Community banks lean on bigger banks to supply talent. A banker like Bob Johnson, who just moved to a smaller bank, gets something from the switch, too.

Johnson joined $781 million-asset CapitalMark Bank & Trust this month, leaving $121 billion-asset Regions Financial (RF). Capital Mark is in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Regions is in Birmingham, Ala. Johnson made the move partly because he has been given the autonomy to develop his loan book, which means he gets the credit when things go well, or if they turn sour.

"The regional bank we came from, it was all one big production facility," Johnson says. "We really had no ownership if the credit went bad, or if the client went bad. Here, we're looking for quality assets and to retain those assets."

Johnson is part of a three-man commercial and industrial lending team to bolt from Regions and work out of CapitalMark's Knoxville, Tenn., office, along with Bryant LeCroy and Ryan White. CapitalMark picked off another banker for its Knoxville office in January when it hired Lisa Warren from Clayton Bank & Trust, a unit of $1.2 billion-asset Clayton Bancorp of Knoxville.

CapitalMark, which is privately held, embeds incentives in its bankers' compensation packages to give employees the near-equivalent of an ownership stake in the bank.

"Our incentive plan … it was very intriguing" to CapitalMark's new hires, says Kenny Dyer, banking group president at CapitalMark. "They referenced that it was like running their own bank. We try to incentivize behavior in line with our shareholders, which includes retaining business, and generating ongoing revenue [and] new revenue."

There is more flexibility at a smaller bank to customize loan terms for clients, White says. There is also more room to improvise — some prospective clients might operate in out-of-favor industry sectors, but they can still be good customers, LeCroy says.

"The world we came from, they would look at things and gauge it as being part of a bigger industry segment," LeCroy says. "We don't just put a blanket" judgment on all companies in a specific industry, he says.

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