Mark Brooks Has Joined First Advantage Bank

Nashville Business Journal

Scott Harrison Staff Reporter

Mark Brooks

The exit of bankers from Avenue Bank ahead of its pending sale to Pinnacle Bank continues.

This time, Clarksville’s First Advantage Bank has brought on its second banker from Avenue.

Mark Brooks, formerly a senior vice president and director of business banking at Avenue, has joined First Advantage in a similar capacity, according to a news release. Brooks will act as First Advantage’s senior leader for business banking and also the manager for the bank’s SBA lending program.

Brooks’ move follows the hiring of Richard Bynum, a former credit specialist at Avenue who is now First Advantage Bank’s chief credit officer.

"It's a small banking world," First Advantage CEO Earl Bradley told me. "With somebody like Mark, we probably go back 30 years. There are mutual relationships at both of the banks.

"These folks realized that we're very much aligned with Avenue Bank philosophically and with the way we do business," Bradley added. "Our strategies and focus on small and mid-size business were pretty well aligned with [Avenue's]."

The pending $200 million-plus deal between Pinnacle and Avenue, two of Nashville’s biggest locally headquartered banks, has amplified the already heated fight for banking talent in a city packed to the brim with financial institutions. Pinnacle expects considerable cost savings from the in-market purchase, which includes branch closures.

While boosting Pinnacle’s market share locally and pushing the bank above $10 billion in assets, the deal also opens the door for suitors — like First Advantage — looking to bolster their own teams. Already, Reliant Bank out of Brentwood and Franklin Synergy Bank have added ex-Avenue bankers to their teams.

When asked specifically about Avenue's sale and whether that triggered his bank's interest in Bynum and Brooks, Bradley responded: "We maintain contact with bankers throughout Nashville. We're always looking to gain good talent here."

Of the new Avenue hires, Bradley said, "Philosophically, they felt it was a great opportunity to still work for a small, community bank. It's how we deal with customers. They've all been at larger banks before and think a smaller community bank like ours has the ability to be more nimble and responsive."

First Advantage has set its eyes on Nashville for future growth, as have many other banks from the outside looking in. As a Clarksville bank, Bradley argues that First Advantage's roots give a local bent that differentiates its from the scores of banks that have poured into Nashville during recent years in efforts to tap into the city and region’s surging economy — which has provided considerable windfall to the city’s existing roster of local banks.

Bradley told us last summer the bank’s foray into Nashville has provided a sizable boost to First Advantage’s balance sheet since it first put boots on the ground in Music City in 2013. That continues, he said Wednesday.

"It's a pretty phenomenal market," Bradley said of Nashville. "Nashville has been such a hot market. We've had good growth and production."

Today, First Advantage now has 20-plus bankers in Nashville, Bradley said. The bank also is converting its West End loan production office into a full service branch. Additionally, First Advantage runs a branch in Franklin. In total, the banks has roughly $500 million in assets.

Following Avenue’s announced sale in January, several bankers in Nashville said they saw an opportunity to woo Avenue’s seasoned lenders to change the header on the business card — and not to Pinnacle. One immediate question with the merger raised by observers: How would Avenue’s culture mesh with Pinnacle’s? Sources familiar with Avenue’s culture previously told us the bank’s independence was drilled into new hires at the bank.

Pinnacle and Avenue expect their deal — the biggest among Nashville banks since the mid-2000s — to close in the late second quarter or early third quarter.

In a prepared statement, Bradley said Brooks’ addition strengthens First Advantage’s small business lending arm, particularly in the SBA space — which last year ranked No. 14 among SBA lenders in Nashville, according to our research.

“We have developed a strategic niche with SBA lending in this highly competitive commercial banking market,” Bradley said in the release. “Mark’s addition strengthens our existing team and gives us even more expertise in this area so we can continue tailoring our products and services and deliver more value to our business banking customers.”