Southern Bancorp, Inc. is one of America’s largest rural development banks with approximately $1.1 billion in assets, serving over 80,000 customers at 39 branches in both Arkansas and Mississippi. Southern was founded in 1986 by then Governor Bill Clinton, Wal-Mart Chair Rob Walton, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and others who were concerned about the economic decline of rural Arkansas. Southern invests in people and businesses in rural communities, empowers them to improve their lives and helps them transform their communities.
Last month, Bank of America announced that it had completed 10 new equity investments as part of its 4-year $1 billion commitment to advance racial equality in economic opportunity. Of BoA's 10 equity investments, 6 were to CDBA member banks: Carver State Bank, Carver Federal Savings Bank, First Independence Bank, M&F Bank, Southern Bancorp, and Optus Bank. These investments will facilitate benefits across multiple states and in the communities that these institutions serve through lending, housing, neighborhood revitalization, and other banking services.
A community development bank in Arkadelphia, Ark., that raised nearly $35 million could be a model for a growing number of similar banks scrounging for capital to meet the needs of consumers and small businesses in struggling neighborhoods. Central to the strategy of the $1.6 billion-asset Southern Bancorp is a heavy emphasis on returning capital to investors through regular dividends and a stock repurchase program. "There's patient capital, but patient shouldn't mean permanent," CEO Darrin Williams said in an interview after the bank recently published a paper about its successful capital raise late last year.
Darrin Williams thinks it was probably a Fox News interview he did in early April that caught the eye of the White House and got him invited later that month to a videoconference with President Trump, his daughter Ivanka, and other top advisers. Williams is one of only a handful of Black CEOs at financial institutions with more than $1 billion in assets. At $1.6 billion, Southern Bancorp is a minnow next to the trillion-dollar-size whales that more commonly have access to Trump. But in this conversation, just four days after the federal government rolled out the Paycheck Protection Program to provide $350 billion in loans to keep small businesses alive, the little bank in Arkansas emerged as the most relevant.