DAYTON, TENN. — Rhea County's biggest bank, which took on a new name last August, has a new president.
But the new leader of Simply Bank, Geoff Robinson, is no stranger to the bank or the community. Robinson, a 49-year-old Dayton native, has worked at the bank, formerly known as First Bank of Tennessee, for the past 22 years since long-time bank president and former Dayton Mayor Sam Swafford hired him in 1997.
"I'm from this area and I have enjoyed the chance to work and help local people with their businesses and their finances and to see this area grow and prosper," said Robinson, who most recently served as chief lending officer for Simple Bank beore taking on his new post earlier this week. "As a locally owned and managed bank of our size, we're able to devote the time and give the personal attention to our customers and I think that has helped us and our customers through goods times and bad."
Robinson, who succeeds David Serra as bank president, said the bank's assets have grown over his career from $75 million to $360 million and the bank has expanded to six offices in Rhea, Roane and Polk counties across Southeast Tennessee. Although no site has yet been identified, bank officials said Simply Bank may had another office south of the Tennessee River as it continues to grow over time.
Robinson began his career in construction and staffing before joining the bank in its collections department, but he said he has remained focused on helping builders and other small businesses grow and finance their ventures.
"We try to make the business of banking as simple and easy for our customers as possible," Robinson said.
That approach led the bank to adopt its current name, Simply Bank, last August. Although the bank is the biggest in Rhea County and its roots date back to 1890, directors of the former First Bank of Tennessee decided last year to change the bank name after eight years of confusion with another on the same street.
In 2010, First Bank of Lexington, Kentucky — one of the state's biggest independent banks owned by Jim Ayers — acquired the former AmSouth bank branch on the same street and courthouse square as First Bank of Tennessee. Both bank offices are in the shadow of the historic Rhea County Courthouse is located and where the famous Scopes "Monkey" trial was held in the summer of 1925.
First Bank of Lexington used the moniker FB. But with the First Bank name on two different nearby banks, there was still confusion between the two over time. Robinson said maintenance crews often went to the wrong bank to perform work and once an entire parking lot was repaved — at the wrong First Bank location.
With First Bank of Lexington bigger and more likely to be identified on social media sites, directors of the former First Bank of Tennessee ultimately decided to change their brand.
Brian May, president of the bank's marketing consulting firm MayCreate, said the Simply Bank name helps distinguish the banks in Dayton and also reflects the banking approach emphasized by the former First Bank of Tennessee.
"We looked at a lot of names and in talking with customers and others the name "Simply" seemed to best convey what this bank is all about," May said. "One of the best things this bank does is take someone who thinks banking is complicated and they present it in a way that seems much more simple. The name was born out of who the bankers really are here."
Simply Bank is the biggest among the five banks in Rhea County with more than 37 percent of the county's deposits, according to the most recent FDIC call reports for banks in the area.
John Owen, a banking executive who works for the heirs of George Calfee who has owned most of the bank for nearly three decades, said Robinson is a skilled banker, lender and leader who knows both the technology and personal side of the business.
"Geoff is one of the best community bankers I know and I think he can help lead us to grow even more in the future," Owen said.
Simply Bank traces its roots back to 1890 when it began as the Hamilton Bank of Rhea County. The 129-year-old bank subsequently took on a half dozen other names before adopting the Simply Bank name last summer.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340