SimplyBank, the biggest bank in Rhea County and one of the largest independent banks in the Chattanooga region, is getting a new owner.
First Financial Bank headquartered in Terre Haute, Indiana, announced Monday it has agreed to buy SimplyBank for $73.4 million in cash to expand its presence in Tennessee and grow into neighboring Georgia.
SimplyBank, which has $702 million in assets and 13 branches in Tennessee and Georgia, is expected to merge with First Financial next spring pending regulatory approval.
The deal will expand First Financial into Georgia for the first time and deepen its market presence in Tennessee, where it has nine branches. First Financial has had a presence in the Volunteer State since its 2019 acquisition of HopFed Bancorp, which was headquartered in Kentucky.
"SimplyBank provides us with an opportunity to deepen our commitment to the Tennessee market while expanding into attractive new metropolitan areas (Chattanooga, Cleveland and Dayton)," First Financial CEO Norman L. Lowery said in an announcement of the merger agreement late Monday. "We look forward to continuing SimplyBank's commitment to its customers and the communities it serves."
The banks have been engaged in discussions for three to four months, Lowery said.
The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2024. Lowery said the combined bank will be able to expand products and services offered at the SimplyBank offices, including First Financial's trust and asset management services.
Banks at a glance
› Name: First Financial Bank.
› Headquarters: Terre Haute, Indiana.
› Assets: $4.8 billion.
› Locations: 71 offices in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.
› CEO: Norman Lowery.
› Name: Simply Bank.
› Headquarters: Dayton, Tennessee.
› Assets: $702 million.
› Locations: Branch offices in Benton, Chattanooga, Cleveland, Dayton, Decatur, Harriman, Rockwood, Soddy-Daisy and Spring City, Tennessee and Flintstone, Ringgold and Rossville, Georgia. The bank also has a loan production office in Chattanooga.
› CEO: John Owen.
SimplyBank has 10 branch offices in East Tennessee and three branches in Northwest Georgia. John Owen, CEO of SimplyBank, said First Financial should continue the growth and service of SimplyBank.
"We are pleased for our stakeholders but are also delighted that our customers will continue to enjoy a great relationship with the local SimplyBank employees, as they continue working with a strong community-focused financial organization through the SimplyBank branch network" Owens said in a statement after the bank merger was announced. "We are excited about the stability and additional growth opportunities that our agreement with First Financial will provide."
SimplyBank traces its roots more than a century earlier when it began as the Hamilton Bank of Rhea County in 1890s.
SimplyBank is owned by Bernice Calfee Sale, the widow of the late George Calfee, who started and owned the Calfee's convenience store chain that later became Favorite Markets.
George Calfee bought the Community National Bank, the former First Bank of Rhea County and Rossville Bank in the 1980s. After purchasing the banks, Calfee announced plans to unite the organizations into a single community bank, but Calfee died in 1986 before he could complete the unification.
Bernice Sale hired Owen in 2017 to run and help consolidate the banks. SimplyBank was created to combine the former Dayton-based First Bank of Rhea County and the Spring City-based Community National Bank in March 2021. SimplyBank expanded into Chattanooga for the first time in the summer of 2021.
First Financial is is the oldest national bank in Indiana and the fifth oldest national bank in the United States. The bank was founded in 1834 as a branch of the Second State Bank of Indiana and later became known as Terre Haute First National Bank.
First Financial has assets of $4.8 billion and operates 70 banking centers in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee through First Financial Bank. If the proposed merger is completed as expected, First Financial will have total combined assets of $5.5 billion.
Lowery, who has been CEO for 28 years, is scheduled to retire in January and will be replaced by Norman D. Lowery, his son, who has been with the bank for 33 years. The senior Lowery will remain with the bank for a year to help with the transition, including the integration of SimplyBank.
First Financial was advised by the investment banking firm of Raymond James & Associates, Inc. and the law firm of Amundsen Davis LLC. SimplyBank was advised by the investment banking firm of Piper Sandler & Co. and the law firm of Frost Brown Todd LLP.