MFB CEO Ashton Adcock Counts Blessings in Saline County

MFB CEO Ashton Adcock Counts Blessings in Saline County
L. Ashton Adcock • Chairman & CEO of Merchants & Farmers Bank of Dumas (Stephanie Dunn-King)

L. Ashton Adcock earned a BSBA majoring in finance and banking from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and a law degree from what is now the Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He began his career as a lawyer, working from 1990-92 as a staff attorney with the Hurley Whitwell Shepherd & Welch Law Firm in North Little Rock and then as a partner from 1992-96 in what became the Welch & Adcock Law Firm in Little Rock.

In 1991, he was appointed to the boards of Merchants & Farmers Bankand its parent, M&F Financial Corp. He was elected chairman of the two companies in 1994 and joined the bank staff in 1996. He was chief operating officer and chief financial officer before becoming chairman and CEO in 2020.

Adcock is a former president of the Dumas Chamber of Commerce and a former member of the Dumas School Board.

Big banks are investing more in technology. How do smaller banks keep pace with customer expectations?

Smaller banks have continued to invest in technology as well. We must remain relevant. To offset costs, we look for ways to use technology to be more efficient in other areas. Technology enables us to take care of customers where we do not have a branch. With internet/mobile banking, cash management, automated clearing house origination, automated payroll, etc., our customers can bank from anywhere.

What big banks do, we can do as well — or better. The value-added benefit to our customers is prompt help by a person either in Dumas, Bryant or Benton. They don’t get routed through automated call services or put on hold with call centers in other states. The customer’s experience here still matters.

How are you working to hire and retain employees in a competitive labor market?

Most people we hire are known to us or have been referred by someone we trust. A friendly person with good character is our top priority. You can’t teach this! We use slogans like “small bank friendly!” and “building relationships.” Board and staff — it’s who we are, not just what we do. We take care of each other like family, which may be why people retire from here after 30 or 40 years of employment. In addition, the bank is partly owned by staff via an employee stock ownership plan, the bank pays for medical and dental for the whole family, and our paid time off policies are tailored to encourage time to enjoy family.

You entered the city of Benton last year. You have branches in Benton and Bryant. What’s been good about those markets? Where might you expand next?

Our expansions into Bryant and Benton have been steps in the fulfillment of a God-inspired vision to take a small southeast Arkansas bank and grow it in Saline County. We have been blessed for this leap of faith. Approaching people with integrity has established mutual trust resulting in growth in deposits and loans.

The bank has been hiring for expansion in Saline County, and another location with trust department services is in the planning stage. Our trust department is the 18th largest in Arkansas with about $100 million in assets.

M&F is still one of the smaller banks in the state (assets under $200 million as of Dec. 31), but you’ve doubled your assets in the past 10 years. Where is this loan demand coming from? Are your customers changing?

Growing has not been a problem. Managing the opportunities for growth within the confines of a healthy capital-to-asset ratio is the challenge.

More than half of the bank’s loans are from Saline County, and we have some relationships in the surrounding counties. While we still have a large agricultural loan portfolio, more of our growth has been in commercial, commercial real estate, one- to four-family residential and land development loans. Saline County has been a game changer for our 113-year-old community bank.