Simmons First National in Pine Bluff, Ark., had a convenient "in" as it was looking to buy wealth management firm Ozark Trust and Investment Corp. in Springfield, Mo.

The $7.6 billion-asset Simmons First disclosed in a recent regulatory filing that it was familiar with Jay Burchfield, Ozark Trust's chairman, before agreeing to a deal.

Burchfield was a an advisory director at Liberty Bancshares, a Springfield, Mo., bank that Simmons First bought in February, and he was Liberty's nominee to join Simmons First's board. In addition, Liberty Bancshares was one of Ozark Trust's founding investors.

Informal discussions between Simmons First and Ozark Trust began in early 2014 between Burchfield and George Makris Jr., Simmons First's chairman and chief executive, lasting throughout much of the year, the filing said.

Simmons and Ozark Trust executed a non-disclosure agreement last February. A number of meetings took place in Springfield and St. Louis as the parties discussed the nuances of a potential deal. Simmons' first offer, submitted in early March, valued Ozark Trust at $20 million, with nearly 75% of the consideration involving common stock.

By April, the companies were ready to announce what turned out to be a $20.7 million deal.

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