After more than 50 years of helping turn small banks into larger ones, 80-year-old C. Felix Harvey is thinking small with his latest venture.
Mr. Harvey is a co-founder and board member of the little bank, which opened two years ago in his hometown of Kinston, N.C.
That's no misprint. It's the little bank, all lowercase.
Mr. Harvey explained that he wanted a name that would convey community without using that word, which he feels is overused. He asked his daughter, who works in marketing, to try to come up with something, and after some brainstorming she presented him with "the little bank."
"My partners had trouble with it at first, but we all just love it now," he said.
Apparently, so do customers. The bank, which will celebrate its second anniversary next week, has more than 2,000 deposits accounts - a figure Mr. Harvey said it took his former bank seven years to reach - and reached its asset goal of $60 million a year ahead of schedule. It reported earnings of $186,430 for the first nine months, against $2,525 in the first three quarters last year.
Brannon Cashion, who heads the financial advisory group at Addison Whitney, a corporate identity firm in Charlotte, N.C., said, "Using a common term like 'little' evokes certain impressions of a friendly, personalized bank, without knowing anything else about the bank."
That's the idea, Mr. Harvey said. His employees will go to nursing homes or hospitals to see customers unable to visit the little bank's branches because of illness, he said. Executive vice president and co-founder Stuart Lindley pointed out that all of its 18 employees own some stock in the company and are involved in many marketing and customer relations decisions.
"We do business the old-fashioned way: face-to-face with our customers," Mr. Lindley said. "That's something that's becoming a rarity in larger banks."
Mr. Harvey has been an executive and board member of various North Carolina banks. Most notably, he founded First Financial Corp. in 1978, which was sold to BB&T Corp. in 1993, and spent 10 years on the board of NCNB in Charlotte, which later evolved into NationsBank and now Bank of America. In fact, Mr. Harvey was on the board when NCNB hired Hugh McColl, who is now chief executive officer of Bank of America, as its CEO.
Two friends who were at Mr. Harvey's side from the start at First Financial helped him set up shop in Kinston, an agricultural community of 25,000 residents in eastern North Carolina. Though Bank of America, Wachovia Corp., BB&T Corp., and other banks have branches in Kinston, "we all felt there was a great need for a locally owned bank," Mr. Harvey said.
The founders assembled a group of directors to spread the word about the start-up to family and friends, and after 230 investors contributed an average of $70,000, the little bank opened its doors Nov. 16, 1998. Thomas L. Edwards, who had little banking experience but liked Mr. Harvey's idea, was named chairman and CEO soon after the little bank's inception.
Mr. Harvey's family has been in Kinston for five generations, and his contacts have no doubt helped generate business. But Mr. Edwards and Mr. Lindley give more credit to Mr. Harvey.
"From the very beginning, he has worked hard for little bank," Mr. Edwards said. "And I continue to be amazed by his leadership and enthusiasm."
From Our Archive: