First Community: For first time, local bank hits assets of $500 million

Founded in 1979 as First National Bank of San Benito, First Community Bank has for the first time accrued assets of more than $500 million. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

HARLINGEN — An unwavering focus on local investing and in growing organically here in the Rio Grande Valley has paid off for First Community Bank, which for the first time has recorded total assets of $500 million.

First Community Bank initially was chartered as First National Bank of San Benito in 1979. As Cameron County’s oldest chartered independently owned bank, it now has nine locations ranging from South Padre Island to Raymondville to Edinburg.

Michael Scott, president and CEO of the bank, said daily records show the bank last month breached the $500 million-asset mark, although it won’t be official until the bank posts a quarterly return at that number.

“We’re really excited that we’ve arrived, and to be clear, we touched on $500 million a couple of times, but we fluctuate daily so I’m not going to say we’re a solid $500 million yet, but we’re knocking on the door,” Scott said Friday.

“But it was our 2020 vision, to be a $500 million, safe, sound, profitable community bank,” he added.

Anita Boswell, the bank’s executive vice president, was more emphatic.

“It will be permanent sometime in 2020 by year-end,” she said.

First Community is a full-service bank yet, like so many financial institutions these days, has opted for specialization in commercial loans for housing and business construction.

With credit unions dominating the auto loan market, and mortgages being eaten up by national companies like Quicken Loans and Rocket Mortgage, Scott and Boswell believe the ability to form personal relationships with developers and others locally is something these financial behemoths can’t match.

“So we’ve got to come at it from a different direction,” said Scott, who celebrated his 18th year at the bank Thursday. “We work with mortgage brokers, we do a lot of wonderful family construction lending so that’s a specialty for us. And those loans have to go to a secondary market but it really works well for us to grow the community that way.”

Scott is adamant about where the bank’s focus should stay — the Rio Grande Valley.

“It’s our reason for being,” he said. “We’re here because of small business and local business. And again, we’re a Rio Grande Valley bank, we’re not out of the Valley, our total focus is down here and so really all we do is help our customers succeed and if our customers succeed, then our community succeeds and it’s a great circle.”

First Community has financed hundreds of family homes, Scott said, as well as medical buildings and insurance buildings and other business-related construction, all of which have the added benefit of creating local jobs.

“The job creation goes hand in hand with growth,” Scott said.

Scott believes the housing market in Harlingen in 2020 will continue on its upward trend of steady growth. In fact, this kind of stability in the City of Harlingen is one of the things Scott believes has helped the growth of First Community.

Founded in 1979 as First National Bank of San Benito, First Community Bank has for the first time accrued assets of more than $500 million. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)
Founded in 1979 as First National Bank of San Benito, First Community Bank has for the first time accrued assets of more than $500 million. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)
Michael Scott, president and CEO of First Community Bank, and Anita Boswell, executive vice president, discuss the locally owned financial institution’s breaking the $500-million asset mark. By Rick Kelley, Valley Morning Star

“Harlingen has sometimes not grown as fast as the McAllen-Mission-Edinburg market, but Harlingen’s always been steady … I think the highs are certainly not as high, but not as low in Harlingen,” Scott said

Scott credits his staff at the bank as well as having a local and active board of directors, all of which “helps us be really responsive for customers. I think that really sets us apart from the big banks.”

Scott illustrated the differences between some of the nation’s larger financial institutions and community banks like his.

Before the financial crisis of 2008-09, a number of national banks had been attempting to establish a presence in the commercial lending market here in the Valley, he said.

“And they were the first ones to leave when times got tough,” he added. “And that’s the difference between community banking and big banks. They’re there when things are good, and they pull up the rug, so to speak, and leave town when times are not good.

“Community banks hang in there with the customers through thick and then,” he said. “I think our customers really appreciate that.”

rkelley@valleystar.com