by Mark Carter
Reynie Rutledge says he didn’t know for sure he was going to be a banker until he bought First Security Bank in 1977 at age 27.
A graduate of the University of Arkansas with a degree in industrial engineering, Rutledge worked at the old Worthen Bank in Little Rock and First National Bank in Springdale but still wasn’t sure banking would stick.
“Those experiences helped me better understand the role banking and finance play in business growth and the economic growth in our local communities,” he says. “When the opportunity to purchase First Security Bank in Searcy came along, that’s when I knew I was going to be a banker.”
What a banker he’s been. First Security Bancorp, the holding company Rutledge formed in 1981, now boasts more than 1,000 employees and 70 locations across the state. First Security is one of the fastest growing financial institutions in the state over the past 20 years, and now boasts $5.4 billion in assets and $118 billion in total capital.
The 14-story First Security Center in downtown Little Rock anchors the River Market District, though the company’s corporate base remains in Searcy, and the bank’s commitment to remain in Arkansas distinguishes it from other local banks that have expanded out of state.
Its growth hasn’t gone unnoticed. Rutledge, chairman of First Security Bancorp, is among the four 2020 inductees into the University of Arkansas Walton Business College Hall of Fame. Rutledge, it turns out, was on the Walton College dean’s executive advisory that helped launch the hall in 1999, and he takes great pride in being inducted himself. That group created the by-laws that established the criteria to recognize the state’s business leaders each year.
“First of all, the recognition is for First Security Bank, our employees across the state and the great customers we have in Arkansas – all of whom helped make this possible,” Rutledge says. “Being involved with this organization to recognize Arkansas’ business leaders has been a great source of inspiration and pride. I am truly honored and humbled to be among those recognized.”
The journey even went full circle. Rutledge financed the First Security deal with help from old haunt Worthen and in 2003, First Security bought First National of Springdale. Rutledge’s recipe for success includes hard work, persistence, treating people the way you want to be treated, good employees and “a good bit of luck along the way never hurts.” Founded as Security Bank in downtown Searcy in 1932, First Security has benefited from being privately owned and able to more acutely pursue its vision, Rutledge says.
“Not being a public company definitely has its advantages,” he says. “Our ability to meet and make decisions concerning First Security is not hindered by the same regulatory constraints as a publicly-traded company. And being in Arkansas offers a family business a great opportunity to work with others, create relationships and help each other be successful.”
Rutledge wants his institution to be good for Arkansas, because Arkansas has been good to First Security. Its expansion across the state began with the acquisition of Peoples Bank & Trust of Mountain Home in 1989 and two years later, Citizens Bank of Beebe.
Other milestones include the acquisitions of Farmers Bank & Trust in Clarksville (1995), First Community Bank in Conway (1997) and Union Bank of Benton (2009). Rutledge launched First Security Bank of Northwest Arkansas in 1999; acquired investment banking firm Crews & Associates in 2000 and established First Security Leasing in 2001.
The growth helped ensure a continued family stewardship. Sons Adam, John and Nathan all followed their dad’s footsteps into banking, and each holds an executive leadership position within the company. Oldest son John is president and CEO of First Security’s central Arkansas operations; middle son Adam is president and CEO of its Northwest Arkansas operations, and youngest son Nathan is managing director of Crews & Associates.
Having his sons on board is a good thing for the bank’s future, Rutledge says.
“Succession planning and preparing for the future can be difficult for any small business, including family businesses. Many small banks are dealing with these struggles today due to the lack of the next generation being ready and available to keep the business moving forward.”
Moving forward seems to be the plan. Rutledge says First Security has enjoyed “tremendous opportunities leading to great success for us as well as others in the banking industry.”
With a hint of cautious optimism, Rutledge says Arkansas should continue to see businesses and banking succeed over the next few years.
“While I’m not sure the next decade will hold the same opportunities, we all currently enjoy the benefits of a strong economy, record low unemployment and a very favorable interest rate environment for business growth,” he says.