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Banks Like Us

Entrepreneur-owned banks give new meaning to the term business friendly.

It wasn't long ago that entrepreneurs thought of bankers as no less ominous a figure than big brother--you couldn't trust them, and they certainly weren't out to help you. Frustrated entrepreneurs often saw themselves as just a number in a long line of faceless small businesses that bankers turned away by the hundreds.

But not anymore.

Today, your loan officer not only knows your name, he or she may have even helped you write your business plan. And the relationships between entrepreneurs and bankers can only improve when the newest banks in your town are being started by people just like you: entrepreneurs.

"Over the past few years, we've seen mergers and consolidations, and that [has created] a pocket where service has been diminished," says Ann Grochala, director of bank operations for the Independent Bankers Association of America. "As a result, bankers have found opportunities to create new banks."

One such recent start-up is The Business Bank of Baton Rouge, started by former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer, Greater Baton Rouge Business Report publisher Rolfe McCollister Jr. and banking veteran Pete Boone. In a unique effort to attract both customers and stockholders, Roemer visited local businesses and rounded up 291 shareholders (none investing more than $250,000) to create a truly local business bank.

"We wanted to be a real community bank and not be perceived as [being] owned by one or two people," says Boone. "We're going to cater to the business community. The people on our loan committees understand the needs of [small] businesses because they've been there."

At Missouri Bank & Trust in Kansas City, Missouri, bank president Grant Burcham and his staff are known for taking the risks and providing the services small businesses rely on. "Our advantage is our ability to know each of our customers [personally]," says Burcham, whose family purchased the bank in 1984. "We loan money to people, not just balance sheets and income statements. We sell ourselves as a value-added bank because we're also a small business and a resource for [business owners]."

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This article was originally published in the June 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Banks Like Us.

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