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UNITED STATES

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Washington, D.C. 20549

 

FORM 10-K

 

ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2020

OR

TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

For the transition period from            to           

Commission File Number 001-37624

 

EQUITY BANCSHARES, INC.

(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)

 

 

Kansas

72-1532188

(State or other jurisdiction of

incorporation or organization)

(I.R.S. Employer

Identification No.)

 

 

7701 East Kellogg Drive, Suite 300

Wichita, KS

67207

(Address of principal executive offices)

(Zip Code)

Registrant’s telephone number, including area code: 316.612.6000

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:

 

Title of each class

Trading Symbol(s)

Name of exchange on which registered

Class A Common Stock, par value $0.01 per share

EQBK

NASDAQ Stock Market LLC

Securities registered pursuant to section 12(g) of the Act: None

 

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.       Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act.    Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.    Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).    Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.

Large accelerated filer

Accelerated filer

Non-accelerated filer

Smaller reporting company

 

Emerging growth company

If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Act).    Yes      No  

As of June 30, 2020, the last business day of the registrant’s most recently completed second fiscal quarter, the aggregate market value of the registrant’s voting and non-voting common stock held by non-affiliates was $250.3 million.

Indicate the number of shares outstanding of each of the registrant’s classes of common stock, as of the latest practicable date.

 

 

 

Shares outstanding as of February 28, 2021

Class A Common Stock, par value $0.01 per share

 

14,448,847

Class B Non-Voting Common Stock, par value $0.01 per share

 

                0

DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE:

Portions of the registrant’s Proxy Statement relating to the 2021 Annual Meeting of Stockholders, which will be filed within 120 days after December 31, 2020, are incorporated by reference into Part III of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

 


TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

 

 

 

Part I

 

 

 

 

 

Item 1.

Business

3

 

 

 

Item 1A.

Risk Factors

22

 

 

 

Item 1B.

Unresolved Staff Comments

48

 

 

 

Item 2.

Properties

48

 

 

 

Item 3.

Legal Proceedings

51

 

 

 

Item 4.

Mine Safety Disclosures

51

 

 

 

Part II

 

 

 

 

 

Item 5.

Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

52

 

 

 

Item 6.

Selected Financial Data

55

 

 

 

Item 7.

Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

57

 

 

 

Item 7A.

Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosure About Market Risk

87

 

 

 

Item 8.

Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

89

 

 

 

 

Report of Independent Registered Public Accounting Firm

F-1

 

 

 

 

Consolidated Balance Sheets

F-4

 

 

 

 

Consolidated Statements of Income

F-5

 

 

 

 

Consolidated Statements of Comprehensive Income

F-6

 

 

 

 

Consolidated Statements of Stockholders’ Equity

F-7

 

 

 

 

Consolidated Statements of Cash Flows

F-8

 

 

 

 

Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

F-10

 

 

 

Item 9.

Changes in and Disagreements with Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure

90

 

 

 

Item 9A.

Controls and Procedures

90

 

 

 

Item 9B.

Other Information

90

 

 

 

Part III

 

 

 

 

 

Item 10.

Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance

91

 

 

 

Item 11.

Executive Compensation

91

 

 

 

Item 12.

Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters

91

 

 

 

Item 13.

Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence

91

 

 

 

Item 14.

Principal Accounting Fees and Services

91

 

 

 

Part IV

 

 

 

 

 

Item 15.

Exhibits, Financial Statement Schedules

92

 

 

 


Important Notice about Information in this Annual Report on Form 10-K

Unless we state otherwise or the context otherwise requires, references in this Annual Report on Form 10-K to “we,” “our,” “us,” “the Company” and “Equity” refer to Equity Bancshares, Inc. and its consolidated subsidiaries, including Equity Bank, which we sometimes refer to as “Equity Bank,” “the Bank” or “our Bank.”

The information contained in this Annual Report on Form 10-K is accurate only as of the date of this annual report and as of the dates specified herein.

CAUTIONARY NOTE REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS

This Annual Report on Form 10-K contains “forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the “Securities Act”), and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”).” These forward-looking statements reflect our current views with respect to, among other things, future events and our financial performance.  These statements are often, but not always, made through the use of words or phrases such as “may,” “should,” “could,” “predict,” “potential,” “believe,” “will likely result,” “expect,” “continue,” “will,” “anticipate,” “seek,” “estimate,” “intend,” “plan,” “project,” “forecast,” “goal,” “target,” “would” and “outlook,” or the negative variations of those words or other comparable words of a future or forward-looking nature.  These forward-looking statements are not historical facts and are based on current expectations, estimates and projections about our industry, management’s beliefs and certain assumptions made by management, many of which, by their nature, are inherently uncertain and beyond our control.  Accordingly, we caution you that any such forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and are subject to risks, assumptions and uncertainties that are difficult to predict.  Although we believe that the expectations reflected in these forward-looking statements are reasonable as of the date made, actual results may prove to be materially different from the results expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements.  When considering forward-looking statements, you should keep in mind the risk factors and other cautionary statements described in “Item 1A – Risk Factors” of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

There are or will be important factors that could cause our actual results to differ materially from those indicated in these forward-looking statements, including, but not limited to, the following:

 

external economic and/or market factors, such as changes in monetary and fiscal policies and laws, including the interest rate policies of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, or the Federal Reserve, inflation or deflation, changes in the demand for loans, and fluctuations in consumer spending, borrowing and savings habits which may have an adverse impact on our financial condition;

 

losses resulting from a decline in the credit quality of the assets that we hold;

 

the occurrence of various events that negatively impact the real estate market, since a significant portion of our loan portfolio is secured by real estate;

 

inaccuracies or changes in the appraised value of real estate securing the loans we originate that could lead to losses if the real estate collateral is later foreclosed upon and sold at a price lower than the appraised value;

 

the loss of our largest loan and depositor relationships;

 

limitations on our ability to lend and to mitigate the risks associated with our lending activities as a result of our size and capital position;

 

differences in our qualitative factors used in our calculation of the allowance for loan losses from actual results;

 

the adoption of ASU 2016-13, Financial Instruments – Credit Losses, and its impact on our allowance for loan losses and capital;

 

inadequacies in our allowance for loan losses which could require us to take a charge to earnings and thereby adversely affect our financial condition;

 

interest rate fluctuations which could have an adverse effect on our profitability;

 

the impact of the transition from London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and our ability to adequately manage such transition;

 

a continued economic downturn related to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially one affecting our core market areas;

 

inability of borrowers on deferral to make payments on their loans following the end of the deferral period;

1


 

potential fraud related to Small Business Administration (“SBA”) loan applications through the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) as part of the U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”);

 

the effects of pandemic and widespread public health emergencies;

 

the costs of integrating the businesses we acquire, which may be greater than expected;

 

the departure of key members of our management personnel or our inability to hire qualified management personnel;

 

generally difficult or unfavorable conditions in the market for financial products and services;

 

challenges arising from unsuccessful attempts to expand into new geographic markets, products, or services;

 

a lack of liquidity resulting from decreased loan repayment rates, lower deposit balances, or other factors;

 

inaccuracies in our assumptions about future events which could result in material differences between our financial projections and actual financial performance;

 

an inability to keep pace with the rate of technological advances due to a lack of resources to invest in new technologies;

 

disruptions, security breaches, or other adverse events, failures or interruptions in, or attacks on, our information technology systems;

 

unauthorized access to nonpublic personal information of our customers, which could expose us to litigation or reputational harm;

 

disruptions, security breaches, or other adverse events affecting the third-party vendors who perform several of our critical processing functions;

 

required implementation of new accounting standards that significantly change our existing recognition practices;

 

additional regulatory requirements and restrictions on our business, which could impose additional costs on us;

 

an increase in FDIC deposit insurance assessments, which could adversely affect our earnings;

 

increased capital requirements imposed by banking regulators, which may require us to raise capital at a time when capital is not available on favorable terms or at all;

 

restraints on the ability of Equity Bank to pay dividends to us, which could limit our liquidity;

 

a failure in the internal controls we have implemented to address the risks inherent to the banking industry;

 

continued or increasing competition from other financial institutions, credit unions, and non-bank financial services companies, many of which are subject to different regulations than we are;

 

costs arising from the environmental risks associated with making loans secured by real estate;

 

the occurrence of adverse weather or manmade events, which could negatively affect our core markets or disrupt our operations;

 

the effects of new federal tax laws, or changes to existing federal tax laws;

 

the obligation associated with being a public company requires significant resources and management attention; and

 

other factors that are discussed in “Item 1A – Risk Factors.”

