Archive for Thursday, February 14, 2008

De Soto bank changing ownership

February 14, 2008

The owners of Lawrence Bank are adding a branch in De Soto, and bringing a hometown graduate back to the community.

First Financial Bancshares Inc., the parent company of Lawrence Bank and its two branches in Lawrence, announced Wednesday that it would acquire Great American Bank in De Soto from Enterprise Financial Services Corp., based in St. Louis.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

First Financial plans to close the purchase in the second quarter, and continue operating the location as Great American Bank.

The acquisition fits with First Financial's plan to expand into Johnson County, while retaining its community focus by adding another community bank, said Doug Compton, First Financial president.

"We look at this as a natural fit," said Compton, who met Wednesday with Great American employees in De Soto. "There are some great growth opportunities in the De Soto area. There's some great, positive things happening. It's a great market to be in."

Travis Hicks will be president and chief executive officer of the Great American location, and will become an owner of First Financial Bancshares. Compton remains First Financial's largest shareholder, part of an ownership group that includes former Kansas basketball coach Larry Brown, current coach Bill Self, and members of the Anderson family, whose name is going on the new football complex being built at KU's Memorial Stadium.

Hicks spent 10 years at Bank of the West and its predecessor in Lawrence, Commercial Federal Bank. He had been regional manager for Kansas and Missouri, handling commercial real estate, during which time he had worked with Compton.

Hicks is a 1988 graduate of De Soto High School and grew up in the western Shawnee area before the residential boom of the last decade.

He maintained ties established in the Johnson County and metropolitan areas in his high school days and earlier banking career, Hicks said.

"I'm well aware of the progress and potential of the area," Hicks said. "I will be there full time in the office in De Soto. We are planning to be there and will be a big part of that community."

Great American controls the bulk of banking business among branches in De Soto, according to reports on file with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. As of June 30, the bank had two-thirds of all deposits in the market, leaving the two other banks in town to split the remaining third.

"We are extremely pleased to build upon the successes of our predecessors with this agreement," Hicks said.

First Financial purchased Lawrence Bank in January 2006, then with assets of $33 million. Today the bank's assets have passed $62 million, under the leadership of Les Dreiling, president of Lawrence Bank.

With the acquisition of Great American, First Financial's combined assets will reach about $100 million.

Elvyn J. Jones contributed to this story.

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