Josh Rowland: Leading asset

Josh Rowland, CEO and vice chairman, Lead Bank. Photo by Steve Puppe

An innovative civic partnership and non-hierarchical branch design have propelled second-generation community banker Josh Rowland to the top.

By Kathryn Jackson Fallon

Josh Rowland

CEO and vice chairman, Lead Bank
Location: Kansas City, Mo.
Asset size: $257 million
Founded: 1928 (as Garden City Bank)

ICBA 2018 Community Banker of the Year – central

Folks in the Show Me State don’t cotton to any nonsense, so when Josh Rowland was nominated by his coworkers for Community Banker of the Year, you know they had good reasons.

Rowland’s connection with $257 million-asset Lead Bank goes back to 2005. That year, his father, Landon, had retired as CEO of Kansas City Southern Industries but decided he wanted to be a part of the economic engine that is community banking. The idea of being a small-town banker appealed to the elder Rowland, so he acquired a majority interest in what was then Garden City Bank.

Josh Rowland, a lawyer by trade, joined the bank in 2008, right at the start of the financial crisis. As he discovered, the bank was not in good shape. In fact, the state of Missouri and the FDIC had placed it under a regulatory order. So, Rowland’s first years there were the definition of “trial by fire.” He was more or less learning what banking was all about while under an enforcement action. But as a result, he became an avid believer in the value of community banking.

Rowland believed Lead Bank—it changed its name in 2010—had to do more to serve its neighborhoods. Important to that process, he says, was understanding the complexities of neighborhoods and that many marginalized communities have traditionally been excluded from mainstream banking. “If we are doing our job, the bank should be at the heart of each of those communities [and they should have] visions of success for themselves,” he says.

He also points to a whole market of emerging businesses that are not being served by traditional commercial banking, which relies largely on collateral values to make credit decisions. Rowland believes that while there will always be a need for collateral when making loans, there should also be a high value on the ability to repay. “We are getting to the point in this country,” Rowland says, “where the next generation of emerging businesses is not going to have buildings and manufacturing facilities—the traditional assets that back loans. The number of those kinds of companies is shrinking. If we want to make a difference, we have to do a better job of being smart bankers. We have to understand and do the hard work of analyzing the risk and how repayment works.”

Civic partnership

One of Lead Bank’s most notable successes is its civic contractor funding program. The program came out of the bank’s relationship with the city of Kansas City, Mo., which was having trouble meeting its supplier diversity goals because it tended to take too long to pay contractors.

I’m very proud to say that…we’ve made $12 million in credit available to DBE, MBE and WBE businesses, with zero credit losses in three years.”

Lead Bank determined that with all of the city’s vetting and validation of contractors, there was little risk in underwriting these short-term contracts. “I’m very proud to say that up to now, we’ve made $12 million in credit available to DBE, MBE and WBE [disadvantaged, minority- and women-owned] businesses, with zero credit losses in three years,” Rowland says.
Drew Solomon, SVP, business development at the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, says Lead Bank is a true partner to its community. “There’s no bank that believes in community purpose and mission more than Lead Bank does,” he says.

This is evident in Lead Crossroads, the bank’s business-focused center in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District. Rowland wanted it to eliminate the hierarchy of standard branch design. There is no big teller counter and no rope line separating customers from the frontline staff. The concept is working so well that the bank is considering renovating its other two locations. Now that’s taking the lead.

Kathryn Jackson Fallon is a writer in New York.