Heartland Bank always has aimed to be the friendly neighborhood bank, and CEO Scott McComb has no plans to change that. Just build on it. McComb, who took the reins from his late father Tiney McComb in 2009, has set forth on a concerted effort to thrust the $580 million-asset bank into Central Ohio’s limelight. Heartland in February opened the doors to a more-visible office on Capitol Square downtown, and March 22 debuts its first-ever professional sports sponsorship when the Columbus Crew kicks off its 2014 season. And fresh off a solid fourth quarter - Heartland grew earnings by 79 percent to $1.4 million - it upped shareholder dividends for the second time in four months.
I caught up with McComb amid a busy year. Here is an edited and condensed version of our chat:
BF: Why open the new Capitol Square branch?
McComb: We did a lease seven years ago (at 65 E. State St.) to try out downtown. We entered that market at its worst and had an operation that wasn’t knocking it out of the park. But we’re very bullish on downtown and wanted to find something a little more visible (at 101 S. High St.). There’s all new residents, mostly affluent and looking for city life. Now downtown Columbus is providing that.
What do you gain from the new Crew partnership?
We’ve launched a Crew debit card so loyal fans can open up a Crew account. A portion will be given to youth soccer, which is the largest youth sport in Central Ohio and has been for quite some time. We have strongholds in the communities we serve, and most have ginormous soccer programs. And we have (Crew player and Gahanna native) Wil Trapp to be a bank spokesperson, and he’ll be making some appearances around Central Ohio.
So is it a play on younger consumers?
I don’t know if it’s so much younger but more the attributes of the (Crew’s) demographics. The reason it’s such a younger crowd is because the sport hasn’t been a major league sport for that long. I’m not trying to throw rocks at football and baseball, but Crew fans are not afraid to be unique – they don’t just walk in packs. Everybody likes the Buckeyes, baseball, but what we desire is the folks who appreciate us for how we’re unique. If they want to compare us to the folks who have a branch on every corner, we’re going to lose. They understand it’s not just about pricing, it’s about a relationship.
Why increase the dividend twice in the past four months?
At this point, typically the only folks increasing dividends are the ones that had to eliminate them. We are trying to send a statement that Heartland is a great investment. And, we’ll be launching a campaign about that.
Who are your investors?
We’re closely held - but not owned by any one family - with about 200 shareholders. We have a lot of shareholders who are customers of the bank – it’s our community. People put money back in the economy locally – they kill what they eat. That’s the way it operates.
How are you different from your father?
My leadership style’s a little different. I tend to be a little quicker to go on to Plan B. The old-school way might be to hard-line manage or micromanage. Also, I’m very bent on technology. We’ve beat most of the large banks with our technology platform. I’m a big proponent for getting people on the right seat on the bus. Someone’s either a salesperson or they’re not, and trying to turn someone into that is wrong. It may be different thinking than the ’70s, ’80s. I think you gotta be upfront and honest with folks. But, if you ask anyone, we’re identical with personality. We’re not afraid to speak our minds and we don’t know how to tell a lie.
Have you ever wanted to work for a big bank?
No, I’m an entrepreneur. Most community bankers are entrepreneurs, they know enough to be dangerous in everything.
Evan Weese covers funding and capital for Columbus Business First. Evan Weese Staff reporter- Columbus Business First