The foregoing factors should not be construed as exhaustive and should be read in conjunction with other cautionary statements that are included in this Annual Report on Form 10-K.  If one or more events related to these or other risks or uncertainties materialize, or if our underlying assumptions prove to be incorrect, actual results may differ materially from what we anticipate.  Accordingly, you should not place undue reliance on any such forward-looking statements.  Any forward-looking statement speaks only as of the date when it is made and we do not undertake any obligation to publicly update or review any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future developments or otherwise.  New risks and uncertainties arise from time to time and it is not possible for us to predict those events or how they may affect us.  In addition, we cannot assess the impact of each factor on our business or the extent to which any factor, or combination of factors, may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statements.  All forward-looking statements, expressed or implied, included in this Annual Report on Form 10-K are expressly qualified in their entirety by this cautionary statement.  This cautionary statement should also be considered in connection with any subsequent written or oral forward-looking statements that we or persons acting on our behalf may issue.

 

2


Part I

Item 1: Business

Our Company

We are a bank holding company headquartered in Wichita, Kansas.  Our wholly-owned banking subsidiary, Equity Bank, provides a broad range of financial services primarily to businesses and business owners as well as individuals through our network of 51 branches located in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, as of December 31, 2020.  As of December 31, 2020, we had, on a consolidated basis, total assets of $4.01 billion, total deposits of $3.45 billion, total loans (net of allowances) of $2.56 billion and total stockholders’ equity of $407.6 million.

Our principal objective is to increase stockholder value and generate consistent earnings growth by expanding our commercial banking franchise both organically and through strategic acquisitions.  We strive to provide an enhanced banking experience for our customers by providing them with a comprehensive suite of sophisticated banking products and services tailored to meet their needs while delivering the high-quality relationship-based customer service of a community bank.

Our History and Growth

We were founded in November 2002 by our Chairman and CEO, Brad S. Elliott.  Mr. Elliott believed that, as a result of in-market consolidation, there existed an opportunity to build an attractive commercial banking franchise and create long-term value for our stockholders.  Following thirteen years’ experience as a finance executive, including serving as a Regional President for a Kansas bank with over $1.0 billion in assets, Mr. Elliott implemented his banking vision of developing a strategic consolidator of community banks and a destination for seasoned bankers and businesspersons who share our entrepreneurial spirit.  In 2003, we raised capital from 23 local investors to finance the acquisition of National Bank of Andover in Andover, Kansas.  

We believe we have a successful track record of selectively acquiring, integrating and consolidating community banks and branch networks.  Our acquisition activity includes the following transactions.

 

June 2003 – Acquired National Bank of Andover in Andover, Kansas for $3 million.  At the time of our acquisition, National Bank of Andover had $32 million in total assets.

 

February 2005 – Acquired two branches of Hillcrest Bank, N.A. in Wichita, Kansas, which increased our deposits by $66 million.  In conjunction with this acquisition, we relocated our headquarters to our current principal executive offices in Wichita.

 

June 2006 – Acquired the Mortgage Centre of Wichita and integrated it into our Bank as a department to expand our mortgage loan platform.

 

October 2006 – Acquired a Missouri charter from First National Bank in Sarcoxie, Missouri, which allowed us to subsequently open a full-service branch in Lee’s Summit, Missouri in 2007.

 

November 2007 – Acquired Signature Bancshares, Inc. in Spring Hill, Kansas, which provided us entry into the Overland Park, Kansas market.

 

August 2008 – Acquired Ellis State Bank with locations in Ellis and Hays, Kansas.

 

December 2011 – Acquired four branches of Citizens Bank and Trust in Topeka, Kansas, which increased our deposits by $110 million.

 

October 2012 – Acquired First Community Bancshares, Inc. in Overland Park, Kansas, which increased our deposits by approximately $515 million.  At the time of acquisition, First Community had total assets of approximately $595 million, which significantly increased our total asset size and provided us with ten additional branches in Western Missouri and five additional branches in Kansas City.

 

October 2015 – Acquired First Independence Corporation of Independence, the registered savings and loan holding company for First Federal Savings & Loan of Independence, based in Independence, Kansas.  First Independence operated four full-service branches in Southeastern Kansas.  At the time of acquisition, First Independence had consolidated total assets of $135.0 million, total deposits of $87.1 million and total loans of $89.9 million.

 

November 2016 – Acquired Community First Bancshares, Inc. in Harrison, Arkansas, which increased our deposits by $375.4 million.  At the time of acquisition, Community First had total assets of $462.9 million and five locations in Arkansas.

 

March 2017Acquired Prairie State Bancshares, Inc. (“Prairie”) in Hoxie, Kansas, which increased our deposits by $125.4 million and our total assets by $153.1 million.  The merger added three locations in western Kansas.

3


 

November 2017 – Acquired Eastman National Bancshares, Inc. (“Eastman”), which had a total of four branches in Ponca City and Newkirk, Oklahoma.  The acquisition increased our deposits by $224.1 million, our loans by $177.9 million and our total assets by $281.5 million.  In addition, at the same time, we acquired Cache Holdings, Inc. (“Cache”) in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Cache was the holding company for Patriot Bank and had one branch in Tulsa.  The acquisition of Cache added $278.7 million in deposits, $300.7 million in loans and $343.4 in total assets.

 

May 2018 – Acquired Kansas Bank Corporation (“KBC”), which had a total of five branches in Liberal and Hugoton, Kansas.  The acquisition increased our deposits by $288.4 million, our loans by $159.4 million and our total assets by $336.1 million.  On the same day we acquired Adams Dairy Bancshares, Inc. (“Adams”), which had one branch located in Blue Springs, Missouri.  The acquisition of Adams added $97.1 million in deposits, $82.7 million in loans and $119.8 million in total assets.

 

August 2018 – Acquired City Bank and Trust Company (“City Bank”), with one branch in Guymon, Oklahoma, from Docking Bancshares, Inc.  This acquisition increased our deposits by $126.9 million, our loans by $77.1 million and our total assets by $163.3 million.

 

February 2019 – Acquired the assets and assumed the deposits and certain other liabilities of two branch locations in Guymon, Oklahoma and one branch location in Cordell, Oklahoma, from MidFirst Bank based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  This acquisition increased our deposits by $98.5 million, our loans by $6.5 million and our total assets by $98.6 million.

 

October 2020 – Purchased the assets and assumed the deposits of one branch location in Norton, Kansas, and one branch location in Almena, Kansas, from Almena State Bank (“Almena”) facilitated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”).  This purchase increased our deposits by $62.5 million, our loans by $31.4 million and our total assets by $66.9 million.

In conjunction with our strategic acquisition growth, we strive to reposition and improve the loan portfolio and deposit mix of the banks we acquire.  Following our acquisitions, we focus on identifying and disposing of problematic loans and replacing them with higher quality loans generated organically.  In addition, we focus on growth in our commercial loan portfolio primarily by hiring additional talented bankers, particularly in our metropolitan markets, and incentivizing our bankers to expand their commercial banking relationships.  We also seek to increase our most attractive deposit accounts, primarily by growing deposits in our community markets and cross selling our depository products to our loan customers.

As a result of these strategic and organic growth efforts, we have expanded our team of full-time equivalent employees from 19 to 623 and our network of branches from two to 51.  We believe that we are well positioned to continue to be a strategic consolidator of community banks while maintaining our history of attracting experienced and entrepreneurial bankers and organically growing our loans and deposits.

