Chattanooga’s banking scene expands this spring as Lexington, Tenn.-based FirstBank opens its first two branches here.
Sam Jones, president of FirstBank in Chattanooga, said the bank’s main office will be on the first floor of the 401 Building at the corner of Fourth and Chestnut streets downtown.
The bank’s second branch will be in a former Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union building on Hamilton Place Boulevard, he said.
A 30-year veteran of the banking industry and a native Chattanoogan, Mr. Jones was hired last summer and immediately put in charge of hiring and finding sites for the two locations.
“I was nervous about opening two at once, but the more I thought about it ... it kind of made sense,” he said. “Really, there is some efficiency in opening two at once, and we’re going to go ahead and shoot for opening them both at the same time.”
FirstBank has had a presence in the area for about 3 1/2 years with its mortgage operation on Shallowford Road. The employees in the Shallowford office will be divided between the two branches once they open in April.
By the end of the year, he will start looking for another location north of the Tennessee River, probably in the Hixson area, but he said any further expansion will depend on the bank’s success.
Five years from now, Mr. Jones said he hopes to have seven locations in Hamilton County.
“We have always wanted to come to Chattanooga,” he said.
The bank already has more than 30 offices among the state’s major metropolitan areas such as Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis and Jackson.
Mr. Jones said the bank plans to add a drive-through to the downtown office in the next year. FirstBank also has a branch in Dayton, Tenn., and a loan production office in Cleveland, Tenn., where the bank is in the process of buying land for a branch.
FirstBank has nearly $1.9 billion in assets and $1.7 billion in total deposits, according to the Federal Insurance Deposit Corp.
Since the bank is privately owned, Britin Boatright, president of metropolitan banks for FirstBank, said the institution is not suffering the way some others in the industry have and earnings have remained strong. For that reason, he said it was time to expand the bank’s service area.
“It’s logical for us to be in Chattanooga, with us already in most of the other metro markets,” he said.
The bank’s first challenge in Hamilton County will be attracting depositors, but Mr. Jones said FirstBank will offer competitive interest rates on its checking accounts to draw customers.
“It will probably be the best-paying interest checking account for consumers in the state,” he said. “That is going to be our lead — money market rates on a checking account.”
Because it is so well established in other parts of the state, FirstBank’s move into the local market is more of an expansion into the area, said Tim Amos, senior vice president and general counsel for the Tennessee Bankers Association.
“I think their approach is probably expanding their service availability to an already fairly large customer base,” Mr. Amos said. “So I look at them not so much as trying to enter into a new market as expand the service options for a market they already have.”
For Mr. Jones, opening the two branches at once presents a unique challenge, but one he said his experience building smaller banks into larger ones has prepared him to handle.
“I kind of like the building side of it,” he said. “That’s kind of one of the things that really honestly intrigued me is to come in and build a team and build a business up.”