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Springfield, MO

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A Conversation With ... Christian Lewis

Regional Community President, Simmons Bank

Posted online

You recently were promoted to regional community president. What are your goals and vision for the bank?
I want Simmons to continue to be viewed as a trusted adviser in the communities that we serve. We have the capacity and the acuity to meet all the financial needs of our customers. One of the bigger issues I would like to become more involved with is our community engagement. Simmons regards social and civic responsibility as a part of everything we do. It guides not only our business policies and practice, but our company culture and our community outreach.

What role has Simmons played in facilitating Paycheck Protection Program loans or other funding sources during this tough economic time?
We’re very proud of our results under these trying conditions. We’ve experienced meaningful shifts in consumer habits just due to stay-at-home orders, which we believe will impact our delivery of products and services. With PPP, we had associates from all areas of the bank that came together to work countless hours to make this program available for our different communities. As a whole, Simmons funded about 8,200 PPP loans totaling approximately $1 billion. In southwest Missouri, we funded about 700 PPP loans totaling approximately $51 million.

What prompted the closures of two local branches, one in Springfield, this fall?
We can consistently review our branch footprint to include holistic market-specific strategies that can maximize our planning for long-term opportunities and growth and retention. We never want to close a branch and we do everything we can to train and retain our associates. If a branch closes, we connect our customers to the next closest branch and make sure they’re aware of all of our digital solutions. We understand the importance of people, and it’s our associates who have helped us to meet these changing needs of our customers for our 117-year history of the bank. Our investment in our digital channels will continue to position us for changes. With this pandemic, it’s really molding a new way of life from a digital aspect. With the digital solutions, we recently completed an integration with Jack Henry [& Associates Inc.] software to make our online platforms and mobile applications more accessible and user friendly. We have a current initiative called the Next Generation Bank initiative. It’s a multiyear project. It started back in 2018 and represents a $100 million investment in technology.

In addition to PPP funding, what were some of the other resources businesses needed? And how would you characterize the business climate now?
We offered COVID payment relief assistance early in the pandemic, which allowed clients to take advantage of deferments, preserving their capital and liquidity and not forcing them to tap into reserves or draw on lines of credit. Approximately 20% of (our) southwest Missouri portfolio by dollar received a COVID payment modification. That is roughly 6% of the loan customers by count. We felt payment relief helped alleviate a lot of the issues and a lot of the strain that our customers were seeing. PPP, for most banks, was the primary source of loan growth over a three-month span during the middle of this year. There are industries out there that have been successful and some that have had their best years ever. And, obviously, there’s a lot more that have suffered and, unfortunately, quite a few that have failed. The great thing about our country and our entrepreneurs here is that someone will always find a way to innovate and change with the given conditions and environment that they’re in. We’re not pulling back from lending. In addition to that, there’s other financial products such as treasury management and wealth investments that can provide solutions.

It’s been a hot market to refinance or purchase a home. What has Simmons experienced?
Rates are at an all-time low. Our mortgage business is having one of its best years ever. Because of the rates, it’s really given consumers the ability to go out and buy the home that they’re wanting. As the economy continues to improve, obviously those rates will adjust upwards again. But this year has been a great year in the banking industry in regards to mortgage lending.

Christian Lewis can be reached at christian.lewis@simmonsbank.com.

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