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Columbia Business Monthly

A Banker's Steady Presence

By David Dykes

David G. Barnett, Greenville market president for Carolina Alliance Bank, sat in his North Pleasantburg Drive office recently, boxes lining the floor near his desk. 

He was supposed to retire April 1, “but when all this hit, it just didn’t seem right to leave my customers and coworkers right now, so I volunteered to stay on for at least a month to help see this through,” he says. “After that we will come up for air and see.”

He was referring to the devastating coronavirus impact, its toll on Main Street and debilitating effects on small businesses. 

On this Wednesday, there was work to be done. 

Led by a local president and local advisory board, Carolina Alliance is now part of the Park National family of community banks.

Last year, Park National Corp. (NYSE AMERICAN: PRK) and CAB Financial Corp. completed their previously announced merger transaction. With the merger, CAB’s subsidiary, Carolina Alliance Bank, became a community banking division of The Park National Bank, a Park subsidiary. 

Headquartered in Spartanburg, Carolina Alliance Bank had $760 million in assets (as of Dec. 31, 2018) and operated seven banking offices in the Upstate and western North Carolina.

Bank officials said Carolina Alliance would gain greater lending capacity as a division of The Park National Bank, helping it expand its service to commercial and small business customers. 

"As we grow, the advantages of this merger include a significantly higher lending limit, expanded range of products and services, enhanced capital base, and the ability to generate efficiencies, which we believe in turn will increase profitability," Barnett said at the time.

He has a bachelor’s degree in management from Clemson University and has quietly been a behind-the-scenes leader in Greenville and the Upstate. 

He started his banking career with Citizens and Southern National Bank, which later became NationsBank via a merger. He moved to First Citizens Bank of South Carolina, where he was executive vice president, before becoming president and CEO of Pinnacle Bank of South Carolina.

In 2006, Barnett was one of three longtime Greenville bankers who created Pinnacle Bank, backed by 88 shareholders who put $18.3 million into the new financial institution as part of a private equity offering.

He was joined by Jim Stewart, former Greenville market executive for BB&T, and David Weaver, who worked for Bank of America, BB&T and First Citizens. Another co-founder was Tommy Warren, who had been a CPA with a Big 8 firm in Atlanta and held various CFO roles.

In 2015, Carolina Alliance Bank, PBSC Financial Corp. and PBSC's wholly-owned subsidiary, Pinnacle Bank of South Carolina, said the previously announced merger of the two banks had been completed after receiving all shareholder and regulatory approvals. 

Barnett, a Greenville native, has been board chairman of the Innovate Fund, which has leveraged federal New Markets Tax Credit dollars to maximize the flow of private capital into some of the most economically depressed communities in South Carolina.

He also is president of the Greenville Local Development Corp., a somewhat under-the-radar economic develop- ment (not for profit) entity that has worked diligently over the years to foster economic development within the city of Greenville by making grants, loans and investments that are catalytic to growth. 

His other civic and community contributions include work with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, United Way of Greenville County, Junior Achievement, St. James Episcopal Church and Gateway House. 

Park National, which has more than a century of banking success in Ohio, has pursued growth opportunities in the Carolinas and other regions. In July 2018, it welcomed NewDominion Bank in Charlotte into its family of community banks.

Yet, after 39 years of banking, Barnett says he’s ready for some new challenges. His wife retired early a few years ago from teaching (after 32 years), so they’re looking for a less structured schedule.

He turned 60 last year, and knows life is precious and incredibly fragile. He plans to pursue favorite activities such as hiking, being outdoors and traveling. His family has 25 acres on Paris Mountain, where he admits he can use his “big orange tractor.”

He and his wife had planned to go to Russia this summer before the coronavirus shut down that trip.

Barnett also plans to join the Carolina Alliance Bank Division board once he no longer is an active employee.

Perhaps that’s because he knows how much he would miss the commitment to his customers and communities. Greenville, he says, is “still clearly on the upward trajectory in growth.”

“We’ve created a fantastic city. You can’t go a week without hearing some list we’re on.”

One challenge, he says, is to attract more company headquarters to ensure the area doesn’t lose its younger talent pool.

“I don’t mean we need to bring IBM. We’re not going to win that battle,” Barnett says. “We need to bring medium-sized companies that fit the Greenville niche.”

So, he’ll hang on to his ledger a little longer. He recently reminisced over lunch with a customer who 20 years ago left a financial services career and bought a small company.

From two men and a machine, the customer grew the company into a successful enterprise with the help of Pinnacle Bank after a larger bank called his note.

“We were able to sit down with him and figure it out and make it work,” Barnett says.

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

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