A Banking Pioneer: the journey of BankPlus and Bryan JonesBy JAMIE PATTERSON,
When Bryan Jones first entered into the banking business, he admits that he was nervous that he didn’t know what he was doing.
Fresh out of college, Jones said he was provided an opportunity to return home and begin a career in the banking industry. Uncertain, he began pounding the pavement to attract interest and investment.
It paid off.
Jones was instrumental in bringing BankPlus to the forefront of the region and banking world. The fresh graduate who was asking for business would see a multi-billion-dollar banking system develop over the years.
“My dad suggested I enter the banking business, and I chose banking because that was the first job I could get,” Jones said, with a smile. “I was fixing to get married, and there were no job offers. The first job I got was in a Memphis bank, and I took it. I must have liked it because I stuck with over 40 years.”
Jones was born in Tchula and raised on his family farm. After graduating from the University of Mississippi, the future was wide open for him. Taking a banking position in Memphis, he remembers the struggles that came to him and his young family.
“My rent was just about 50 percent of what I was making a month,” Jones recalls.
While working at a Southaven bank, Jones was responsible for handling consumer loans. But it was a hunting trip that sparked his return to home.
“I have always been a hunter, and it was squirrel season,” he said. “I didn’t have anywhere to go so I went to the Arkabutla State Park. I left early that morning from Memphis and got down there to the public hunting area. I saw 701 squirrels so I said I needed to find my way back home some kind of way.”
That opportunity arrived when Citizens Bank and Trust Company in Belzoni offered him a position as an agriculture lender in November of 1972. Originally called Citizens Bank & Trust Company, the institute would later become BankPlus.
“I made a few ag loans, and then we got approval to put a branch in Yazoo City,” Jones said. “They tried to hire some people down here, and nobody would do it.”
Jones admits he was new in the business and not very confident. But he accepted the position as bank manager in Yazoo City.
“I was 22 years old, and I really didn’t know enough to be a branch manager,” he said, with a smile. “If I had any sense I wouldn’t have done it because I would have known I didn’t know anything.”
But Jones arrived at the new branch, located at 119 West Jefferson St., eager to dive into his new position. And there were a few setbacks.
“We redid the old bus station and Helena depot,” he said. “We had a fountain in the backyard. It was a nightmare because people kept putting detergent in it.”
Jones remembers those days with laughter. But when it came time for business, he said he had a great mentor in Earl Wilson, the chairman of the board.
“He was a great boss and mentor for me,” he said. “That is when I started calling on businesses, asking for their business. We opened our branch there, and we started with zero. I called on every business in town. They all didn’t decide to bank with me, but some did. If you don’t ask, they can’t say anything.”
Fresh in the business, Jones said the bank offered something different, however. The age of computers was a new concept, and they would be one of the first to embrace it.
“People were just starting to be on computers with our checking accounts,” he said. “We opened in August of 1973, and the rest of our banking system was still posting twice a day on machines. We started out on a computer. We had the first account numbers. Nobody else had account numbers. You looked at checks by the signature. We were also one of the first, if not the first, in the state to do imaging with your checks.”
Progress and confidence continued. Renovations and remodeling projects began to suit the growing needs. Having been at the Jefferson Street location for 15 years, a branch was bought across the street from the Yazoo County Courthouse. Soon, the Miller Drug Store was purchased and converted into an administration building on Main Street.
And then BankPlus made a bold move. Only an office building stood on Jerry Clower Boulevard in 1996. But that was about to change.
“We made a bold decision to come up here,” Jones said. “All the other banks were downtown. It was a bold move to come up here. We started with nothing here.”
Now the strip is the busiest thoroughfare in town. And the newly-renovated BankPlus branch stands proud as one of the first major investments in the area.
“I also took a banking tour in Oklahoma and Illinois to get some idea of what other banks were doing,” Jones said. “From that, we began taking drive-thru business from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., which has worked out great.”
Today, BankPlus is one of the fastest-growing banks in Mississippi with more than $2.9 billion in total assets. It currently has 59 offices in 33 Mississippi communities.
Jones would also serve as the Chief Executive Officer of the Delta Division of BankPlus, handling the north region consisting of Holmes, Humphreys and Yazoo counties. After handing over the reigns to Butch Gary, he relocated to Ridgeland in the wealth management industry.
“We have great, loyal customers here in Yazoo,” he said. “I am thankful for the people I have had the opportunity to work with in the business. I have always tried to treat all others how I wanted to be treated. And that model has worked.”
Jones and his wife Sara have three children and eight grandchildren. He remains an avid outdoorsman and advocate.
And it’s safe to say that Jones knew what he was doing.