Market Disruption Opens New Doors for Bear State Financial

by George Waldon  on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014 12:00 am  

The June acquisition of First National Security Co. propelled Bear State Financial Inc. of Harrison into the top tier of Arkansas bank holding companies.

The corporate combination expanded total assets at the public company to more than $1.5 billion, tripled its network of full-service branches and expanded its footprint from northwest Arkansas to southwest and northeast Arkansas. The deal extended Bear State’s reach into Oklahoma, with two branches in Broken Bow and Idabel.

“We’re tickled because now we’re part of a bigger family,” said Chris Wewers, president and CEO of First Federal Bank of Harrison.

A round of reshuffled titles accompanied the $122.4 million cash-stock swap purchase of First National Security, parent company of First National Bank of Hot Springs and Heritage Bank of Jonesboro.

Wewers was the president and CEO of Bear State Financial. Those titles are now held by Rick Massey, who is also chairman of Bear State.

Related: Click to purchase the list of Arkansas banks ranked by return on equity.

“Our story is customer satisfaction,” Massey said.

“We think there’s room for a banking enterprise that values and measures the happiness of its loan and deposit customers, and its people.

“Some of our competitors are focused on efficiencies. We’re not going to be so obsessed with it that we destroy the culture and the franchise we liked in the first place.

“You’ll see more efficiencies out of us by the middle of next year, but we want to use a scalpel and not a chainsaw.”

In addition to his role at First Federal Bank, Wewers is an executive vice president with Bear State, as are Jason Lenderman, president and CEO of First National Bank of Hot Springs, and Steve May, president and CEO of Heritage Bank of Jonesboro.

Lenderman couldn’t be reached for comment.



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