Our Strategies

We believe we are a leading provider of commercial and personal banking services to businesses and business owners as well as individuals in our targeted Midwestern markets.  Our strategy is to continue strategically consolidating community banks within such markets and maintaining our organic growth, while preserving our asset quality through disciplined lending practices.

 

Strategic Consolidation of Community Banks.  We believe our strategy of selectively acquiring and integrating community banks has provided us with economies of scale and improved our overall franchise efficiency.  We expect to continue to pursue strategic acquisitions and believe our targeted market areas present us with many and varied acquisition opportunities.  The following map illustrates the headquarters of potential acquisition opportunities broken out by asset size between $50.0 million and $1.5 billion within our target footprint.

4


We believe many of these banks will continue to be burdened by new and more complex banking regulations, resource constraints, competitive limitations, rising technological and other business costs, management succession issues and liquidity concerns.

Despite the significant number of opportunities, we intend to continue to employ a disciplined approach to our acquisition strategy and only seek to identify and partner with financial institutions that possess attractive market share, low-cost deposit funding and compelling noninterest income-generating businesses.  We believe consolidation will lead to organic growth opportunities for us following the integration of businesses we acquire.  We also expect to continue to manage our branch network in order to ensure effective coverage for customers while minimizing any geographic overlap and driving corporate efficiency.

 

Enhance the Performance of the Banks We Acquire.  We strive to successfully integrate the banks we acquire into our existing operational platform and enhance stockholder value through the creation of efficiencies within the combined operations.  As a result of our acquisition history, we believe we have developed an experienced approach to integration that seeks to identify and execute on such synergies, particularly in the areas of technology, data processing, compliance and human resources, while generating earnings growth.  We believe that our experience and reputation as a successful integrator and acquirer will allow us to continue to capitalize on additional opportunities within our markets in the future.

 

Focus on Lending Growth in Our Metropolitan Markets While Increasing Deposits in Our Community Markets.  We are focused on continuing to grow organically and believe the markets in which we operate currently provide meaningful opportunities to expand our commercial customer base and increase our current market share.  We believe our branch network is strategically split between growing metropolitan markets, such as Kansas City, Wichita and Tulsa, and stable community markets within Western Kansas, Western Missouri, Topeka, Northern Arkansas and Northern Oklahoma.  We believe this diverse geographic footprint provides us with access to low cost, stable core deposits in community markets that we can use to fund commercial loan growth in our metropolitan markets.  The following table shows our total deposits and loans (net of allowances) in our community markets and our metropolitan markets as of December 31, 2020, which we believe illustrates our execution of this strategy.

 

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Deposits

 

 

Loans

 

 

 

Amount(1)

 

 

Overall %

 

 

Amount(1)

 

 

Overall %

 

Metropolitan markets(2)

 

$

1,073,897

 

 

 

31

%

 

$

1,559,629

 

 

 

60

%

Community markets(3)

 

$

2,373,693

 

 

 

69

%

 

$

1,032,067

 

 

 

40

%

 

(1)Amounts in thousands.

(2)Represents 12 branches located in the Wichita, Kansas City and Tulsa metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”).

(3)Represents 39 branches located outside of the Wichita, Kansas City and Tulsa MSAs.

Our team of seasoned bankers represents an important driver of our organic growth by expanding banking relationships with current and potential customers.  We expect to continue to make opportunistic hires of talented and entrepreneurial bankers, particularly in our metropolitan markets, to further augment our growth.  Our bankers are incentivized to increase the size of their loan and deposit portfolios and generate fee income while maintaining strong credit quality.  We also seek to cross-sell our various banking products, including our deposit and treasury wealth management products, to our commercial loan customers, which we believe provides a basis for expanding our banking relationships as well as a stable, low-cost deposit base.  We have built a scalable platform that will support this continued organic growth.

 

Preserve Our Asset Quality Through Disciplined Lending Practices.  Our approach to credit management uses well-defined policies and procedures, disciplined underwriting criteria and ongoing risk management.  We are a competitive and effective commercial and industrial lender, supplementing ongoing and active loan servicing with early-stage credit review provided by our bankers.  This approach has allowed us to maintain loan growth with a diversified portfolio of high-quality assets.  We believe our credit culture supports accountable bankers who maintain an ability to expand our customer base as well as make sound decisions for our Company.  We believe our success in managing asset quality is illustrated by our aggregate net charge-off history.

Our Competitive Strengths

We believe the following competitive strengths will allow us to continue to achieve our principal objective of increasing stockholder value and generating consistent earnings growth through the organic and strategic expansion of our commercial banking franchise.

 

Experienced Leadership and Management Team.  Our seasoned and experienced executive management team, senior leaders and board of directors have exhibited the ability to deliver stockholder value by consistently growing profitably while expanding our commercial banking franchise through acquisition and integration.  Our executive management team has, on average, more than twenty years of experience working for large, up to ten billion-dollar financial institutions in our markets during various economic cycles along with significant merger and acquisition experience in the financial services industry.  Our executive management team has instilled a transparent and entrepreneurial culture that rewards leadership, innovation and problem solving.

 

Focus on Commercial Banking.  We are primarily a commercial bank.  As measured by outstanding balances at December 31, 2020, commercial loans composed over 74.2% of our loan portfolio and within our commercial loan portfolio, 61.8% of such loans were commercial real estate loans and 38.2% were commercial and industrial loans.  We have developed strong commercial relationships in our markets across a diversified range of sectors including key areas supporting regional and local economic activity and growth, such as manufacturing, freight/transportation, consumer services, franchising and commercial real estate.  We have also been successful in attracting customers from larger competitors because of our flexible and responsive approach in providing banking solutions tailored to meet our customers’ needs while maintaining disciplined underwriting standards.  Our relationship-based approach seeks to grow lending relationships with our customers as they expand their businesses, including geographically and through cross-selling our various other banking products, such as our deposit and treasury management products.  We have a growing presence in attractive commercial banking markets, such as Wichita, Kansas City and Tulsa, which we believe present significant opportunities to continue to increase our business banking activities.

 

Our Ability to Consolidate.  Our branches are strategically located within metropolitan markets, Kansas City, Tulsa and Wichita, as well as stable community markets that present opportunities to expand our market share.  Our executive management team has identified significant acquisition and consolidation opportunities ranging from small to large community banking institutions.  These opportunities can include branch-only acquisitions as well.  We believe our track record of strategic acquisitions and effective integrations, combined with our expertise in our markets and scalable platform, will allow us to capitalize on these growth opportunities.

 

Disciplined Acquisition Approach.  Our disciplined approach to acquisitions, consolidations and integrations includes the following: (i) selectively acquiring community banking franchises only at appropriate valuations, after taking into account risks that we perceive with respect to the targeted bank; (ii) completing comprehensive due diligence and developing an appropriate plan to address any legacy credit problems of the targeted institution; (iii) identifying an achievable cost

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savings estimate and holding our management accountable for achieving such estimates; (iv) executing definitive acquisition agreements that we believe provide adequate protections to us; (v) installing our credit procedures, audit and risk management policies and procedures and compliance standards upon consummation of the acquisition; (vi) collaborating with the target’s management team to execute on synergies and cost saving opportunities related to the acquisition; (vii) involving a broader management team across multiple departments in order to help ensure the successful integration of all business functions; and (viii) scheduling the acquisition closing date to occur simultaneously with the platform conversion date.  We believe this approach allows us to realize the benefits of the acquisition and create stockholder value while appropriately managing risk.

 

Efficient and Scalable Platform with Capacity to Support Our Growth.  Through significant investments in technology and staff, our management team has built an efficient and scalable corporate infrastructure within our commercial banking franchise, including in the areas of banking processes, technology, data processing, underwriting, risk management and internal audit, which we believe will support our continued growth.  While expanding our infrastructure, several departmental functions have been outsourced to gain the experience of outside professionals while at the same time achieving more favorable economics and cost-effective solutions.  Such outsourced areas include specific internal audit functions and select loan review.  This outsourcing strategy has proven to control costs while adding enhanced controls and/or service levels.  We believe that this scalable infrastructure will continue to allow us to efficiently and effectively manage our anticipated growth.

