The Influencers: Darrin Williams of Southern Bancorp

by George Waldon  on Monday, Mar. 20, 2017 12:00 am  

Darrin Williams stepped into leadership at Southern Bancorp Inc. after coming to prominence as a successful Little Rock lawyer and state legislator.

As CEO of Southern Bancorp, Williams, 48, oversees blending the two worlds of a for-profit lender and a nonprofit community development financial institution.

The $1.1 billion-asset Southern Bancorp Bank of Arkadelphia, one of the largest rural development banks in the nation, helps support its charitable sister company, Southern Bancorp Community Partners.

After leading at Southern Bancorp for more than three years, Williams believes an unofficial title better defines his role: “I’m not a CEO,” he said. “I’m a CCO, chief cultural officer.”

He focuses his energies on promoting a unified vision and consistent internal branding of the organization, where traditional banking backgrounds are common among the employee roster. Helping accomplish this are 25 cultural ambassadors, staffers from around Southern Bancorp’s network who compose its Brand Council.

“Putting profits above people is what led to the 2008 financial meltdown,” Williams said.

While conventional loans are welcomed as part of the mix, stretching beyond the norm to make a difference is an accepted part of the risk analysis.

That is quantified in a 10-year goal of helping 10,000 people attain affordable housing through ownership, helping create and retain 100,000 jobs and helping empower 1 million customers to save and create wealth.

That last item looks particularly ambitious given Southern Bancorp’s current count of 80,000 bank customers. Williams isn’t daunted.

Helping people build net worth helps break the poverty cycle. To that end, even small things add up, such as helping people save more by preparing tax returns at no charge or providing a check-cashing venue for unbankable clientele with bad credit or no credit.

“We will give people accounts,” Williams said. “Some may not get overdraft protection because of a really bad credit history. We are willing to take chances on people other banks won’t. When it comes to loans, we try not to say no, but we may say, ‘Not yet.’”

On a recent Tuesday morning, Williams was extra stoked, energized after the equivalent of a revival meeting for do-gooder financiers on the other side of the world at the March 7-9 conference of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values in Kathmandu.



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