Signature Bank's Gary Head on Putting a Postive Stamp on Community Commerce

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Oct. 9, 2017 12:00 am   3 min read

Gary Head, chairman, president and CEO of Signature Bank (Beth Hall)

Gary Head, 57, is chairman, president and CEO of Signature Bank of Arkansas, which he and fellow investors started in 2005 after raising $44 million in startup capital. Signature Bank, based in Fayetteville, has five branches statewide — three in northwest Arkansas and two in Brinkley — and had deposits of $450 million as of August 2017.

Head was the president of Arvest Bank of Fayetteville before leaving to start a new bank. He has been in the banking industry for 35 years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and banking from the University of Arkansas and a master’s in banking from Louisiana State University.

Head says that of Signature’s approximate 800 stockholders, all but four live in Arkansas. The bank employs 140 people.

What have you learned in the past decade that made you a better banker and Signature a better bank?
We have learned that an economy as strong as ours can struggle as can all the customers in it. We had — like everyone — troubles in the economic downturn, yet stayed with our customers through those tough times and came out the other side bruised but not broken. We were the last ones to get in trouble because we had really good clients. Today, we know what a really hard time feels like and want to make sure we shepherd our bank and our customers through the next 20 years or so without having such difficult times.

Signature Bank has been at five branches since selling three in 2010. Are there any planned acquisitions?
We have exceptional electronic banking that most of our customers take advantage of that allows for far fewer branches than most we compete with. We are planning on returning to Rogers in the near future and other northwest Arkansas locations that make sense.

Why are community banks important?
The number of banks in the state is really dwindling. There are so many fewer state banks than there were when I began my career 35 years ago. It’s disturbing because the creation of small business comes from community banks. Who sponsors your kids’ Boys & Girls Club football? Who do you go to if you want to start a business? Who do you consult with if you want to add on to your home because your family is bigger? I don’t know who you call if it is Bank of America. What happens if Bank of America and Chase are the only two banks in town? My goodness, I don’t think they’re going to give the school money and cook hot dogs for the football team.

How important is local banking to small-business creation in the community?
It’s fun to watch someone start from nowhere and accomplish really cool things. That’s what the focus of a community bank is. If you decide to leave Arkansas Business and start a bookstore, where would you go? I don’t think you’re going to go online and fill out an application because you’re going to want to talk to somebody. You go to your local banker because you want some advice, too. When we loan money to somebody, we partner with them. I have money in the deal, too. The best part of my job is half the time I’m a rally cap for the people who bank with me.

What regulations would you like to see changed or eliminated to help banks such as yours?
I would like to see a difference in the Dodd-Frank law for banks under $10 billion to make it a fair playing field for smaller banks. Dodd-Frank was created because we had a financial crisis and that was the reaction to the consolidation of all these Wall Street firms and all these banks. What makes any community bank in our part of the world important is its focus is on the community. My bosses are all local people. They can hire and fire me every day with their wallet. If you look at the rate in which small banks have gone out of business since the Dodd-Frank deal, you’d have to blame part of it on that.



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