The story of First Federal in Dunn began with an employee who needed to build a house. It’s latest chapter — 60 years later — shows it as one of the leading banks in Harnett County.
“I think it’s quite an accomplishment for community banks these days,” President Jeff Whittington said. “If you look around, not only North Carolina, but if you look around the entire United States, community banks are becoming less and less the norm.”
One thing which the bank has managed to skirt is contraction. For those unfamiliar with business models, contraction involves a larger company taking over a smaller one.
Over the last five years, many smaller, community banks have gone the way of corporate merger, but not First Federal. It has avoided, deliberately, merging or consolidating with any larger bank.
“For a bank to stay independent and to operate with a headquarters in Dunn, North Carolina, I think says a lot about the ownership of the company,” Whittington said. “One of the things that attracted me to this bank when I came here three years ago is that ownership had this idea that the bank was here to serve the community.”
Remaining an independent bank has and always will be the focus, according to Whittington. He said while there are still similar institutions, First Federal intends to remain a community bank with local ownership.
“I won’t say it’s uncommon, because we have fellow bankers who have the same vision,” Whittington said. “But there’s a lot of community banks out there that appear to be headed toward consolidating with another bank for profit reasons, than for serving the community.”
When First Federal started, there were two banks serving Dunn, according to chairman of the board Bobby Wellons. Neither one was willing to give loans for new home construction.
Therein the foundation of First Federal lies. In 1959, Bobby Wellons Sr. had an employee who needed $3,300 to build a new house and none of the other banks in town would consider giving the loan to the man.
“(The employee) couldn’t get a quick answer from the local savings and loans,” Wellons said. “That’s what got him (his father John Wellons) to start a savings and loan. They built a 2,500 square foot office on Edgerton Street.”
The bank began with an initial $250,000 investment that has grown to an average daily value of around $188 million. Six months after opening the deposits were up to over $1 million and by 1967 they totaled over $9 million.
“We would be considered a small community bank, we’re not a tiny bank,” Whittington said. “We have branches in six towns.”
Wellons and the other founders, wanted a bank to serve the credit needs of the community, something still driving the bank to be successful today.
“That has been the driving force behind the bank ever since,” Whittington said. “It’s growth has always been important but never the driving force; profit was never the driving force. The driving force was, is the bank serving it’s original purpose.”
He said he believes the bank has continued on the same path for 60 years.
“I think that has continued through the years,” he said. “That’s why the bank is still here because the original incorporators, then the eventual owners who would become the majority stock holder in the bank, has stayed true to that commitment.”