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Envisioned Over Dinner in Late 90s, High Country Bank Soon Grew Rapidly, Now Known As Yadkin Bank

By Jesse Wood

May 29, 2013. Over the dinner table, the seeds for High Country Bank were planted.

In the late 90s, Kenneth Wilcox and Harry Davis were eating dinner at Hound Ears Club. 

“One day, we looked at each other and said, “Let’s start a bank.’ One of us brought it up and the other said, ‘Absolutely.’ And we were off and running,” said Davis, a professor of finance at ASU, current vice chair of Yadkin Bank and original vice chair of High Country Bank.

imgresWithin days a CEO was brought on board and the board of directors was formed. In a matter of months, High Country Bank secured $10 million in initial financing from selling stock largely to community members of Boone and Watauga County.

“And they scooped it up. We sold over $10 million dollars in stock very quickly and without brokers,” Davis said. “We simply sold it with advertisements and by word of mouth.”

Wilcox added, “We had to stop selling stock, [so we wouldn’t be] over subscribed early on.”

The creation of High Country Bank spawned because Boone “needed” a local bank, Davis said, adding that there hadn’t been a local bank in Boone at the time in at least 30 years.

Wilcox said that while him and other local business people were members of other “good banks” such as First Union and Bank of North Carolina, “it seemed to us a smaller community bank would fit the needs of smaller businesses.”

Just as High Country Bank secured initial financing success very quickly, it continued to grow at a rapid pace.

“We grew to $175-million bank in about 3 years and sold some additional stock three years after we opened, so we could continue to grow,” Davis said. “We grew very rapidly because people in Boone wanted to have a local bank and brought their money to us and we lent it to the community.”

It wasn’t soon that others in the industry began to notice and started to come calling. Davis said that in about 2003 or 2004, Yadkin Valley approached the board about buying out High Country Bank and after some discussion and analysis, the board decided it was in the best interest of the stockholders to sell.

“And we did,” Davis said.

Davis and Wilcox said that when the bank was bought out no employees were laid off, the locations remained, the local customers stayed and the original philosophy of High Country Bank continued.

“It continues to operate as a community bank under the umbrella of Yadkin Valley Bank,” Davis said.

Recently, Yadkin Bank President and CEO Joe Towell, who happened to go through the initial MBA program at ASU, announced that Yadkin Valley Bank and its other divisions, spread across North Carolina and South Carolina and include American Community Bank, Piedmont Bank, High Country Bank and Cardinal State Bank were being “rebranded under the name Yadkin Bank.”

That change went into effect yesterday, May 28.

“Yadkin Bank, while drawing on the strong heritage of each of the community banks that have come together to form this company, is committed to community banking,” Towell said in a prepared statement. “We believe in local decisions, bankers as community leaders, and support for each of the markets we serve through our focus on small business and personal banking. We are proud of our roots in the High Country, and look forward to continuing to serve our customers there.”

Today, Yadkin Bank is a $1.8-billion bank with multiple divisions, a mortgage company and a wealth management company, Davis said. He added that the name change will be more efficient and less confusing to customers.

For a hypothetical example, Davis said that a student from Statesville who attended ASU wouldn’t know that Piedmont Bank and High Country Bank were the same bank. Davis also added that the name consolidation would enhance the image in current markets and allow for more advertising outlets.

As did Davis, Wilcox said the mission of High Country Bank will continue even though it operates under a new name.

“I don’t think it’s going towards being a big bank,” Wilcox said. “It’s well served as a community bank.”