickly as we can. We have way too much money, and we’d like to loan it out. So I think the branching in Gardnerville, Carson City, Reno is probably where we need to be. We might have a couple of infill projects to do, like maybe look into that eastern Nevada potential.
Is there a point in growth where you lose the cachet of being a small bank?
I think if you hire qualified individuals you can empower, and you control it that way, and it allows them to make decisions, then you can expand exponentially using those empowered employees. But you need to build those chains and we’ve done that—slowly, methodically got people that thought like us, and we’ve empowered them to make decisions at each one of our branches. So we feel like, if you go back to the original premise of the bank, that the major complaint at the big banks was they couldn’t find somebody who could make a decision because they centralized that power, we don’t want to do that. We want to continue to empower those employees to make decisions no matter where we go.