Summit CEO Ross Whipple on Arkansas' 4 Biggest Banking Issues

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 12:00 am  

Ross Whipple

Ross Whipple is the chairman and CEO of Summit Bancorp Inc. He is also chairman of the board of trustees at Henderson State University and a board member of the Arkansas Forestry Association and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

Whipple grew up in Malvern and heads Summit Bancorp Inc., a $1.2 billion-asset bank holding company based in Arkadelphia. Whipple also is chairman of the Ross Foundation of Arkadelphia, which manages about 63,000 acres of timberland for conservation as well as charitable purposes in the Clark County area. The nonprofit helps fund the Arkadelphia Promise, providing college scholarships and other resources for all graduating seniors at Arkadelphia High School. His Whipple Family Ltd. owns 62,000 acres of timberland in south Arkansas.

He receieved his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Henderson State University at Arkadelphia, 1973, and an MBA from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, 1976.

What led you to become a banker?

The president of a local bank (Merchants & Planters Bank of Arkadelphia) was leaving, and fellow board members asked if I would step in and take the job. I told them I would do it for 90 days. Well, two banks and 25 years later, here we are.

What are the biggest issues facing Arkansas bankers?

Arkansas bankers are facing many challenges — one being that outside northwest Arkansas, there is very little organic growth. Secondly, regulation is a burden to both large and small banks. Thirdly, attracting talented and competent people to smaller markets will be a challenge. Lastly, and probably the most important due to issues listed above, will be profitability. Scale is more important than ever before in attaining efficiency because margins are going to compress for the foreseeable future and increased earnings will come from scale and managing cost.

Consolidation seems to be the word of the hour for banks. How will that affect the roll call of Arkansas lenders during the next five years?

I believe consolidation to be inevitable, due to the challenges previously mentioned that the industry faces. We have approximately 7,000 U.S. banks today. In five to seven years, that number could be 4,500 to 5,000. Arkansas banking will feel the effects.

If you were given one wish that could change any aspect of your profession, what would that be?

Outside of overregulation, I believe our industry needs criteria or certification. The only requirement I have to hold my job is to “fog a mirror” — that is, just breathe. There are no education requirements, no certification and no required continuing education.

What was your best/worst business decision?

As it relates to banking, my best decision was starting Summit Bank after the sale of Horizon Bank to what was Mercantile Bank and now U.S. Bank. The worst would be starting a loan production office in Fayetteville in 2007. Thank goodness we weren’t there long enough to do very much damage. We did have the foresight to shut it down after seven to eight months.

What are some of the important questions weighing on the minds of bank customers?

A lot depends on whether you are a depositor or a borrower. Depositors want and need interest rates to rise, and borrowers wish them to remain stable. They are also concerned about how increased regulation may deny them access to credit.

What is the best piece of advice that you have received during your career?

You run out of money before you run out of deals. Your capital must be patient.

 

 

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