Family-owned First Bank leverages technology and 100 years of expertise to help family businesses succeed
America’s economic success is rooted in family businesses. From small mom and pop endeavors to global behemoths, their economic contributions make up 64% of our GDP; 78% of our new jobs are created by family-owned firms; and, as of 2019, the Walton family business — Walmart — was the largest of its kind in the nation.
In targeting a large share of their products and services toward family business owners, and with a stated vision to “help family-owned businesses, their families and employees thrive through the generations,” St. Louis-based First Bank has carved out a very successful niche.
Founded in 1906 and owned by the Dierberg family since 1910, First Bank’s footprint consists of $6 billion in assets and approximately $5 billion in deposit accounts. In 2020, its parent company, FB Corp, ranked seventh in performance among the country’s financial institutions with assets ranging from $3 billion to $10 billion according to an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis. Of the country’s 4,500 banks they are the 176th largest, serving customers in Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, and California.
Marc Ashworth CISSP, CISM, CRISC, the organization’s Chief Information Security Officer and longtime thought leader on cybersecurity, views First Bank’s significant family focus as a powerful differentiator from their peers. “We're a bank that understands how family-owned businesses run,” he said. “That knowledge enables us to help business owners and their employees to build financial growth, stability, and independence.” But they’re more than just business and mortgage lenders; from preparing for the financial and operational realities of growth to planning for succession, First Bank is an end-to-end advisor for families establishing and running their businesses.
Another important company-wide differentiator is the bank’s embrace of technology, which became a particularly significant advantage during the pandemic. Systems designed for remote work were already in place when the crisis emerged, helping to smooth any disruption felt by employees in addition to giving the IT team opportunities to refine and accelerate enhancements to existing online features.
Ashworth posited that the IT department did more projects in 2020 than in the previous year. “Many were especially client-centric and focused on providing better customer service,” he said. “Going forward, we’re making the client experience more intuitive and user friendly, which will make our client interactions that much stronger.”
When it became necessary to rethink processes on the fly, First Bank’s size boosted their ability to make smart decisions quickly. “Being a larger bank that has the financial resources available to make change happen has been crucial, but we’re also small enough to remain nimble,” he said, noting that the organization’s willingness to stay ahead of the fintech curve is a definite plus. “When we realize that technology changes are necessary, we’re able to implement them in a timely manner rather than taking years to process and approve them.”
The arrival of the national Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) came with an influx of complex, necessary applications that needed to be completed as efficiently as possible. First Bank’s reputation as knowledgeable PPP experts attracted a new group of business customers whose existing banks were unable to provide timely assistance with the loans.
“We heard a lot of wonderful feedback from those clients,” Ashworth said. “They were stressed and needed financial help from the government. We were there at every step with them, getting the paperwork done, and helping to protect their businesses. It put our motto into practice, showing that we really are there for our clients, small businesses, and consumers alike.”
Avid, early tech adopters are still somewhat rare in the banking industry, impeded by concerns ranging from affordability and ROI to regulatory compliance and workforce optimization. For many of these laggards, the pandemic was a prod to move technology projects forward, especially in relation to remote work and moving data to the cloud. That’s the good news. The not-so-good security news comes by way of Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory principal Andrew Rafla. “These fundamental shifts can also increase an organization’s attack surface, driving the need to take a more modernized and agile approach to managing cyber risk,” he said.
Cyberattacks have increased between 300% to 600% year over year, and while the world may have slowed because of COVID-19, criminals were working overtime. “We had everything ready to help us with the transition to remote work. Our infrastructure security was in place, so we were in a positive spot from a banking perspective,” Ashworth said. “Our controls and monitoring have allowed us to easily adjust to the additional volume of attacks. First Bank has taken cybersecurity seriously, putting us in an incredibly safe environment, and we continue to refine and adjust.”
Ashworth and his colleagues are on the cusp of completing zero trust security at First Bank, which will also increase data security. Essentially, zero trust security assumes everyone accessing a firm’s data is a threat and verifies each event. “We’ve been moving toward zero trust for a while now, and we’ll complete that transition by the end of the year,” he announced. “We’re doing all the right things and are going above and beyond to secure our clients’ data.”
He expects recent government mandates directing institutions to move towards zero trust to increase its acceptance industry-wide. “It gets back to our size. We have the ability to rapidly adapt to new technologies and to make adjustments to protect the bank and our clients.” He also credits the bank’s slate of tech partners, Including cybersecurity AI pioneers Juniper Networks, St. Louis-based managed services experts Network Technology Partners, and SD-WAN solutions provider Silver Peak Systems. “We have numerous partners that we work with on this effort, and we appreciate their support very much.”
Even when addressing data security, First Bank comes around to the family, and to the inherent worth of all their clients and employees. Ashworth summed it up this way: “When it comes to technology and security, we’re in this together. This topic isn’t one of privileged information, it’s about sharing our experiences and learnings. We have a great banking legacy to share with our clients and for the past 100 years, we’ve proven time and time again, they’re not just numbers to us. They’re family.”
With a 100-year history of family ownership, First Bank offers premier business banking, commercial banking, and personal banking solutions to clients in Missouri, California, Illinois and mortgage services in Kansas.
600 James S. McDonnell Blvd
St. Louis, MO 63042