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Inside Bulloch Business with DeWayne Grice - FDIC lifts regulatory order directing FMB
Grice-H-DeWayne Web
DeWayne Grice

           The business and banking community breathed a long sigh of relief as the regulatory order for Statesboro's Farmers and Merchants Bank was lifted by the FDIC.
        In place since 2009, the lifting of the order indicates that Federal regulators are now fully satisfied with the Bulloch-owned bank's policies, procedures and capital levels.
        Over the past three decades, we have seen dramatic changes in the banking community locally. What was once a market served predominantly by locally-owned community banks, only one locally-owned bank now serves the market, Farmers and Merchants Bank.
        When the economy tanked and banks throughout the country began to fail, the intensity of scrutiny increased dramatically by the FDIC.
        "We knew it was going to be a very difficult time economically, but no one predicted or assumed that the recession would be so deep and last so long," said Ricky Nessmith, the bank's former president and CEO and now serves on the Board of Directors. "If we were going to survive, we would have to become a much different bank.
        With increasing demands of the job and facing some health problems, Nessmith turned the reins over to Brett Morgan.
        "When I arrived I realized we had a wonderful team in place, unbelievable support from our stockholders, board and loyal customers who all wanted to make sure at the end of the day Statesboro's only community owned bank was still standing," said Morgan, who serves as FMB president and CEO. "To accomplish this we had to make some hard choices, which allowed us to shrink the bank from a little over $300 million (in assets) to the $165 million we are today. We closed a branch and saw our work force reduced from 76 to 46 employees. I am proud to say that we never laid off a single employee. The reduction was completely through attrition. Unlike many of the larger banks, we never received any funds from the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP). This made our task uniquely more difficult."
        To give you an idea of how difficult the turnaround actually was: 147 Georgia-chartered banks did not survive. The number of Georgia-chartered banks shrunk from a high of 352 to only 205 in existence today.
        "With an annual payroll of over $2 million, failure was not an option," Gerald Edenfield, FMB's chairman of the board, said. "It meant long, stressful work days for our employees and directors, but this bank was founded 67 years ago on the backs of our forefathers and we had a great responsibility to them to see this through. There were some easy ways out, we could have merged or sold the bank, but that is not who we are or what Farmers and Merchant's Bank represents to our customers and community."
        Ironically, the bank with Farmers in its name was built to provide resources for Bulloch County's largest industry - agriculture.
        "When the recession hit and much of the economy tanked, the agriculture community was doing very well," said Wendell Brannen, a member of the board. "We saw growth in this sector and the business that we built the bank on all those years ago was stepping up once again to now help save us. I recall numerous farmers telling me that when things were bad for them, Farmers and Merchants Bank had always been there for them, now it was their turn to return the favor."
        One other area they never lost focus in was service to the community. Probably the most visible force at the bank is Trish Tootle, senior vice president, who in many ways is the face of the bank in the community.
"2015 marks my 28th year with FMB," Tootle said. "In all the years I have worked here we have held to our mission, which has not changed over the years. We remain dedicated to the concept of community banking and we remain dedicated to this community and this community has also remained dedicated to us. One major factor that has remained constant during my tenure here is the directors, officers and staff of this bank have always strived to do what is right and we have never lost hope and heart."
        Farmers and Merchants Bank became profitable again in 2013, earning around $100,000 and in 2014, they closed the year with $750,000 of profit. In fact, nine out of the last 10 quarters have been profitable for the bank. They have seen non-performing assets decrease by 71 percent. With the lifting of the FDIC order, they can now expand services the bank offers. One area that is a welcome change is the legal loan limit increase from $1 million to $4 million.
        "I am very pleased we have the regularity monkey off our back," said Frank Rozier, former Board chairman. "This allows us to move forward and continue to grow the bank for our customers and stockholders. I am most pleased that thru it all management and staff stayed focused and continued to work hard, our stockholders never lost faith, and our customers continued to do business which is what a community bank is all about."
        Please email DeWayne at dgrice@statesboroherald.com or give him a call at (912) 489-9499.

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