Every Christmas for more than a decade, Amelia Ricks will step back in time and take a look back at the office Christmas party photo from 2008 – her first year on the job at Birmingham’s Oakworth Capital Bank.
The business started in March of that very tumultuous year in Birmingham’s financial history.
She was hired as part of a team of 24 to manage the fledgling bank’s lobby experience, greeting customers as they arrived, serving as a cashier. They were all doing a bit of everything in those days, she says.
“What got me was the story I heard from the management team,” Ricks said. “They wanted to create something different, something that felt old school. Where we knew our clients, we knew their families, we had a real relationship. It was very different from anything I had seen before.
Fourteen years later, the formula continues to work. Oakworth Capital is expanding into the Charlotte area next year, with locations in the Nashville and Mobile market as well as offshore US 280.
Founded as a boutique bank by former executives of Birmingham’s biggest lending institutions, Oakworth grew out of the banking ecosystem that flourished in the Magic City before the 2008 economic crisis, before consolidations and mergers changed the financial landscape of the city.
When Oakworth Capital started, CEO Scott Reed said, its founders raised about $37 million in capital, with the expectation of earning about 5.25% overnight, the federal funds rate at the time. . In January 2009, after the market crash, they were earning zero. Yet the company never missed a target profitability goal and felt confident that it could weather future storms.
Since then, he has built a reputation for consistency. For four years, it was ranked #1 Best American Bank to Work For by American Banker. It also has a philosophy that it shares not only with highly successful banks, but also with successful businesses, said client and board member Sanjay Singh.
Singh, a Birmingham entrepreneur and investor, was one of Oakworth’s first clients, signing “when I didn’t have a penny to my name”, he jokes. He was introduced to the bank’s founders through mutual friends and was looking for an experience similar to what he had seen in private white-glove European banks.
“You see this rising class of wealth in middle class America, business owners – they have all these banking needs,” he said. “But the big banks, the little guys, they’re not made for each other. With the big banks, their business, their money, comes from big business. It was a bank based on the principle that I will take every facet of your business, every aspect of your life, and integrate it into a designated banker. I said, ‘Where can I register and how quickly?’
CEO Scott Reed said the principle behind Oakworth Capital’s services is to learn as much as possible about what its customer base wants and replicate the experience in all of its markets. By documenting the mechanisms that underpin the business operating environment, Reed said, she is able to measure results and coach associates to deliver a consistent customer experience.
“We’ve spent the last 14 1/2 years trying to take really good notes and focus on what we do well,” Reed said. “We believe that at this point we are at an inflection point. We are excited about what awaits us over the next 10 years.
Part of the management approach, in addition to the company’s core values, was to study the customer experience in all its facets. Oakworth Capital considered well-known brands in other areas – Ritz-Carlton, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A – in addition to their products. Rushing into any location in Oakworth should be tactilely similar, Reed said.
“They do all the stuff that we talked about, but it’s also familiar to the senses,” he said. “When you walk into one of their locations, it looks great. And that’s important. If a client is based in Birmingham and located in Nashville or Charlotte, the environment and services should be similar.
Ricks is part of that experience. Since joining the company, she has worked in operations, customer support and business development. A typical day consists of working with client advisors on both the commercial and private banking side, meeting prospects and clients. She is on the phone a lot, she laughs.
“One of my favorite things is getting to know our customers,” she said. “Knowing their families. Know their trades. Birmingham is still a very small community, so we see these people at football games, in the park and at the grocery store.
Singh said he was careful early on to see if the bank could deliver on its service promises.
“What really impressed me was that they never compromised on the quality of the people working there,” he said.
On the horizon, Oakworth envisions markets that “look a lot like” Charlotte and Nashville, Reed said. This means expanding into the Southeast, but also into markets where geographic ties are not the usual route.
“We could focus on being the expert in providing capital to a certain type of industry, to really deliver value beyond our competitors in that space,” he said. .
Although Birmingham’s banking landscape is very different from Oakworth’s early days, the company is still looking to build something that can be successfully replicated and grow as its customer experience hones. But grow without losing this fundamental philosophy.
“We really feel like something special is going on here,” Reed said. “There’s no reason we can’t build a world-class organization, known in its particular industry, right here in Alabama. My opinion is that this does not happen enough. We have the expertise in this state, in this city, to act on a bold goal.
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