 

Culture Committed to Talent Development, Transparency and Accountability.  We have invested in professional talent since our inception by building a team of “businesspersons first and bankers second” and economically aligned them with our stockholders, primarily through our stock purchase opportunities.  In our efforts to become a destination for seasoned bankers with an entrepreneurial spirit, we have developed numerous leadership development programs.  For example, “Equity University” is a year-long program we designed for our promising company-wide leaders.  We believe our well-trained and motivated professionals work most effectively in a corporate environment that emphasizes transparency, respect, innovation and accountability.  Our culture provides our professionals with the empowerment to better serve our clients and our communities.

 

Sophisticated and Customized Banking Products with High-Quality Customer Service.  We strive to offer our customers the sophisticated commercial banking products of large financial institutions with the personalized service of a community bank.  Our management team’s significant banking and lending experience in our markets has provided us with an understanding of the commercial banking needs of our customers that allows us to tailor our products and services to meet our customers’ needs.  In addition to offering a diverse array of banking products and services, we offer our customers the high-touch, relationship-based customer service experience of a community bank.  For example, we utilize Equity Connect, a customized customer relationship management system, to assign relationship officers to enhance relationships with our customers and identify and meet their particular needs.

 

Strong Risk Management Practices.  We place significant emphasis on risk management as an integral component of our organizational culture without sacrificing growth.  We believe our comprehensive risk management system is designed to make sure that we have sound policies, procedures and practices for the management of key risks under our risk framework (which includes market, operational, liquidity, interest rate sensitivity, credit, insurance, regulatory, legal and reputational risk) and that any exceptions are reported by senior management to our board of directors or audit committee.  Our risk management practices are overseen by the Chairmen of our audit and risk committees, who have many years of combined banking experience, and our Chief Risk Officer, who has more than 30 years of banking experience.  We believe that our enterprise risk management philosophy has been important in gaining and maintaining the confidence of our various constituencies and growing our business and footprint within our markets.  We also believe our strong risk management practices are manifested in our asset quality statistics.

2020 Acquisitions

On October 23, 2020, we completed our purchase of two bank locations from Almena State Bank, facilitated by the FDIC.  Pursuant to the purchase, Equity Bank assumed the deposits and acquired the loans and certain other assets associated with the two bank locations.

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Our Banking Services

A general description of the range of commercial banking products and other services we offer follows.

Lending Activities

We offer a variety of loans, including commercial and industrial, commercial real estate-backed loans (including loans secured by owner occupied commercial properties), commercial lines of credit, working capital loans, term loans, equipment financing, acquisition, expansion and development loans, borrowing base loans, real estate construction loans, homebuilder loans, agricultural, government guaranteed loans, letters of credit and other loan products to national and regional companies, restaurant franchisees, hoteliers, real estate developers, manufacturing and industrial companies, agribusiness companies and other businesses.  We also offer various consumer loans to individuals and professionals including residential real estate loans, home equity loans, home equity lines of credit (“HELOCs”), installment loans, unsecured and secured personal lines of credit, overdraft protection and letters of credit.  Lending activities originate from the relationships and efforts of our bankers, with an emphasis on providing banking solutions tailored to meet our customers’ needs while maintaining our underwriting standards.

At December 31, 2020, we had total loans of $2.56 billion (net of allowances), representing 63.7% of our total assets.  For additional information concerning our loan portfolio, see “Item 7 – Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations – Financial Condition – Loan Portfolio.”

Concentrations of Credit Risk.  Most of our lending activity is conducted with businesses and individuals in metropolitan Kansas City, Tulsa and Wichita.  Our loan portfolio consists primarily of commercial real estate loans, which were $1.19 billion and constituted 45.9% of our total loans as of December 31, 2020, commercial and industrial loans, which were $734.5 million and constituted 28.3% of our total loans as of December 31, 2020, and residential real estate loans, which were $382.0 million and constituted 14.7% of our total loans as of December 31, 2020.  Our commercial real estate loans are generally secured by first liens on real property.  The remaining commercial and industrial loans are typically secured by general business assets, accounts receivable, inventory and/or the corporate guaranty of the borrower and/or personal guaranty of its principals.  The geographic concentration subjects the loan portfolio to the general economic conditions within Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.  The risks created by such concentrations have been considered by management in the determination of the adequacy of the allowance for loan losses.  Management believes the allowance for loan losses is adequate to cover incurred losses in our loan portfolio as of December 31, 2020.

Sound risk management practices and appropriate levels of capital are essential elements of a sound commercial real estate lending program.  Concentrations of commercial real estate exposures add a dimension of risk that compounds the risk inherent in individual loans.  Interagency guidance on commercial real estate concentrations describe sound risk management practices which include board and management oversight, portfolio management, management information systems, market analysis, portfolio stress testing and sensitivity analysis, credit underwriting standards and credit risk review functions.  Management believes these practices allow us to appropriately monitor concentrations in commercial real estate in our loan portfolio.

Large Credit Relationships.  As of December 31, 2020, the aggregate amount of loans to our ten largest borrowers (including related entities) amounted to approximately $241.3 million, or 9.3% of total loans.  See “Item 1A – Risk Factors – Risks Related to Our Business – Our largest loan relationships currently make up a material percentage of our total loan portfolio.”

Loan Underwriting and Approval.  Historically, we believe we have made sound, high quality loans while recognizing that lending money involves a degree of business risk.  We have loan policies designed to assist us in managing this business risk.  These policies provide a general framework for our loan origination, monitoring and funding activities, while recognizing that not all risks can be anticipated.  Our board of directors delegates loan authority up to board-approved hold limits collectively to our Directors’ credit committee, which is comprised of members of our board of directors.  Our board of directors also delegates limited lending authority to our internal loan committee, which is comprised of members of our executive management team.  In addition, our board of directors also delegates more limited lending authority to our Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Credit Officer, credit risk personnel and, on a further limited basis, to selected lending managers in each of our target markets. Lending officers and relationship managers, including our bankers, have further limited individual loan authority.  When the total relationship exceeds an individual’s loan authority, a higher authority or credit committee approval is required.  The objective of our approval process is to provide a disciplined, collaborative approach to larger credits while maintaining responsiveness to client needs.

Loan decisions are documented as to the borrower’s business, purpose of the loan, evaluation of the repayment source and associated risks, evaluation of collateral, covenants and monitoring requirements and the risk rating rationale.  Our strategy for approving or disapproving loans is to follow conservative loan policies and consistent underwriting practices which include:

 

maintaining close relationships among our customers and their designated banker to ensure ongoing credit monitoring and loan servicing;

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granting credit on a sound basis with full knowledge of the purpose and source of repayment for such credit;

 

ensuring that primary and secondary sources of repayment are adequate in relation to the amount of the loan;

 

developing and maintaining targeted levels of diversification for our loan portfolio as a whole and for loans within each category; and

 

ensuring that each loan is properly documented and that any insurance coverage requirements are satisfied.

Managing credit risk is a Company-wide process.  Our strategy for credit risk management includes well-defined, centralized credit policies, uniform underwriting criteria and ongoing risk monitoring and review processes for all credit exposures.  Our processes emphasize early-stage review of loans, regular credit evaluations and management reviews of loans, which supplement the ongoing and proactive credit monitoring and loan servicing provided by our bankers.  Our Chief Credit Officer provides Company-wide credit oversight and periodically reviews all credit risk portfolios to ensure that the risk identification processes are functioning properly and that our credit standards are followed.  In addition, a third-party loan review is performed to assist in the identification of problem assets and to confirm our internal risk rating of loans.  We attempt to identify potential problem loans early in an effort to seek aggressive resolution of these situations before the loans become a loss, record any necessary charge-offs promptly and maintain adequate allowance levels for probable loan losses incurred in the loan portfolio.

