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Contributed photo by Simply Bank / John Owen

Two of the biggest banks in Rhea County which have shared ownership since the 1980s are planning to combine operations.

SimplyBank, which is Rhea County's biggest bank with assets of $417.3 million, and Community National Bank, the county's third biggest bank with assets of $268.6 million, plan to apply to regulators for permission to combine the two banks.

John Owen, president and CEO of both banks, said consolidating the banks will strengthen the combined bank and help the Rhea County institution compete with bigger national and regional bank holding companies.

"This isn't an out-of-town or out-of-state organization coming in and taking over," Owen said. "These banks have enjoyed the security, stability and backing of the same private owners for a long time, and our intention is to keep it that way, remaining one of the only 100-plus-year-old, locally-owned community banks in the state."

The proposed merger must still be approved by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions.

SimplyBank traces its history to 1890, when a group of local businessmen founded a new community bank in an old barbershop building in Spring City, Tennessee. Community National Bank traces its history to the early 1960s, when businessmen in Spring City and Rossville, Georgia established new and unrelated community banks.

Community National Bank was acquired in 1982 by George E. Calfee, the owner of the Calfee's convenience store chain that later became Favorite Markets. The next year in 1983, Calfee acquired a controlling interest in Rossville Bank where he also served as chairman.

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,

The Calfee family has maintained ownership of the banks since and continues to operate the organization. Calfee's widow, Bernice Calfee, serves as chairman of the board for each bank.

"This is a unique situation, in which we have a chance to create a stronger, better bank for our customers across Tennessee, Georgia and beyond," said Matt Swanson, chief retail operations officer at the banks. "This move strengthens two longtime, locally-owned institutions and allows us to double-down on our passionate pursuit to be simply exceptional."

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Contributed photo / Matt Swanson

Swanson said customer impact during the consolidation will be minimal, as both organizations already share ownership and leadership.

"Community National Bank and SimplyBank already know one another, respect one another and share a leadership team that cares deeply about these banks and this community," he said. "These banks aren't strangers – they're siblings, and we're committed to taking care of one another's customers and employees."

The combined bank would have 57.5% of the bank deposits in Rhea County where five banks now operate, according to FDIC data as of June 30, 2020. Despite the market dominance for the combined bank, SimplyBank officials said the merger would help the combined bank to offer more products and services.

"In today's marketplace, community banks aren't just competing with other community banks," said Kevin Smith, chief lending officer for the two banks. "We're competing with banks of all sizes, including Fintechs and other industry disruptors."

Bank leaders anticipate finalizing the consolidation in mid-to-late spring 2021, at which time Community National Bank customers, employees and locations will become part of SimplyBank.

In the meantime, Community National Bank and SimplyBank will continue to operate separately through the end of 2020 and into the first quarter of 2021. Bank customers and account holders will continue to do business as usual with each bank and do not need to take any action.

The combined bank will have equity capital of nearly $65 million, assets of nearly $800 million and more than 150 employees. The combined bank will have offices in Dayton, Spring City, Harriman, Rockwood, Decatur, Benton, and Soddy-Daisy in Tennessee and in Rossville, Ringgold and Flintstone in Georgia.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340

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