April 16, 2014 - 17:53
Benton Banking Company sold
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Benton Banking Company has been sold to First Volunteer Corporation, which has 19 banking locations in eight counties in east and middle Tennessee.

Benton Banking Company has been sold to First Volunteer Corporation, which has 19 banking locations in eight counties in east and middle Tennessee. The announcement was made Monday afternoon that an agreement had been reached with First Volunteer officers and the directors of Benton Bancshares whereby Benton Banking Company will become a wholly owned subsidiary of First Volunteer Corporation. T.B. Isbell Insurance Agency and Benton Banking Mortgage Company, which were owned by Benton Banking Company, are included in the sale.

Officers and employees of the local bank will continue in their current positions, serving their customers just as they have for the last 100 years, the announcement said. First Volunteer Bank President Patti W. Steele said it will still be named Benton Banking Company and will be the only stand-alone bank in the group. “Nothing changes but the ownership,” she said, stressing that all accounts are secure and the bank will continue to be a good corporate citizen.

Mike Whitmire, who had been appointed Friday as interim President of Benton Banking Company, replacing Jimmy Goddard, said, “This is a real win-win arrangement for Benton Banking Company and First Volunteer Bank and we are very pleased to have this opportunity to work together.” Vice President Joe Waters said “We have spent a considerable amount of time with the folks from First Volunteer and feel that with their banking expertise and excess capital positions, it will allow us to offer many additional services to our customers and grow to be an even more influential part of Benton and the Polk County market.”

Steele said First Volunteer has been banking the Etowah and Delano markets for a number of years and really enjoys working with their good customers in McMinn and Polk counties. “We really feel that this opportunity to bring additional services to the entire region will be good for First Volunteer and Benton Banking Company customers.” She said Benton Banking Company has a strong customer base and has been a good, solid bank for a long time. “This is our kind of market,” she said, adding, “It fits our company very well. We’re pretty excited about it.”

First Volunteer’s original charter, for Marion Trust and Banking, dates back to 1904. Through the years, it has purchased banks and opened branches in other counties and became First Volunteer Corporation in 1999. The $548 million bank is headquartered in Chattanooga. It also owns First Volunteer Insurance Agency.

Monday’s announcement followed nearly two weeks of uncertainty and a swirling rumor mill after Goddard went missing for a few days, turning up at Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. Possible problems at the bank became a key topic of conversation. County Trustee Patsy Jenkins said several commissioners called her to ask if the county’s money was safe since it exceeded the $100,000 FDIC insurance limit. Jenkins explained that banks are required to provide additional security for the county’s deposits and she had made sure last week that the current balances were secured.

Bank officials have remained silent. On Monday, Steele and Waters said banking law forbids them from making any comments about the rumors or the events that transpired in the past few weeks, stressing instead the importance of looking at the benefits to the sale. Other bank corporations had also looked at Benton Banking Company, and Waters said he was delighted that the ultimate agreement was with First Volunteer. “They come from a community banking background and have an excellent reputation for serving their customers,” he said, adding, “just like Benton Banking Company.”

The closing date for the sale is set for Dec. 31, pending final regulatory approval and a vote of the shareholders of Bancshares. Steele said a package of information with the definitive agreement about the sale will be mailed to shareholders by Friday with a ten-day notice for a meeting. Benton Bancshares owns 100% of the stock of Benton Banking Company.

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