Midway through a mid March morning, the gray sunlight of a still early spring peered through the window behind Blake Swafford, who like the rest of the management team at SimplyBank, was grappling with a new household word Coronavirus and what it would mean for the locally owned, community bank where he has worked for the last nine years.

Swafford, director of innovation at the bank, is a second-generation community banker and grew up steeped in the lingo and acronyms that make up the language of the business. His father, Sam Swafford, was a longtime president at SimplyBank (under its former name, First Bank of Tennessee) and a former mayor of Dayton.

Swafford has community banking in his blood, and as he learned earlier this year, he also has the respect and recognition of some of the top minds in the business he is one of 40 named to the Independent Community Bankers of America’s 40 Under 40 list of emerging community bankers for 2020.

Nominated by the bank’s top leadership for the Independent Community Bankers of America’s 40 Under 40 list of emerging community bankers for 2020, Swafford said it’s a badge of honor for himself and the teams he works alongside and supports.

“I was honored to simply be nominated by my peers for this list, and I washumbled and ecstatic when I learned the team at ICBA chose me as one of this year’s recipients,” said Swafford. “Our country’s community banks are crucial to the people and places we serve and it’s incredibly meaningful to be recognized by some of the topleaders in this industry for the work we’re doing at SimplyBank.”

This year marks the second annual edition of the ICBA 40 Under 40 list, which spotlights young professionals in community banking from around the United States. According to the ICBA, candidates are identified and chosen based on four primary criteria:

• Character

• Leadership

• Community Involvement

• Innovation

A feature story, which is included in the newly released June issue of ICBA’s magazine, “Independent Banker” highlights how this year’s 40 Under 40 honorees have overcome challenges and answered calls for innovation. The leaders also share their philosophies on leadership and where they see big opportunities for lending. Bank technology services provider FIS, of Jacksonville, Fla., sponsored this year’s program.

“From CEOs to compliance officers, branch managers, lenders and marketers, this annual award continues to uncover extraordinary talent within the community banking industry,” ICBA President and CEO Rebeca Romero Rainey said. “We congratulate Blake on this well-deserved honor. Hisdeep belief in the community bank business model and passion for supporting his customers and communities, especially in this COVID-19 environment where community bankers continue to step up to serve the needs of customers, should be commended.”

Swafford was a natural nominee for the list, according to John Owen, president and CEO at SimplyBank.

“Blake is one of the most innovative people with whom I’ve ever worked,” Owen said. “He grew up around banking, he knows what it takes to be successful in this business, and he understands that growth and innovation are key to community banking’s future and staying power.”

Swafford is tasked with thinking the organization into the future, while keeping the pulse of consumer and competitor trends. His work is often behind the scenes and crucial to the customer experience, manifest in a positive customer experience or an online function that works right and works well.

“He knows what our customers want and need from us, but also what tools make it easier for our team members to meet those wants and needs,” Owen said.

And in the midst of unprecedented social distancing measures due to COVID19, SimplyBank increasingly depends on Swafford’s area of expertise. Once wish list items, bank from anywhere tools and services are now must-haves.

It was e-signature software which helped SimplyBank secure and process more than $15.5 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans, helping 225 locally-owned business nail down relief funds to keep their businesses afloat amidst the mandatory shutdown for non-essential businesses.

These are the challenges that keep Swafford motivated to keep hunting for the next right thing.

“We don’t have to live on the bleeding edge of technology to keep up with the major players in banking,” he said. “We just need our people to understand that new tools are important, that new tools can make our jobs faster and easier and that new tools are what our customers expect from us in the digital age.”

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