Our loan policies generally include other underwriting guidelines for loans collateralized by real estate.  These underwriting standards are designed to determine the maximum loan amount that a borrower has the capacity to repay based upon the type of collateral securing the loan and the borrower’s income.  Such loan policies include maximum amortization schedules and loan terms for each category of loans collateralized by liens on real estate.

In addition, our loan policies provide guidelines for personal guarantees; an environmental review; loans to employees, executive officers and directors; problem loan identification; maintenance of an adequate allowance for loan losses and other matters relating to lending practices.

Lending Limits.  Our lending activities are subject to a variety of lending limits imposed by federal and state law.  In general, the Bank is subject to a legal lending limit on loans to a single borrower based on the Bank’s capital level.  The dollar amounts of the Bank’s lending limit increases or decreases as the Bank’s capital increases or decreases.  The Bank is able to sell participations in its larger loans to other financial institutions, which allows it to manage the risk involved in these loans and to meet the lending needs of its customers requiring extensions of credit in excess of these limits.

The Bank’s legal lending limit as of December 31, 2020, on loans to a single borrower was $104.7 million.  However, we typically maintain an in-house limit of $25.0 million for loans to a single borrower.  We have strict policies and procedures in place for the establishment of hold limits with respect to specific products and businesses and evaluating exceptions to the hold limits for individual relationships.

Our loan policies provide general guidelines for loan-to-value ratios that restrict the size of loans to a maximum percentage of the value of the collateral securing the loans, which percentage varies by the type of collateral.  Our internal loan-to-value limitations follow limits established by applicable law.

Loan Types.  We provide a variety of loans to meet our customers’ needs.  The section below discusses our general loan categories.

Commercial and Industrial Loans.  We make commercial and industrial loans, including commercial lines of credit, working capital loans, term loans, equipment financing, aircraft financing, acquisition, expansion and development loans, borrowing base loans, government guaranteed loans, letters of credit and other loan products, primarily in our target markets that are underwritten on the basis of the borrower’s ability to service the debt from income.  We take as collateral a lien on general business assets including, among other things, available real estate, accounts receivable, inventory and equipment and generally obtain a personal guaranty of the borrower or principal.  Our commercial and industrial loans generally have variable interest rates and terms that typically range from one to five years depending on factors such as the type and size of the loan, the financial strength of the borrower/guarantor and the age, type and value of the collateral.  Fixed rate commercial and industrial loan maturities are generally short-term, with three to five-year maturities, or include periodic interest rate resets.  Terms greater than five years may be appropriate in some circumstances based upon the useful life of the underlying asset being financed or if some form of credit enhancement, such as a government guarantee is obtained.

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We also participate in syndicated loans (loans made by a group of lenders, including us, who share or participate in a specific loan) with a larger regional financial institution as the lead lender.  Syndicated loans are typically made to large businesses (which are referred to as shared national credits) or middle market companies (which do not meet the regulatory definition of shared national credits), both of which are secured by business assets or equipment, and also commercial real estate.  The syndicate group for both types of loans usually consists of two to three other financial institutions.  In particular, we frequently work with a large regional financial institution, which is often the lead lender with respect to these loans.  We have developed this portfolio to diversify our balance sheet, increase our yield and mitigate interest rate risk due to the variable rate pricing structure of the loans.  We have a defined set of credit guidelines that we use when evaluating these credits.  Although other large financial institutions are the lead lenders on these loans, our credit department does its own independent review of these loans and the approval process of these loans is consistent with our underwriting of loans and our lending policies.  We expect to continue our syndicated lending program for the foreseeable future.

In general, commercial and industrial loans may involve increased credit risk and, therefore, typically yield a higher return.  The increased risk in commercial and industrial loans derives from the expectation that such loans generally are serviced principally from the operations of the business and those operations may not be successful.  Any interruption or discontinuance of operating cash flows from the business, which may be influenced by events not under the control of the borrower such as economic events and changes in governmental regulations, could materially affect the ability of the borrower to repay the loan.  In addition, the collateral securing commercial and industrial loans generally includes moveable property such as equipment and inventory, which may decline in value more rapidly than we anticipate exposing us to increased credit risk.  As a result of these additional complexities, variables and risks, commercial and industrial loans require extensive underwriting and servicing.

Commercial Real Estate Loans.  We make commercial mortgage loans collateralized by real estate, which may be owner occupied or non-owner-occupied real estate.  Commercial real estate lending typically involves higher loan principal amounts and the repayment is dependent, in large part, on sufficient income from the properties securing the loans to cover operating expenses and debt service.  We require our commercial real estate loans to be secured by well-managed property with adequate margins and generally obtain a guarantee from responsible parties.  Our commercial mortgage loans generally are collateralized by first liens on real estate, have variable or fixed interest rates and amortize over a 10 to 20-year period with balloon payments or rate adjustments due at the end of three to seven years.  Periodically, we will utilize an interest rate swap to hedge against long term fixed rate exposures.  Commercial mortgage loans considered for interest rate swap hedging typically have terms of greater than five years.

Payments on loans secured by such properties are often dependent on the successful operation (in the case of owner-occupied real estate) or management (in the case of non-owner-occupied real estate) of the properties.  Accordingly, repayment of these loans may be subject to adverse conditions in the real estate market or the economy to a greater extent than other types of loans.  In underwriting commercial real estate loans, we seek to minimize these risks in a variety of ways, including giving careful consideration to the property’s age, condition, operating history, future operating projections, current and projected market rental rates, vacancy rates, location and physical condition.  The underwriting analysis also may include credit verification, reviews of appraisals, environmental hazards or reports, the borrower’s liquidity and leverage, management experience of the owners or principals, economic condition and industry trends.

Real Estate Construction Loans.  We make loans to finance the construction of residential and non-residential properties.  Construction loans generally are collateralized by first liens on real estate and have floating interest rates.  We conduct periodic inspections, either directly or through an agent, prior to approval of periodic draws on these loans.  Underwriting guidelines similar to those described above are also used in our construction lending activities.  Our construction loans have terms that typically range from six months to two years depending on factors such as the type and size of the development and the financial strength of the borrower/guarantor.  Loans are typically structured with an interest only construction period.  Loans are underwritten to either mature at the completion of construction, or transition to a traditional amortizing commercial real estate facility at the completion of construction, in line with other commercial real estate loans held at the bank.

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Construction loans generally involve additional risks attributable to the fact that loan funds are advanced upon the security of a project under construction, and the project is of uncertain value prior to its completion.  Because of uncertainties inherent in estimating construction costs, the market value of the completed project and the effects of governmental regulation on real property, it can be difficult to accurately evaluate the total funds required to complete a project and the related loan-to-value ratio.  As a result of these uncertainties, construction lending often involves the disbursement of substantial funds with repayment dependent, in part, on the success of the ultimate project rather than the ability of a borrower or guarantor to repay the loan.  If we are forced to foreclose on a project prior to completion, there is no assurance that we will be able to recover the entire unpaid portion of the loan.  In addition, we may be required to fund additional amounts to complete a project and it may be necessary to hold the property for an indeterminate period of time subject to the regulatory limitations imposed by local, state or federal laws.

1 – 4 Family Residential Mortgages.  We make residential real estate loans collateralized by owner-occupied properties located in our market areas.  We offer a variety of mortgage loan products with amortization periods up to 30 years including traditional 30-year fixed loans and various adjustable rate mortgages.  Typically, loans with a fixed interest rate of greater than 10 years are held for sale and sold on the secondary market and adjustable rate mortgages are held for investment.  Loans collateralized by one-to-four family residential real estate generally are originated in amounts of no more than 80% of appraised value.  Home equity loans and HELOCs are generally limited to a combined loan-to-value ratio of 80%, including the subordinate lien.  We retain a valid lien on real estate, obtain a title insurance policy that insures that the property is free from encumbrances and require hazard insurance.

