Preserving Hometown Hospitality
Founded in 1907 in Barwick, Ga., Barwick Bank has a longstanding history within the community and embraces the southern hospitality of its hometown. When new ownership took over the 116-year-old bank in early 2020, it was important that they respected the bank’s legacy while tactfully implementing plans to modernize and expand the footprint from South Georgia to North Florida.
“The Barwick community really embraced us,” said Barwick Bank President and CEO Chad Bowling. “We weren’t sure how that was going to go, initially, with us Floridians coming up to be a part of their hometown bank. We promised that we weren’t going to come in and change everything, or take things away.”
Bowling was part of a group of businessmen from St. Augustine who purchased a majority interest in the bank. The group reassured former President Fred Jones that they planned to keep the Barwick branch open, having recognized its value to the community. The bank was born out of a dream of some local families to bring banking to their town; since its founding in 1907, the bank has been locally owned. Jones was appointed president in 1979 and continues to serve on the board of directors today. While the bank charter is in Georgia and the original Barwick branch continues to have local management, the holding company is headquartered in St. Augustine.
“We were very involved with the Barwick team on a daily basis, and always asked for their opinions. We wanted to grow and evolve the bank while using the processes that were already in place,” Bowling said. “I think including them in those kinds of decisions was crucial. We’re all in this together. We didn’t want to run the bank like a dictatorship. We wanted to do what was best for the communities, clients and shareholders.”
One key change was implementing new technology and a core provider. Before its sale in 2020, Barwick Bank had no debit cards or online banking. The staff ran ledger books and didn’t have an electronic banking system. “Our customers were very happy to have debit cards and online banking capabilities,” Bowling said. “The advancements have been well received in both Barwick and Florida. Without branches on every corner, it’s important for us to have that technology for our business customers.”
In just three years, the bank has experienced significant growth.
“When we purchased the bank, it was a $13 million bank. Very conservative. Now we’re $370 million in assets. So over three years, we’ve grown quite a bit,” said Executive Vice Chairman Jim Bange. “We came in and converted the bank to a core system. But in that time, we’ve also worked to preserve the culture of hometown hospitality and care for the community.”
The bank’s team of four has grown to 53 to accommodate the digital banking launch and rapid growth. Many of Bowling’s management team previously worked with him at Reunion Bank of Florida (which sold to Alabama National in 2015), including Bange.
“Chad and I and the rest of our team have worked together for a number of years,” Bange said. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and we take care of each other. That’s important to us.”
The team has very little employee turnover and is particularly proud of the loyalty of both its staff and customers. As Bowling and Bange assured former bank president Jones, they intended to preserve and nurture the culture of hometown hospitality that was so deeply felt in Barwick. In St. Augustine, bank customers appreciate the fitting “coastal vibe.” The bank’s market executive has surfboards in his office; when the waves are good, surfing with other locals is a great opportunity to do business. Bange says the team forgoes coats and ties. The bank branch in Daytona Beach has a beer tap (sourced by a local brewery, of course). The check stands and boardroom table are made from local wood.
“We try to source everything locally,” Bange said. Bowling adds, “That’s also how we operate the bank. We take in our deposits locally and we lend locally. We spend our time and money here.”
The bank’s tagline is “For Locals. By Locals.” The bank is involved in the local community — sponsoring little leagues, surf competitions — and strongly encourages employees to serve and donate their time. Leadership hires people within the markets to manage each branch. Bowling, for example, has lived in St. Augustine for nearly 20 years. When it comes to hiring, Bowling prioritizes character and work ethic over banking experience.
“We can teach the nuts and bolts of banking,” Bowling said. “But you can’t teach customer service skills, or ethics.”
Today, Barwick Bank has branches in Barwick and Boston, Ga., as well as St. Augustine, Daytona Beach and Gainesville. The Daytona Beach office opened in early spring. The St. Augustine branch is under construction while leadership works out of a temporary office; the brand-new building will likely open within the next year. In May, the team expanded into Boston, about 10 miles east of Barwick, having been approached by the city to fill a need in the underserved community. When the previous local bank left town, it refused to let another bank move into the space. So Barwick Bank moved into City Hall, and City Hall moved into the old bank building.
“We’re going to focus on growing in the markets we’re in,” Bange said. “Our customers who have banked with us for a long time have needs, and they’re growing. We get a lot of business from those customers’ referrals. They tell their friends and family, who then come to bank with us. We’ve grown organically.”
While bank leadership is certainly proud of the bank’s growth in the last three years, they are most grateful for a successful transition and for the favor of their communities.
“I think our employee and customer loyalty is the best thing to be proud of,” Bowling said. “I feel like we’re making a difference in the communities we serve.”
Jim Bange is a Florida native, born in Miami and raised in Lake Park. After graduating from Stetson University, Bange went to work for local State Representative Sam Bell, who helped Bange get into banking as a credit analyst at American Pioneer Savings Bank in Daytona Beach. He then worked as a credit analyst and credit manager for Barnett Bank / Volusia County until he was approached by Tom Ingram and Jimmy Ford at SouthTrust Bank to become a commercial lender. After stints at SouthTrust and Colonial Bank, Bange helped start Reunion Bank of Florida in 2008 with Mike Sleaford. It was after Reunion Bank of Florida sold in 2014 that Bange began having discussions with Chad Bowling and Mark Chastain about starting a new community bank. When they heard about a bank in Barwick, Ga., for sale, the team met with the CEO of Barwick Banking Company and quickly agreed on a purchase that closed January 1, 2020. Bange lives with his wife, Kelley, in Flagler Beach, and together they have a family of four grown children.
Chad Bowling has been in banking for over 22 years. He began his banking career as a teller at SouthTrust Bank and has held a variety of positions with experience on both the retail and commercial side of the business. Bowling currently serves on the Board of the St. Augustine YMCA and is a member of the Rotary Club of St. Augustine. Bowling’s favorite aspect of banking is being able to apply a common sense approach to find a solution that will serve the various needs in the community. He enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, boating, sports, and traveling.
THE MAGAZINE OF THE FLORIDA BANKERS ASSOCIATION WWW.FLORIDABANKERS.COM AUGUST 2023