CLEWISTON’S FIRST BANK
100 YEARS IN AMERICA’S SWEETEST TOWN
Written by: Bill LaPlante
To survive 100 years in a highly competitive business,a company must have that special something.
Clewiston-based First Bank has found the sweet spot in the banking business by providing customized, personal service through its seven branches. And their leadership did it in America’s sweetest town, nicknamed for its bustling sugar industry.
The town is named for A.C. Clewis, a Tampa developer helping form First Bank in 1922. “He saw a need for local businesspeople to help the town flourish,” says current First Bank chair Miller Couse. “If you’re going to borrow money in any of our locations, we want to be involved,” adding, “we understand the unique businesses that flourish in small towns.”
First Bank president and CEO Carey Soud outlines the business plan for community success, saying: “Our services are broad and diverse because we develop products to meet our customers’ needs.”
Reminding his customers and employees alike, Soud adds: “It’s not just a financial investment [for us], our lives and hearts are here.”
In fact, First Bank has an employee—Nilda Sparks—who has worked at the bank for more than half of its first century.
With an employee stock ownership plan in place (employees own about 20 percent of the bank), senior VP and chief lending officer Deborah Van Sickle notes that: “We are truly community owned and operated … every decision our employees make is for their investment.”
First Bank has not shied away from technology either, adding its first automated teller machine nearly 50 years ago, a major computer in 1988 and was on the cutting edge of check imaging in 1994. First Bank’s assets in 1922 were $250,000, or about $4 million in today’s dollars. That figure has soared.
NEXT 100 YEARS
First Bank’s plans include helping with Airglades
International Airport’s state-of-the-art perishable
cargo facility for goods that include South American
flowers, fruits, vegetables and seafood. “Miami is
congested,” chief operating officer and executive vice
president Andrew Couse says. “The idea is that they
would land the planes here and save time getting the
cargo on the road so there’s less spoilage.”
That project is nearing the goal line that requires
several hundred million dollars invested in the
next two or three years, creating scores of jobs.
Andrew Couse adds that he is also planning
to implement a call center, more convenient
digital experiences for customers and have a succession
plan in place for employees.
Carey Soud speaks of the bank’s recent dynamic growth,
citing, for example, that it took 70 years for First Bank to
grow to $100 million in assets. But in the past three years,
he adds, “we’ve grown $100 million per year in assets … and
are continuing to grow.”
This good news portends a bright future for First Bank. It
should also make those flowers, fruits, vegetables and fish
even fresher as they head through the advanced Airglades
International Airport to your dinner tables and flower vases.
Nilda Sparks—now vice president of First Bank’s human
resources division—can hardly imagine what the next 100
years may bring! FCM