From time to time we have purchased pools of residential mortgages originated by other financial institutions to hold for investment with the intent to diversify our residential mortgage loan portfolio and increase our yield.  These loans purchased typically have an adjustable rate with a fixed period of no more than 10 years and are collateralized by one-to-four family residential real estate.  We have a defined set of credit guidelines that we use when evaluating these credits.  Although these loans were originated and underwritten by another institution, our mortgage and credit departments do their own independent review of these loans.  These loans typically are secured by collateral outside of our branch footprint.

Agricultural Loans.  We offer both fixed-rate and adjustable-rate agricultural real estate loans to our customers.  We also make loans to finance the purchase of machinery, equipment and breeding stock, seasonal crop operating loans used to fund the borrower’s crop production operating expenses, livestock operating, and revolving loans used to purchase livestock for resale and related livestock production expense.

Generally, our agricultural real estate loans amortize over periods not in excess of 20 years and have a loan-to-value ratio of 80%.  We also originate agricultural real estate loans directly and through programs sponsored by the Farm Service Agency (“FSA”), an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, which provides a partial guarantee on loans underwritten to FSA standards.  Agricultural real estate loans generally carry higher interest rates and have shorter terms than 1-4 family residential real estate loans.  Agricultural real estate loans, however, entail additional credit risks compared to one- to four-family residential real estate loans, as they typically involve larger loan balances concentrated with single borrowers or groups of related borrowers.  We generally require farmers to obtain multi-peril crop insurance coverage through a program partially subsidized by the Federal government to help mitigate the risk of crop failures.

Agricultural operating loans may be originated at an adjustable or fixed rate of interest and generally for a term of up to 7 years.  In the case of agricultural operating loans secured by breeding livestock and/or farm equipment, such loans are originated at fixed rates of interest for a term of up to 5 years.  We typically originate agricultural operating loans based on the borrower’s ability to make repayment from the cash flow of the borrower’s agricultural business.  As a result, the availability of funds for the repayment of agricultural operating loans may be substantially dependent on the success of the business itself and the general economic environment.  A significant number of agricultural borrowers with these types of loans may qualify for relief under a chapter of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code that is designed specifically for the reorganization of financial obligations of family farmers and which provides certain preferential procedures to agricultural borrowers compared to traditional bankruptcy proceedings pursuant to other chapters of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Consumer Loans.  We make a variety of loans to individuals for personal and household purposes, including secured and unsecured term loans and home improvement loans.  Consumer loans are underwritten based on the individual borrower’s income, current debt level, past credit history and the value of any available collateral.  The terms of consumer loans vary considerably based upon the loan type, nature of collateral and size of the loan.  Consumer loans entail greater risk than do residential real estate loans because they may be unsecured or, if secured, the value of the collateral, such as an automobile or boat, may be more difficult to assess and more likely to decrease in value than real estate.  In such cases, any repossessed collateral for a defaulted consumer loan may not provide an adequate source of repayment for the outstanding loan balance.  The remaining deficiency often will not warrant further substantial collection efforts against the borrower beyond obtaining a deficiency judgment.  In addition, consumer loan collections are dependent on the borrower’s continuing financial stability, and thus are more likely to be adversely affected by job loss, divorce, illness or personal bankruptcy.  Furthermore, the application of various federal and state laws may limit the amount which can be recovered on such loans.

11


Deposit Products

Our lending and investing activities are primarily funded by deposits.  We offer a variety of deposit accounts with a wide range of interest rates and terms including demand, savings, money market and time deposits with the goal of attracting a wide variety of customers, including small to medium-sized businesses.  We employ customer acquisition strategies to generate new account and deposit growth, such as customer referral incentives, search engine optimization, targeted direct mail and email campaigns, in addition to conventional marketing initiatives and advertising.  Our goal is to emphasize our core deposits and cross-sell our deposit products to our loan customers.

We design our consumer deposit products specifically for the lifestyles of clients in the communities we serve.  Some accounts emphasize and reward debit card usage, while others appeal to higher deposit customers.  We also utilize Equity Connect, which is our customer relationship management system, to assist our personnel in deepening and expanding current relationships by providing timely identification of potential needs.  It also serves as a methodical tool to track customer onboarding and retention actions by account officers.  We do participate in the Certificate of Deposit Registry Services (“CDARS”) via Promontory Interfinancial Network as an option for our customers to place funds and occasionally as a funding source.

We also bid for, and accept, deposits from public entities in our markets.

Other Products and Services

We offer banking products and services that are competitively priced with a focus on convenience and accessibility.  We offer a full suite of online banking solutions including access to account balances, online transfers, online bill payment and electronic delivery of customer statements, mobile banking solutions for iPhone and Android phones, including remote check deposit with mobile bill pay.  We offer extended drive-through hours, ATMs and banking by telephone, mail and personal appointment.  We offer debit cards with no ATM surcharges or foreign ATM fees for checking customers, plus night depository, direct deposit, cashier’s and travelers checks and letters of credit, as well as treasury management services, wire transfer services and automated clearing house (“ACH”) services.

We offer a full array of commercial treasury management services designed to be competitive with banks of all sizes.  Treasury management services include balance reporting (including current day and previous day activity), transfers between accounts, wire transfer initiation, ACH origination and stop payments.  Cash management deposit products consist of lockbox, remote deposit capture, positive pay, reverse positive pay, account reconciliation services, zero balance accounts and sweep accounts, including loan sweep.

In addition, we offer a full comprehensive suite of products and offerings for trust and wealth management customers.  Trust and wealth management services include private banking, investment management, trust services and estate and financial planning.

Our Markets

As of December 31, 2020, we conducted banking operations through our 51 branches located in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.  We believe that an important factor contributing to our historical performance and our ability to execute our strategy is the attractiveness and specific characteristics of our existing and target markets.  In particular, we believe our markets provide us with access to low cost, stable core deposits in smaller community markets that we can use to fund commercial loan growth in metropolitan areas.

We believe our existing and target markets are among some of the most attractive in the Midwestern United States.  Our markets are home to thousands of manufacturing and trade jobs, and have experienced recent growth in the healthcare, consumer services and technology sectors.  We believe the central geographic footprint of our markets provides numerous industrial plants, facilities and manufacturing businesses with a central shipping location from which they can distribute their products.  Our markets also serve as the corporate headquarters for Koch Industries Inc., Hallmark Cards, Inc., H&R Block, Inc., Sprint Corporation, Cerner Corporation, American Century Investments, Garmin International, Inc., Cessna Aircraft Company, Seaboard Corporation, Cargill Meat Solutions, Spirit AeroSystems, Dairy Farmers of America, Quick Trip, ONEOK, and Williams Companies and host a major presence for companies across a variety of industries, including Bombardier Learjet, Collective Brands, Inc., FedEx, Flexsteel, Hills Pet Nutrition, Inc., Textron Aviation Services, Tyson Foods, Phillips 66, Rib Crib, Honeywell and Bayer Corporation.  We understand the community banking needs of the businesses and individuals within our markets and have focused on developing a commercial and personal banking platform to service such needs.

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The markets in which we operate have generally experienced stable population growth over the past five years, with modest population growth expected over the next five years.  Wichita is the largest metropolitan statistical authority (“MSA”) located fully in Kansas and the No. 94 MSA in the U.S. with a population of over 640,000.  Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas is the No. 31 largest MSA in the U.S. with a population of 2.2 million, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, is No. 51 with a MSA population of nearly 1 million.

In addition, we believe our markets are stable and have weathered various economic cycles relatively well.  Household income is expected to increase from 2021 through 2026 by 5.71%, while population growth is expected largely to hold from 2021 through 2026.  In Kansas City, households are expected to grow by 3.5%, Tulsa by 3.25% and Wichita by 1.5%, according to Claritas data provided by S&P Global.

