Business Q & A

November 3, 2013

A conversation with Andrea Scarpelli

It was October 2010 when federal regulators shut down Security Savings Bank, and almost simultaneously sold the Olathe-based bank and its branches to Simmons First National Bank.

It was October 2010 when federal regulators shut down Security Savings Bank, and almost simultaneously sold the Olathe-based bank and its branches to Simmons First National Bank.

It was an interesting time for Andrea Scarpelli, who two years before had become the community president for Security Savings in Wichita, which operated two branches here.

Scarpelli, who had spent nearly 20 years as a commercial lender for the former Bank IV and Bank of America, knew Security had problems.

Still, when the closing and ownership transition occurred over that October weekend, she was pulled by two different emotions.

“It was worrisome, but it was also very invigorating,” said Scarpelli, now the Wichita president for Simmons First. “It was worrisome because I was concerned for both my clients and the people that worked for me. I wanted to be sure that Simmons would be able to take care of them and provide the services they needed. But it was invigorating because I was suddenly part of a much bigger institution that could meet the needs of a broader client base.”

The worry, she said, “is history.”

“It’s worked out great on both fronts,” Scarpelli said.

What’s new with Simmons First in Wichita?

In the last year we expanded and added a new commercial lender. We’re also increasing our focus on commercial banking and cash management services. 2013 has been another year of very successful commercial loan growth.

How do you define that success?

It’s … almost 35 percent loan growth in outstanding dollars between 2012 and 2013, and that’s been a direct result of both new relationships and expanding existing relationships.

What’s the level of competition like in the Wichita commercial banking market?

Competition continues to be very strong. Wichita is very fortunate that we have many strong commercial banks, unless you’re a commercial banker. Then, you have a lot of strong competition.

How are you competing on the commercial banking side?

It’s really all about relationship building and being able to understand the needs of the customer. We aren’t the least expensive, but we try to be aggressive and progressive in meeting our clients’ needs.

Surely, it’s not just relationships that land you a deal. Doesn’t it have to be more than just that?

I think what it boils down to is you have to look at each commercial relationship differently, try to customize their loan or financing need to best fit their purposes while still protecting the quality of the bank’s portfolio. … It’s really understanding the real risk and not trying to make everything in the same box.

In the first half of the year we saw a lot of commercial bankers moving from one bank to another. That’s something we hadn’t seen since probably before the recession. What do you think was driving that?

I think it just kind of happens. There aren’t a lot of jobs open so when there’s an opening … it kind of becomes a domino effect. You have one hole and all of a sudden you’ve got to reshuffle the deck to fill that hole. I do believe that people are always looking for good talent, so when you have the opportunity to bring someone on board, you always want to take that opportunity.

What activity do you see for Simmons in Wichita in the next 12 months?

It’s kind of the same thing, only next year. We want to continue to build brand awareness, we want people to understand we’re a full-service bank that’s part of a $4 billion institution and that we want to continue at a pace where we will continue to execute flawlessly.

You’ve talked a lot about growth on the commercial side, but how’s it going on the retail banking side?

On the retail side we’re adding as we can. We’re constrained because we only have two retail locations, so our growth is smaller on the retail side. But we do offer great products and great services.

So branches are an important component to retail growth?

Branches are an important part. And our retail products are good, if not better – especially from a fee perspective – than some of our competitors’. You just have to find us.

Do you see a time when your local branch network grows?

It is our desire to have a larger branch network in Wichita and in Kansas. Because our organization is an acquiring organization, I know there are efforts to find those fits all the time.

You talked about how as a bank president you are now responsible not only for making sure you do the right thing, but also the people who report to you. What does “do the right thing” mean to you?

To be a responsible corporate citizen and to treat people with respect, and to make sure you always do everything above reproach.

Do you feel like you have autonomy in decision-making even though you are part of a larger bank headquartered in another state?

Oh, absolutely. That’s part of the beauty of the Simmons organization, is we have a lot of local autonomy. We also have a high level of autonomy within the state of Kansas. That part of the reason … we can have some of the flexibility we need to set ourselves apart from (competitors).

As a banker, what is one thing that’s a lot different today compared with 20 years ago?

It’s the regulatory disaster, it is. It really is. Ultimately you can get close to the same stuff done, but it is much harder to navigate through all the various regulations to get it done. There’s just been this level of complexity added to it that makes it so much harder.

If you had to rate your level of career satisfaction right now, with 10 being the highest possible, what would you rate it?

I’m probably a nine. And it would be a 10 if I could work at home in my pajamas.

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