Signature Bank of Arkansas

City: Little Rock
Category: Category III (76-300 Employees)
Year: 2008

Signature Bank of Arkansas is a finalist for Business of the Year in Category III in its very first year of eligibility. Companies must be at least three years old to be considered for the award, and Signature Bank won't have its fourth birthday until May.

Signature Bank was one of four start-up banks in northwest Arkansas in 2004 and 2005, but it started with more money than any other new bank in the state's history — $45 million. Signature raised $15 million more in the fall of 2005, and last year raised another $15 million to buy out the original investment made by Home BancShares Inc. of Conway.

"It was very humbling to have so many people trust us with so much money," said CEO Gary Head.

That kind of capital — and the 2007 acquisition of the Bank of Brinkley — has allowed Signature to quickly become one of the 15 largest Arkansas-chartered banks in terms of assets, which reached $650 million by the end of 2008.

The bank has almost 500 shareholders, and they also provided a strong customer base.

Signature is not among Arkansas' most profitable banks, at least not yet. It is located in the part of the state hit hardest by the slumping real estate market, and it opened six branches in its first year and a half of business. Still, Signature was in the black in 2007 and 2008, which is an accomplishment the three other new banks in northwest Arkansas can't match.

"We're accused of being a start-up, but we have 180 bankers with over 1,800 years of experience," Head said. "So we're not new bankers; we've just got a new bank."

The banking environment in northwest Arkansas has been strained in recent months, with an oversupply of housing.

Head predicted Signature and the other banks in the region would weather the storm thanks to "very, very stable companies like Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble and Tyson."

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