We compete for loans, deposits and financial services in our markets against many other bank and nonbank institutions, including community banks, regional banks, national banks, Internet-based banks, money market and mutual funds, brokerage houses, credit unions, mortgage companies and insurance companies.  We believe that our comprehensive suite of sophisticated banking products provides us with a competitive advantage over smaller community banks within our markets while our high-quality, relationship-based customer service will allow us to take market share from larger regional and national banks.  In addition, our markets present significant acquisition, integration and consolidation opportunities, and we expect to continue to pursue strategic acquisitions in our markets.  We believe that many small to mid-sized banking organizations that currently serve our markets are acquisition opportunities for us, either because of scale and operational challenges, regulatory pressures, management succession issues or stockholder liquidity needs.  We think we offer an attractive solution for such banks because we retain the community banking feel and services upon which their customers expect and rely.

Information Technology Systems

We continue to make significant investments in our information technology systems and staff for our banking and lending operations and treasury management activities.  We believe this investment will support our continued growth, permit us to enhance our capabilities to offer new products and overall customer experience and enable us to provide scale for future growth and acquisitions.  We use nationally recognized software vendors and their support allows us to operate our data processing and core systems in-house.  Our internal network and e-mail systems are maintained in-house and we have enhanced our back-up site at a decentralized location.  This back-up site provides for redundancy and disaster recovery capabilities.

The majority of our other systems, including our electronic funds transfer, transaction processing and online banking services are hosted by third-party service providers.  The scalability of this infrastructure will support our growth strategy.  In addition, the tested capability of these vendors to automatically switch over to standby systems should allow us to recover our systems and provide business continuity quickly in case of a disaster.

Due to our heavy reliance on the strength and capability of our technology systems, which we use both to interface with our customers and to manage our internal financial reporting and other systems, we utilize a layered cyber security model designed to protect all systems and sensitive data.  This layered model is composed of a variety of different components from a range of security vendors.  The various components are centrally managed and monitored creating a multi-layered, interlocking, cybersecurity defense system.  We believe this defense system is dynamic and designed to adjust to protect against the latest cyber threats and attack vectors.

Competition

The financial services industry is highly competitive.  We compete for loans, deposits, and financial services in all of our principal markets.  We compete directly with other bank and nonbank institutions located within our markets, Internet-based banks, out-of-market banks, and bank holding companies that advertise in or otherwise serve our markets, along with money market and mutual funds, brokerage houses, mortgage companies, and insurance companies or other commercial entities that offer financial services products.  Competition involves efforts to retain current customers, obtain new loans and deposits, increase the scope and type of services offered and offer competitive interest rates paid on deposits and charged on loans.  Many of our competitors enjoy competitive advantages, including greater financial resources, a wider geographic presence, more accessible branch office locations, the ability to offer additional services, more favorable pricing alternatives and lower origination and operating costs.  Some of our competitors have been in business for a long time and have an established customer base and name recognition.  We believe that our competitive pricing, personalized service and community involvement enable us to effectively compete in the communities in which we operate.

Human Capital

The Company’s success depends on its ability to attract and retain highly qualified senior and middle management and other skilled employees.  Competition for qualified employees can be intense and it may be difficult to locate personnel with the necessary combination of skills, attributes and business relationships.  

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The Company believes that its employees are the primary key to the Company’s success as a financial institution.  The Company is committed to attracting, retaining and promoting top quality talent regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, color, national origin, age, religion and physical ability.  The Company strives to identify and select the best candidates for all open positions based on qualifying factors for each job.  The Company is dedicated to providing a workplace for its employees that is inclusive, supportive and free of any form of discrimination or harassment; rewarding and recognizing its employees based on their individual results and performance; and recognizing and respecting all of the characteristics and differences that make each of the Company’s employees unique.

Additionally, the Company is committed to employee development through a combination of in-house and external training programs.  Further, the Company has two staff development programs with formal in-house training programs for junior bankers including guidance from senior banking team members.

As of December 31, 2020, the Company employed 623 full-time equivalent employees.  None of our employees are represented by any collective bargaining unit or is a party to a collective bargaining agreement.  

Available Information

The Company files reports, proxy statements and other information with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”).  The Company makes available, free of charge, on its website at http://investor.equitybank.com its annual report on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K and amendments to those reports filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Exchange Act as soon as reasonably practicable after the Company electronically files, or furnishes, such materials to the SEC.  The SEC also maintains a website at http://www.sec.gov that contains reports, proxy and information statements and other information regarding issuers that file electronically with the SEC.  The information contained on or accessible from our website does not constitute a part of this Annual Report on Form 10-K and is not incorporated by reference herein.

Supervision and Regulation

Banking is a complex, highly regulated industry.  Consequently, our growth and earnings performance can be affected, not only by management decisions and general and local economic conditions, but also by the statutes administered by and the regulations and policies of, various governmental regulatory authorities.  These authorities include, but are not limited to, the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, the OCC, the Kansas Office of State Bank Commissioner (“OSBC”), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”), the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) and state taxing authorities.  The effect of these statutes, regulations and policies and any changes to any of them can be significant and cannot be predicted.

The primary goals of the bank regulatory scheme are to maintain a safe and sound banking system and to facilitate the conduct of sound monetary policy.  In furtherance of those goals, the U.S. Congress and the individual states have created several regulatory agencies and enacted numerous laws, such as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”), that govern banks and the banking industry.  The system of supervision and regulation applicable to us establishes a comprehensive framework for our operations and is intended primarily for the protection of the FDIC’s deposit insurance funds, our depositors and the public, rather than the stockholders and creditors.

New regulations and statutes are regularly proposed that contain wide-ranging proposals for altering the structures, regulations and competitive relationships of financial institutions operating in the United States.  We cannot predict whether or in what form any proposed regulation or statute will be adopted or the extent to which our businesses may be affected by any new regulation or statute.

The following is an attempt to summarize some of the relevant laws, rules and regulations governing banks and bank holding companies, but does not purport to be a complete summary of all applicable laws, rules and regulations governing banks.  The descriptions are qualified in their entirety by reference to the specific statutes and regulations discussed.

The laws, rules and regulations add significantly to the cost of operating the Company and Equity Bank and thus have a negative impact on profitability.  In recent years, financial service providers that are not subject to the same regulations as the Company and Equity Bank have expanded significantly.  Less regulation may give these institutions a competitive advantage over the Company and Equity Bank. Such institutions may continue to draw large amounts of funds away from banking institutions, with a continuing adverse effect on the banking industry in general.

Bank Holding Company Regulation

We are a bank holding company registered under the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 (“BHC Act”), as amended, and are subject to supervision and regulation by the Federal Reserve.  Federal laws subject bank holding companies to particular restrictions on the types of activities in which they may engage and to a range of supervisory requirements and activities, including regulatory enforcement actions, for violation of laws and policies.

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Activities Closely Related to Banking

The BHC Act prohibits a bank holding company, with certain limited exceptions, from acquiring direct or indirect ownership or control of more than five percent of the voting shares of any company that is not a bank or from engaging in any activities other than those of banking, managing or controlling banks and certain other subsidiaries or furnishing services to or performing services for its subsidiaries.  Bank holding companies also may engage in or acquire interests in companies that engage in a limited set of activities that are so closely related to banking as to be a proper incident thereto.  If a bank holding company has become a financial holding company (“FHC”), it may engage in a broader set of activities, including insurance underwriting and broker-dealer services as well as activities that are jointly determined by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury to be financial in nature or incidental to such financial activity.  FHCs may also engage in activities that are determined by the Federal Reserve to be complementary to financial activities.  To maintain FHC status, the bank holding company and all subsidiary depository institutions must be “well managed” and “well capitalized.”  Additionally, all subsidiary depository institutions must have received at least a “Satisfactory” rating on its most recent Community Reinvestment Act (“CRA”) examination.  Failure to meet these requirements may result in limitations on activities and acquisitions.  We have not elected to be an FHC at this time.  

