Community-wide effort preserves Missouri bank

Brian VanFosson

After working at the Citizens Bank of Rogersville, Mo., for 14 years, Brian VanFosson learned the bank was for sale and spearheaded a community-based campaign to buy the bank. That was late 2012 and since then VanFosson has led the bank, preserving jobs and maintaining profitability and, perhaps most importantly, sustaining a pillar of the Southern Missouri town of 3,900 people. 

VanFosson shared his story during a general session presentation at the National Conference for Community Bankers earlier this year hosted by the American Bankers Association.

It was only a few days before Christmas when VanFosson learned the owners of the bank had put it up for sale. Seizing the moment, VanFosson approached people who might be interested in participating in an effort to buy the bank. By mid-February, 42 people had agreed, each investing $25,000 to $600,000. VanFosson decided early on to limit each investor to 10 percent or less of the company’s total shares. “We wanted to make sure that it was truly a community bank with no control by any one person or any one family,” VanFosson said in a 2017 article published in the ABA Banking Journal.

What was it like trying to raise more than $7 million to buy the bank? “It was pretty stressful,” VanFosson said. “There was more than once I was ready to give up and I was ready to just cash it in and say, ‘This is not going to happen, you can’t make it, you can’t get it.’ And then, all of a sudden miraculously, someone would say, ‘I want to jump on board.’”

The group continued raising money and closed on the purchase of the bank in early August 2013. VanFosson assumed the role of bank president at the time. Today, the bank has shareholders in six states. 

The success of the bank (ROA since 2013 ranges from 1.0 to 1.3 percent) goes far beyond the physical bank building, due in large part to the extra work VanFosson does to connect with the community. Citizens Bank of Rogersville has been the primary sponsor for the school district’s education foundation gala. VanFosson also helps organize a one-day music festival, which draws approximately 3,000 people to Rogersville per year. The event has raised more than $250,000 since 2015. VanFosson, president of the Rogersville affiliate of The Community Foundation of the Ozarks, played a key role in starting an endowment fund, which will give back grants to local nonprofits in perpetuity.

At the National Conference for Community Bankers, VanFosson said that his recent work is the culmination of a lifetime of experience that originated on the farm where he grew up – a 230-acre, 24/7, 365-day-a-year dairy and beef operation. “You learned early on that to be successful, to survive even, you can’t be afraid of work,” he said. 

After graduating from Missouri State University, VanFosson briefly worked in a non-financial field before entering banking in 1986 as an examiner with the state of Missouri during the depths of the decade’s farming crisis. His experience in farming had paid off. “We’re in the middle of a farming crisis caused in large part by the farming community,” VanFosson said the department’s HR professional told him when he asked why he was being hired without having any banking experience. “We can teach you how to be a bank examiner. We need someone who can train us on agriculture.”

Five years later, aware of how many previous examiners had made a similar shift, VanFosson accepted a job at Metropolitan National Bank, Springfield, where he started the bank’s loan review department and did some lending himself, primarily with consumer and smaller commercial loans. “It was certainly a spark,” he said of the impact of the job on his attraction to the profession. “It wasn’t quite there yet when I started, but I was very interested in it.”

As VanFosson became a more experienced lender, he grew to love working with customers, guiding those he assisted with their best interests in mind. Doing so proved both fulfilling and humbling for VanFosson. 

“Being able to loan money and see how we as a bank can help people succeed and let their dreams come true and also, at times, saying no,” he said of what he enjoyed about lending. “There’s an element that you have a responsibility to tell the customer, ‘No, I don’t think it’s in your best interest.’ That’s a tough job. You need to be careful in how you do that.”

VanFosson has been married to Elaine Maddux for 31 years. They met when he was a bank examiner. Maddux, a bank examiner with more than two decades of experience, handles day-to-day operations at Citizens Bank, including behind-the-scenes accounting and HR work.