Intrust Bank steadily moves ahead with Chandler

One hundred years after the United States declared its independence, what is now Intrust Bank was started and chartered as Farmers & Merchants Bank.

And since 1900, the bank has been led by a Chandler.

But it has been under the leadership of Charles Q. "Charlie" Chandler IV that Intrust has become the dominant financial institution in the Wichita area — accounting for nearly 22 percent of the metro area's $11.4 billion in deposits, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

It has pushed into Arkansas and the Kansas City area under Chandler's direction, deployed its senior executives to take leadership roles in organizations such as the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and Wichita Downtown Development Corp., and in 2009 made a 25-year financial commitment to be the namesake of the region's largest events center, Intrust Bank Arena.

Like every other commercial bank in the nation, Intrust has weathered what Chandler, 58, considers the most significant economic downturn of his lifetime. Now it is working its way through one of the slowest recoveries Chandler says he has experienced as a banker.

Chandler credits one thing for moving the bank forward in some pretty tumultuous times: a conservative approach to banking.

"Clearly I learned that our approach of consistency and moderation that had served us well over the first century worked," he said.

'Tough situation'

Chandler said he had heard the war stories, as he calls them, from his father, C.Q. "Chuck" Chandler III, and grandfather about running the bank during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

And he had been through his share of recessions and industry crises as a banker, including the savings-and-loan crisis in the early 1990s.

But what began playing out in late 2008, with the failures of IndyMac, Washington Mutual, and investment banks Lehman Bros. and Bear Stearns, was difficult to comprehend, at least at first.

"I'll admit it was a tough situation to understand and get your arms around," he said. "It seemed like every day there was a new issue, new problem.

"I was thinking what is the depth of the problem, what are the impacts to banking in Kansas, not to mention the stability of the country."

The bank's overall strategy was to do what it had done in past crises and downturns, what his father and grandfather instilled in him.

"We were faced with a lot of nervous customers," Chandler said. "I recognized if we just stuck to what we had done so well, we were probably going to be fine."

The bank has done fine, although its earnings, like that of many of its peers, have been affected by the downturn, as well as by new federal regulations that have affected how much fees banks could collect on services such as debit cards.

According to the bank's 2010 annual report, it made a $29.7 million profit, down from $31.7 million in 2009 and less than half of the $70 million profit it posted in 2008.

While he couldn't control the direction of the economy, Chandler has been successful at controlling the bank's dominance in local deposits.

Since 1997 the bank has held the top spot in area market share.

Chandler said the ascension from No. 2 to No. 1 came as a result of Bank of America's acquisition of Bank IV, which for years held the most deposits.

"When other competitors have made decisions that caused a big ripple in the marketplace, we've always tried to position ourselves to take advantage of that ripple," he said.

Where other banks might follow a strategy to grow to a certain size and sell, Chandler said Intrust's strategy has been to be a bank that stays put in Kansas.

He likens the parallels of the two strategies to the story of "The Tortoise and the Hare." In this case, Chandler said, Intrust is the tortoise, slow but steady.

"Their desire may have been to build and sell," he said of other banks. "Our desire is to continue to be community bankers in Kansas."

Chandler said the bank's strategy moving forward will be the same: "It's simply a question of what opportunities present themselves."

'Made of same mold'

J.V. Lentell, Intrust's vice chairman, has worked with Charlie Chandler and Chandler's father.

In fact, when Lentell was chairman and CEO of Kansas State Bank & Trust, it was Chuck Chandler representing Intrust at the table when the two banks were discussing a merger, which happened in 1993.

Probably the biggest difference between Charlie and his father is generational, Lentell said. Changes in the banking industry required Charlie to position the bank differently than his father would have done, he said.

" (Charlie) probably broadened to some extent the field the bank plays in," Lentell said.

But that's where the differences between Charlie and his father end.

"There's no question that they're made out of the same mold," Lentell said of the two. "Their fundamental beliefs and thinking are closely aligned."