Stevens Plowman has worked 47 years for the combined F&M banking organization. He recently came across his first pay stub – for $10 – dated 1967.
At the age of 60, Plowman officially stepped down as president of F&M Bank on July 1. In reflecting upon his career, memories of his earliest banking experiences came to mind.
“I went to Pettibone” elementary school, he said, “and would walk down the hill and go to the bank. I would work as a janitor or a statement stuffer, and Dad (Bayard Plowman, then bank president) would take me home at 5 o’clock.”
During the summers, Stevens would deliver envelopes to residences around town. “I later realized that they were delinquent notices. I was riding my bike and delivering them before I had my driver’s license,” he said.
Plowman still sits on the bank board, and is president of holding company that owns the bank. But, he added, “I have no day-to-day management responsibility at the bank.”
His greatest feeling of career accomplishment comes from the success of the bank’s customers.
“I can remember when Randy Park started his business (Printex) out of his kitchen,” Plowman said. “Now he has 100 employees. That’s amazing. Randy Park would have made it good no matter what, but we helped him a little bit, a little humble help.”
He compares the locally owned F&M Bank to its big city colleagues. “We are a relationship bank,” Plowman said. Big banks are transaction banks. “The internet in and of itself is forcing a more transaction culture. Customers do everything on the phone, and (bankers) don’t get to know them, and they don’t get to know the bankers.”
As a loan officer at a relationship bank, “You meet with the customers, find out their dreams and needs, put it in an organized manner to present to the board.”
In a transaction culture, “It’s all a formula. Put a name into the computer” and the computer calculates who is credit worthy, based on numbers rather than personal trustworthiness.
“People need to go into the bank and get to know the people,” Plowman said. “And banks need to develop relationships with the people. Borrowing customers, when they have bad news, need to tell the bank before the bank finds out on its own. If they lose a job, the bank will work with them.”
Plowman sees his retirement as somewhat of an end of an era for local banking.
“Hannibal will go through big changes in the near future,” Plowman predicts, following the recent retirement of his contemporaries at other Hannibal banks: Ron Verdier, Jerry Lee, Jerry Trower and Jim Behrens. “I’m the last one,” Plowman said.
“You will have a whole new generation,” managing Hannibal banking, Plowman said. “With the change will come new insight, new ideas and new energy. But it is going to be different.
“If you ask your father what his memory of the bank was, he would say the lobby in front of the vault. If you ask people of my generation, they would think of the bank drive-through window. Our children think of the bank as something on the phone. See the evolution from relationship banking to transaction banking? If you don’t have a relationship with your bank, they treat you as a number.
“Friday afternoons are still busy (at the bank) but nothing like it used to be. Social Security day was wall-to-wall customers. Not it’s barely a blip (in the lobby.) Anyone new to Social Security gets their check on the first, second or third Wednesday of the week, depending on when their birthday is,” instead on the third of the month like it used to be. And checks are electronically deposited.
The most important thing that transpired during his banking career was the establishment of the Riedel Foundation, Plowman said. “Mr. Riedel was extremely difficult to work with, but he left something of such a major importance to our community. It’s hard to put a value on it.” In 14 years, the foundation has distributed $3 million in grants within the community, and the “corpus” of the foundation is greater now than it was when it was established.
“Giving out money is much more rewarding than foreclosing,” he said.
Walking in his
Working side by side with his father in the banking industry was a rewarding experience,” Plowman said.
“It was fun working with him. We had a good relationship to bounce ideas off of each other. We really enjoyed each other,” even during the times when they disagreed. “Strong arguments build relationships,” Plowman said.
The elder Plowman died in 2011.
Stevens Plowman is a cancer survivor, and he promised himself and his family six years ago that if he survived for five years, he was going to look at doing something different with his life. He views his decision to retire tantamount to keeping that promise.
“Banking’s not as fun as it used to be,” he said.
Plowman’s replacement in the role of bank president is Levon Mathews, a veteran banker from Memphis, Tenn. “He served several small community banks. Myself and the board interviewed him for six months before offering him the position,” Plowman said.