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Weekend edition February 09, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Smart Financial is fourth largest publicly traded bank holding company in TN

The holding company also recently moved from The Nasdaq to the the New York Stock Exchange.

Did you know that the fourth largest publicly traded bank holding company in Tennessee calls Knoxville home? We certainly did not until we sat down recently with William Y. (Billy) Carroll Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer of SmartFinancial Inc.

It is the publicly traded parent of SmartBank, founded in 2007 in Pigeon Forge and now with 42 branches across Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida. Today, SmartBank is rapidly approaching $5 billion in assets, and that expansion has been fueled through seven bank acquisitions along with the always-important organic growth.

Billy Carroll

The purpose of our interview was to follow up on the early December announcement that Smart Financial was now being traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) under the ticker symbol “SMBK.” It transferred the listing of its common stock from The Nasdaq Stock Market LLC effect December 11.

Yet, during that interview, we learned a good deal more – from Carroll’s recent election to the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta to how SmartFinancial moved from having one branch in 2007 to being the fourth largest publicly traded bank holding company in the Volunteer State 17 years later.

“We’ve been publicly traded since 2015,” Carroll told us. That came shortly after SmartFinancial merged with Cornerstone Community Bank, then headquartered in Chattanooga. “It was traded over the counter,” Carroll explained. Miller Wellborn, a well-known Chattanooga business leader who among other interests was one of the founders of the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, served as Board Chair of Cornerstone and has continued that role at Smart Financial after the merger.

In a September 2020 article in the Upper Cumberland Business Journal following SmartFinancial’s acquisition of Progressive Savings Bank, Carroll explained the genesis of SmartBank. He, his father, and several other Sevier County area business leaders decided to organize a new innovative, dynamic financial institution with an image, values, and service unlike any other community bank in the market.

“We didn’t want to open just another community bank,” he said. “We wanted something that felt a little different . . . still with the same general banking model, but with an emphasis on branding and culture.”

In both that article and our recent interview, Carroll said many thought the decision to start a new bank could not have come at a worse time. If you remember the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-08, you might agree, but Carroll said it was actually a great time.

“We were brand new without the problem loans like others had,” he explained, adding, “That allowed us to get on our feet very fast.”

A year into its opening in Pigeon Forge, SmartBank opened branches in Gatlinburg and Sevierville before expanding into Knoxville in 2009. SmartFinancial was formed in 2010. Two years later, the holding company completed its first acquisition of GulfSouth Private Bank, adding branches in the Florida Panhandle region. With the acquisition of GulfSouth,  SmartFinancial crossed the $1 billion in assets threshold.

Today, SmartFinancial has offices in 12 Tennessee, 10 Alabama, and four Florida counties.

We asked Carroll about the significance of the move from The Nasdaq to the NYSE.

“We get a little more attention along with a designated market maker,” he said. “It’s a better trading platform. There’s someone on the floor making execution better by tightening the bid-ask spread in SmartFinancial’s stock. It’s a good thing for our shareholders.”

About his election to the Federal Reserve Board, Carroll said, “I am honored and excited to join the distinguished group of professionals at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. This opportunity is a testament to the outstanding Board of Directors, leadership team, and mentors that I have been blessed to work alongside at SmartBank. I look forward to contributing to the important work of the Federal Reserve Bank Board and collaborating with my esteemed colleagues to foster a resilient and prosperous economy.”

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