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Liberty, Sac River banks announce plans to merge

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Liberty Bank continues its expansion efforts, this time announcing a merger between it and Sac River Valley Bank, a single location bank in Stockton. The two banks plan to begin business as a merged entity Jan. 4, 1999, said Gary Metzger, president of Liberty Bank.

Sac River Valley Bank is a $95 million bank with its place of business on the square in downtown Stockton, said Garry Robinson, president and chief executive officer of Sac River Valley Bank. The bank was founded in 1912, making it the oldest bank in Cedar County. The bank has 22 employees.

Robinson said the Sac River Valley Bank's growth during its 86-year history has been steady.

"We were an agricultural community until about 15 years ago, when Stockton Lake went in; then we became a retirement community. That has shifted the bank's clientele somewhat, but overall, we've had steady growth throughout the life of the bank," Robinson said.

Liberty Bank is now at $136 million in assets and has four locations: two in Springfield, one in Greenfield and one in Mount Vernon. Liberty is in the process of adding 6,000 square feet to its location at the corner of Fremont and Primrose, Metzger said, because it is "busting at the seams."

The merger fits with Liberty's strategic plan to expand its presence across southwest Missouri, Metzger said. Sac River, likewise, was looking to expand; Robinson said the bank has purchased land for a branch in El Dorado Springs, which is also in Cedar County. Sac River has done business with Liberty on a bank-to-bank basis since Liberty opened three years ago, Robinson said, and the two banks complement each other.

"We have similar management styles and philosophies. I think the two banks will fit well together," Robinson said.

Merging with Liberty was also attractive to Sac River because Liberty has invested in technology that will benefit Sac River, Robinson said. The Stockton bank would have to spend a substantial amount of money to catch up to the level of technology that Liberty has already achieved, he added.

Adding the new bank at Stockton, and then the branch at El Dorado Springs, will help Liberty move across southwest Missouri faster, getting it into areas where it does not have branches now, Metzger said. The merged entity will retain the name Liberty Bank, and the two boards of directors of the banks will be consolidated.

Robinson will become the executive vice president of Liberty Bank and a community bank president will be chosen for the Stockton bank, just as community bank presidents were chosen for Liberty's banks in Greenfield and Mount Vernon. Robinson will have offices in Stockton and at Liberty's main branch in Springfield.

The merger has already received regulatory approvals and shareholder approval. The combined bank will have 1,560 shareholders. The number is large, Robinson said, because of the age of the Sac River Valley Bank.

"In an institution this old, you're going to have stock that has been gifted and spread around somewhat, so we've got quite a few more shareholders," Robinson said.

There are three other banks in Stockton: Tri-County State Bank, Great Southern and Citizens Bank of Greenfield has applied for a branch to be in Stockton. In El Dorado Springs there is a Union Planters (the bank was formerly a 1st Savings Bank) and the Community Bank of El Dorado Springs.

Sac River Valley Bank now outsources all of its back-room functions, Robinson said, but because Liberty has its own back room, the bank will be able to use that.

Liberty Bank has maintained a strong emphasis on small- to medium-size businesses, Metzger said, and has therefore used the Small Business Administration's loan programs frequently. Sac River, likewise, issues a number of SBA-backed loans, and Metzger said that indicates the similarities between the two banks.

"We're both focused on small business lending, and it turns out that the SBA loans fit really well a great deal of the time," Metzger said.

The Stockton bank will change its signs to Liberty Bank signs after the first of the year, Robinson said. Customers will be able to use their Sac River Valley Bank checks even after Jan. 4, 1999.

In addition to its bank facility, Sac River has an automated teller machine in the Woods Supermarket in Stockton. Liberty Bank has five ATMs, one at each of its banks and one at a Mount Vernon convenience store. Liberty is also part of a network of ATMs that allows its customers to use any of more than 100 ATMs that participate in the network.

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