Southern Bancorp, Inc. is one of America’s largest rural development banks with approximately $1.1 billion in assets, serving over 80,000 customers at 39 branches in both Arkansas and Mississippi. Southern was founded in 1986 by then Governor Bill Clinton, Wal-Mart Chair Rob Walton, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and others who were concerned about the economic decline of rural Arkansas. Southern invests in people and businesses in rural communities, empowers them to improve their lives and helps them transform their communities.
The data analysis firm 60 Decibels released last month the results of a survey conducted with the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) borrowers of six Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), including CDBA members Southern Bancorp and Optus Bank. 60 Decibels interviewed 1,073 PPP borrowers for this survey, one third of whom originally sought assistance from a non-CDFI lender. Of the borrowers who initially sought assistance from another lender, 84% indicated that their experience with a CDFI bank was better than their experience with the other lender.
Banks have been permanently shuttering branches for years, but the number of closures hit a record in 2020 as the pandemic accelerated the move by many customers to online banking. Banks closed 3,324 branches last year, according to a tally by S&P Global Market Intelligence. "In the last 60 days, I've had two mayors reach out to me saying, 'Would you bring a bank branch here?' " says Darrin Williams, CEO of Southern Bancorp, which specializes in underserved communities. "In a lot of the rural communities we serve, the bank branch is part of the social fabric," Williams said. "If you go to Truman, Ark., on a payday Friday, there are going to be 10 people deep in the line. People want to come to that bank branch because it's social."
NCIF invited 10 partner CDFI and Minority Banks to identify small business customers that are integral to their local communities and needed support to sustain their respective businesses through the pandemic. NCIF used over $100,000 of its own funds to pilot an unrestricted microgrant program as gap funding to these customers. Our first batch of microgrants was given to social entrepreneurs, retail businesses, community facilities, affordable housing organizations, arts nonprofits, and other small businesses across the country. These CDBA members are First Southwest Bank, Carver Federal Savings Bank, City First Bank of DC, Community Bank of the Bay, First Eagle Bank, Industrial Bank, Native American Bank, Providence Bank & Trust, Southern Bancorp, and United Bank.