Avenue Bank - Where People Are the Difference

"The home of hometown heroes"

by Mike Hastings

BSW Staff Writer

The moment you walk into an Avenue Bank branch, you can sense that something is different.

There are no pillars or marble, no walls that separate you from the tellers.  In fact, there are no tellers at all.  They have concierge stations, as they call them.  Every one you meet there is a banker, willing to listen to your needs, and able to help.

“We’re going to challenge everything you think you know about banks and we’re going to redefine how you experience a bank,” explains Chairman and CEO Ron Samuels, adding its the people of Avenue Bank that makes the difference.

“When you have a financial situation to discuss, you don’t want to punch buttons on a phone and listen to a recorded voice that could come from anywhere in the world,” Samuels said. 

 “You want to talk to someone - face to face - right here in Nashville,” he added.

 “We believe in treating every client like a human being.  We’ll know them by name, not by their account number or the size of their balance,” Samuels said.  “It’s how we’d want to be treated ourselves.”

Samuels founded Avenue Bank with these fundamental ideals in 2007.  It was a period when a number of out-of-town banks were buying up local banks and merging with each other.  Though many experts thought there wasn’t a need for another bank, Ron saw an opportunity.

“They were right, we didn’t need another bank, we needed a different bank and that’s what we set out to give this city,” he said.

And investors agreed with Samuels vision.  When the first branch of Avenue Bank opened for business in Cummins Station, it became one of the largest initial capitalizations for a bank in the Southeast by raising $75 million in capital. 

In 2008, Avenue opened three more branches in Green Hills, Cool Springs and West End.

Samuels knew that the key to success was finding the right people to fill key positions as the bank grew.

“The real strength of any brand resides in the people who bring it to life,” Samuels explained.

So he was always on the lookout. One time while on vacation in Florida, he spotted a Middle Tennessee State University logo on the golf bag of young lady teeing it up with her boyfriend and introduced himself.

“I asked her what year she was in and she said she was a senior.  I asked if she knew what she was going to be doing  and she said no,” Ron said.

“So I said have you ever thought about banking and handed her my card.”

The young lady followed up when she returned to Nashville, and today MTSU’s Mallory Smith is an Avenue Bank branch manager.

Samuels says the bank looks for people with what he calls “a servant heart,” and other traits that, as it turns out, athletes often possess in great amounts.

Ron has recruited two more collegiate golfers and a few tennis players.

Lauren Peck, who oversees another one of Avenue’s branches, played golf for Lipscomb University, as did Nathan Mueting, a concierge banker.

Samuels said being an athlete tends to train young people in working towards goals, motivating themselves and effectively managing their emotions - all traits that he likes to see in Avenue employees.

“Golf is something that requires high integrity and respect for your competition.  You’re responsible for yourself, so you learn early to take accountability.  It seems to me, the kind of things that create good employees really are found there,” he says.

The formula is certainly working.  Today, Avenue Bank has grown to 137 employees, has $1 billion in total assets and is now publicly traded.

“John Wooden said surround yourself with smart people who will argue with you,” Ron said. 

“They’ve made me look pretty good!”