Drew Chandler of Farmers Bank & Trust (CFO of the Year Finalist, Large Bank)

This is the year of Drew Chandler. In June, he was among the young business leaders recognized by Arkansas Business as the “40 Under 40,” and now he’s a finalist for the title of CFO of the Year in the small bank category.

Chandler, 35, is an Arkansan by choice. He grew up in Dallas, then attended Harding University at Searcy and married a Searcy girl.

After working briefly in Dallas, he joined First Security Bank of Searcy, now the second-largest bank in Arkansas, and spent 10 years learning the banking business — the accounting side and also the regulatory requirements and the art of the merger.

In 2011, he took that training to Magnolia to become chief financial officer of Farmers Bank & Trust in Magnolia, the 14th-largest bank in Arkansas with assets of $765 million.

The best CFOs, in banks and any other industry, do more than simply create accurate records of money in and money out. They use historical data to find efficiencies and to predict the future. And those are the sorts of things that Chandler spends his time on at Farmers Bank, what he called “the implications of decisions that we make.”

“We’ve been lucky to control our [interest] spreads on the loans and lower our spreads on deposits,” he said.

That’s banker talk for improving profitability, which has definitely happened since Chandler’s arrival in Magnolia. Farmers Bank posted net income of $10.2 million in 2011, Chandler’s first full year as CFO, and $13.5 million last year. This year, the profit is expected to fall between $16.5 million and $17 million.

“I spend a lot of time just seeing where we can improve. And, yeah, we are,” he said.

In the current regulatory environment, banks have to grow or be acquired, so Farmers Bank & Trust is looking to grow. In the past year and a half, it has opened a full-service branch and two loan offices on the Texas side of Texarkana, a scary but exciting dive into unfamiliar waters.

“When you don’t know your customers, you have to be real careful with your credit,” Chandler acknowledged. “When you open a new branch, it’s easy to grow your balance sheet without growing your income statement. You can buy loans and deposits all day long … but you want to grow your income statement along with your balance sheet.”

Farmers Bank has purchased a new building on Interstate 30 in Texarkana, Texas, a high-visibility location that the bank hopes will help it attract new customers.

And, Chandler said, “We’re always looking to acquire other banks.” But not just any bank. “You have to make sure they fit with our footprint and our philosophy.”