Community First Bank of Indiana Celebrates Two Decades Serving Howard County

Photographer / John Bolinger

Community First BankFebruary 3 marks Community First Bank’s 20th anniversary. On that date in 2003, Community First Bank of Indiana (CFB) made history by opening the first new bank chartered in Howard County in more than 55 years. Robb Blume (chief executive officer and president), Bea Wiles (chief operating officer), and Bob Hickman (chief credit officer) have been with the bank since its founding two decades ago.

When we first started to formulate a plan to start a bank, everything was a risk,” Blume says. In most cases, our employees were leaving secure jobs to join the first new bank in Howard County in over 50 years. Our new directors were disrupting the status quo in the Howard County market, and investors and customers were taking a chance based on their belief in our people and a promise – a promise that we would build a community bank that would focus on local consumers and businesses while providing a stable and safe investment.”

As Blume, Wiles, and Hickman reflect on the past 20 years, they are grateful for the vision of Mike Stegall, the bank’s founding chief executive officer and president, who saw a need for a true community bank in Howard County in 2003. Stegall, who just retired from the board last year, envisioned a locally owned bank run by a local board of directors – people who understand and have passion for the community, as well as a vested interest in the local area.

Everyone affiliated with CFB is committed to making their communities better places to live and do business. One way they do this is by giving back to local nonprofit organizations. The bank’s staff regularly participates in community events in Kokomo, Westfield, Noblesville, and Indianapolis and the bank contributes funds to support many locally based nonprofits. CFB’s community involvement in 2021 included over $85,000 in bank-donated funds, over $11,500 in employee-donated funds, hundreds of employee hours of service, support for more than 75 organizations, and direct service to more than 300 veterans.

Community First BankCFB’s commitment to community was unwavering even amid a global pandemic. In 2020, CFB donated more than $96,000 to nonprofits that entrusted the bank to process their Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. The PPP Loan provision of the CARES ACT was intended to assist small businesses/organizations facing challenges related to COVID-19, primarily helping them to keep workers employed. Each nonprofit donation was equal to the fee the bank earned for processing and funding each organization’s PPP loan, rounded up to the nearest $25 increment.

“We know that, even in the best of times, raising funds in the effort to assist others can be a difficult task. With the economic uncertainty created by the COVID-19 virus, we wanted to help by putting all fees earned on not-for-profit PPP loans back into the hands of those organizations to be used for the betterment of our communities,” said Blume.

The bank is truly leaving a lasting impact on its communities. Hickman often mentions how he loves driving around town and seeing all the thriving local businesses that Community First has helped to grow. Andy Baker is the owner of AndyMark, which is one of those customers. AndyMark is a local business that’s gone from a true startup to a company serving all 50 states and over 70 countries.

“AndyMark has been supported by CFB since our beginning in 2004,” Baker says. “AndyMark has used CFB services for each step of our business development journey by supplying affordable loans and advice to utilize city development assistance.” He continued by describing the bank’s team of commercial lenders as “patient, persistent, and encouraging.” He even shared a personal memory of experiencing exceptional service: “Tracy Brown stayed late at the downtown branch one night as we made an error in agreeing to a wire transfer hoax. Tracy was diligent and thorough as she helped us recover our funds that were sent after a scam.”

Through the years CFB has been recognized in a number of ways, not only for being a community leader, but also for making a lasting impact on the community. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce named CFB among the Best Places to Work in Indiana for eight consecutive years.

Community First BankWe’re constantly working to create a place where local, talented professionals who have a heart for the community can be employed,” Blume says. We even recently added a Chief Leadership and People Development Officer to our leadership team to help us attract and provide personalized development opportunities for the banking industry’s top talent.”

Additional awards include being voted as Kokomo’s Best Bank in the Kokomo Tribune’s Readers Choice awards for 16 consecutive years, named Indiana’s Small Business Lender of the Year for 2022 by the Indiana Statewide Certified Development Corporation, and honored with the Indiana Bankers Association C2C (Commitment to Community) award for outstanding community service performed in 2020 during the pandemic.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth in the Hamilton and Marion County communities since 2015, and with the acquisition of 1st Signature Lending in 2020 continued growth is on the horizon for us. However, our dedication to the Kokomo community is unwavering. Simply put, community is at the center of everything Community First Bank embodies,” Blume says.

“Our CFB family could not be more grateful for the support we have received from so many since our inception,” Blume says. “What began as a group of 16 employees, 14 outside directors and approximately 275 shareholders has now grown to encompass three counties, eight locations, more than 120 employees, and thousands of consumer and commercial customers. We continue to wake up every day with a mission to continue honoring that initial promise.”

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