Burt Hicks has made a tremendous impact on the Arkansas banking world in a decade of working in finance. A native of Pearcy, he first worked on Wall Street as an investment banker for Merrill Lynch and Bank of America before returning home to undertake management training with Simmons Bank and graduate law school from UALR and the Clinton School of Public Service.
His star quickly ascended upon his return to Simmons in 2014, as he led investor relations, mergers and acquisitions and was the bank’s corporate secretary before becoming the chief operations and financial officer for its wealth management and specialty lending divisions. By the end of 2018, he had led Simmons’ first investment group and Simmons’ insurance services, in addition to leading its investment, insurance and mortgage divisions.
Hicks took all that invaluable experience with him when he made the leap to co-founding Encore Bank, joining with Chris Roberts and Philip Jett to buy out the shareholders of the Capital Bank, rebrand it and raise an impressive $57 million in startup capital. The married father of a six-year-old daughter, he recently received yet another promotion, taking on the title of president and chief strategy and growth officer at the institution.
Hicks took time to reflect on his impressive career and discuss what’s ahead for Encore Bank.
AMP: What makes Encore stand out from the crowd?
BH: “We’re not a true de novo bank, where you truly start from scratch with a banking charter and start from the ground floor. We’ve made some great hires and took the bank to Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas. This year we’ve expanded to Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin and Springfield, and also had the addition of two lines of business: specialty finance, which is equipment finance and franchise financing, and we’ve also added SBA lending. We’ve got a really remarkable team of extremely talented folks who’ve been in business a long time. We’re trying to build something different here.
Our motto is different: we’re a private boutique bank with a commercial focus, and a branch-light footprint. We don’t want to have a bunch of branches in the markets we go to. We’ll go to any market where we can find the right talent. It’s less about going to Dallas, than going to Dallas with the right person.
As long as the market meets our criteria, which is a regional growth market with some good demographics, and we feel like we can attract high level talent that fits with our culture and our model, we have confidence we can build what we call a coalition of local partners around that leader and their team. Then we determine if we can raise capital in that market and call in 100 shareholders to build the bank around. That’s really what our mission is, regardless of where we go.”
AMP: How has the pandemic and its attendant economic climate affected Encore, and how have you weathered it? How are things looking for 2021?
BH: “The COVID pandemic has, in our minds, really accelerated some trends that were already well underway in the economy. Let’s set aside for a second the impact to the economy and growth and all that. Accelerating trends includes working from home, drop shipping instead of brick and mortar sales, and using takeout and delivery instead of sitting down in restaurants. A lot of those things have been trending in that direction a long time but COVID accelerated that.
For us, we were always trying to be a branch-light bank and do as much digital as we could, so we believe we are well-positioned for the new economy coming out of COVID. Honestly, it’s going to impact the economy from a growth perspective and has had a significant impact this year and probably will for the foreseeable future. The Fed has announced it won’t be doing anything with rates through at least 2023.
For us, we’ll be operating in a lower-interest environment, which is always more difficult for banks, but we do think our business model will help us to still thrive during this lower-rate environment. We’re in really good markets, not just out trying to bank everybody in a given market. We want to bank our shareholders, our bankers’ former clients, their families and businesses. We feel we’re really well positioned there.
This year has been really remarkable. We didn’t do much with PPP loans and never really had those on our books, so a lot of our growth hasn’t been tied to PPP loans or PPP deposits, which has been the case with other banks. We’ve doubled the size of the bank last year and more than doubled the size this year, and it’s been true organic growth.
Our asset qualities remain very strong, but for us coming out of this pandemic, we definitely think consumer preferences are going to continue to shift in the direction they’ve been shifting. Employees are going to want to have a more flexible work environment, and we’re well positioned for that in terms of being flexible on working remotely or working from home a few days a month. We are trying to be forward thinking and believe this is just an acceleration of trends within the economy.”