Safe and Sound Banking Practices

Bank holding companies are not permitted to engage in unsafe and unsound banking practices.  The Federal Reserve may order a bank holding company to terminate an activity or control of a non-bank subsidiary if such activity or control constitutes a significant risk to the financial safety, soundness or stability of a subsidiary bank and is inconsistent with sound banking principles.  Regulation Y also requires a holding company to give the Federal Reserve prior notice of any redemption or repurchase of its own equity securities if the consideration to be paid, together with the consideration paid for any repurchases or redemptions in the preceding year, is equal to 10% or more of the company’s consolidated net worth.

Consistent with the Dodd-Frank Act codification of the Federal Reserve’s policy that bank holding companies must serve as a source of financial strength for their subsidiary banks, the Federal Reserve has stated that, as a matter of prudence, a bank holding company generally should not maintain a rate of distributions to stockholders unless its available net income has been sufficient to fully fund the distributions and the prospective rate of earnings retention appears consistent with a bank holding company’s capital needs, asset quality and overall financial condition.

In addition, the Federal Reserve Supervisory Letter SR 09-4 provides guidance on the declaration and payment of dividends, capital redemptions and capital repurchases by a bank holding company.  Supervisory Letter SR 09-4 provides that, as a general matter, a bank holding company should eliminate, defer or significantly reduce its dividends if: (i) the bank holding company’s net income available to stockholders for the past four quarters, net of dividends previously paid during that period, is not sufficient to fully fund the dividends, (ii) the bank holding company’s prospective rate of earnings retention is not consistent with the bank holding company’s capital needs and overall current and prospective financial condition or (iii) the bank holding company will not meet, or is in danger of not meeting, its minimum regulatory capital adequacy ratios.  Failure to do so could result in a supervisory finding that the bank holding company is operating in an unsafe and unsound manner.

Limitations on Equity Bank’s ability to pay dividends could, in turn, affect our ability to pay dividends to our stockholders.  For more information concerning Equity Bank’s ability to pay dividends, see “Bank Regulation” below.

The Federal Reserve has broad authority to prohibit activities of bank holding companies and their non-banking subsidiaries which represent unsafe and unsound banking practices, or which constitute violations of laws or regulations.  Notably, the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (“FIRREA”), provides that the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve can assess civil money penalties for such practices or violations which can be as high as $1 million per day.  FIRREA contains expansive provisions regarding the scope of individuals and entities against which such penalties may be assessed.

Annual Reporting and Examinations

We are required to file annual and quarterly reports with the Federal Reserve and such additional information as the Federal Reserve may require pursuant to the BHC Act.  The Federal Reserve may examine a bank holding company or any of its subsidiaries and charge the company for the cost of such an examination.  We are also subject to reporting and disclosure requirements under state and federal securities laws.

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Rules on Regulatory Capital

Regulatory capital rules released in July 2013 pursuant to the Basel III requirements (“Basel III rules”), implemented higher minimum capital requirements for bank holding companies and banks.  The Basel III rules included a common equity Tier 1 capital requirement and established criteria that instruments must meet to be considered common equity Tier 1 capital, additional Tier 1 capital or Tier 2 capital.  These enhancements were designed to both improve the quality and increase the quantity of capital required to be held by banking organizations, better equipping the U.S. banking system to deal with adverse economic conditions.  The Basel III rules require banks and bank holding companies to maintain a minimum common equity Tier 1 (“CET1”) risk-based capital ratio of 4.5%, a Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio of 6%, a total risk-based capital ratio of 8% and a leverage ratio of 4%.  Under the Basel III rules, banks and bank holding companies must maintain a CET1 risk-based capital ratio of 6.5%, a Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio of 8%, a total risk-based capital ratio of 10% and a leverage ratio of 5% to be deemed “well capitalized” for purposes of certain rules and requirements.  Banks and bank holding companies are also required to maintain a “capital conservation buffer” in excess of the minimum risk-based capital ratios.  The buffer is intended to help ensure that banking organizations conserve capital when it is most needed, allowing them to better weather periods of economic stress.  The minimum 2.5% buffer is composed solely of CET1 capital.  If an institution’s capital conservation buffer is less than or equal to 2.5%, then the institution is subject to limitations on certain activities, including payment of dividends, share repurchases and discretionary bonuses to executive officers.

The Basel III rules also attempted to improve the quality of capital by implementing changes to the definition of capital.  Among the most important changes are stricter eligibility criteria for regulatory capital instruments that disallow the inclusion of certain instruments, such as trust preferred securities, in Tier 1 capital going forward and new constraints on the inclusion of minority interests, mortgage-servicing assets, deferred tax assets and certain investments in the capital of unconsolidated financial institutions.  In addition, the Basel III rules require that most regulatory capital deductions be made from CET1 capital.

The federal bank regulatory agencies may also set higher capital requirements for banks and bank holding companies whose circumstances warrant it.  For example, holding companies experiencing internal growth or making acquisitions are expected to maintain strong capital positions substantially above the minimum supervisory levels, without significant reliance on intangible assets.  At this time, the bank regulatory agencies are more inclined to impose higher capital requirements to meet well capitalized standards and future regulatory change could impose higher capital standards as a routine matter.  Our regulatory capital ratios and those of Equity Bank are in excess of the levels established for well capitalized institutions under the Basel III rules.

The Basel III rules also set forth certain changes in the methods of calculating certain risk-weighted assets, which in turn affect the calculation of risk-based capital ratios.  Under the Basel III rules, higher or more sensitive risk weights are assigned to various categories of assets, including certain credit facilities that finance the acquisition, development or construction of real property, certain exposures or credits that are 90 days past due or on non-accrual, foreign exposures and certain corporate exposures.  In addition, the Basel III rules include (i) alternative standards of credit worthiness consistent with the Dodd-Frank Act, (ii) greater recognition of collateral and guarantees and (iii) revised capital treatment for derivatives and repo-style transactions.

In addition, the Basel III rules include certain exemptions to address concerns about the regulatory burden on community banks.  For example, banking organizations with less than $15 billion in consolidated assets as of December 31, 2009, are permitted to include in Tier 1 capital trust preferred securities and cumulative perpetual preferred stock issued and included in Tier 1 capital prior to May 19, 2010, on a permanent basis without phase out.  Community banks were also permitted to make a one-time election in their March 31, 2015, quarterly filings to opt-out of the requirement to include most accumulated other comprehensive income (“AOCI”) components in the calculation of CET1 capital and, in effect, retain the AOCI treatment under the prior capital rules.  Under the Basel III rules, we made the one-time, permanent election to continue to exclude AOCI from capital.

In accordance with the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, which was enacted on May 24, 2018, the federal banking agencies published final rules implementing the community bank leverage ratio in November 2019.  Under the final rules, which went into effect on January 1, 2020, depository institutions and depository institution holding companies that have less than $10 billion in total consolidated assets and meet other qualifying criteria, including a leverage ratio of greater than 9%, off-balance-sheet exposures of 25% or less of total consolidated assets and trading assets plus trading liabilities of 5% or less of total consolidated assets, are deemed “qualifying community banking organizations” and are eligible to opt into the community bank leverage ratio framework.  A qualifying community banking organization that elects to use the community bank leverage ratio framework and that maintains a leverage ratio of greater than 9% is considered to have satisfied the generally applicable risk-based and leverage capital requirements under the Basel III rules and, if applicable, is considered to have met the “well capitalized” ratio requirements for purposes of its primary federal regulator’s prompt corrective action rules, discussed below.  The final rules include a two-quarter grace period during which a qualifying community banking organization that temporarily fails to meet any of the qualifying criteria, including the greater-than-9% leverage ratio requirement, is generally still deemed “well capitalized” so long as the banking organization maintains a leverage ratio greater than 8%.  A banking organization that fails to maintain a leverage ratio greater than 8% is not permitted to use the grace period and must comply with the generally applicable requirements under the Basel III Capital rules and file the appropriate regulatory reports.  The Company and Equity Bank have not made an election to use the community bank leverage ratio framework but may make such an election in the future if eligible and doing so is advantageous.

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Imposition of Liability for Undercapitalized Subsidiaries

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Improvement Act of 1991 (“FDICIA”) required each federal banking agency to revise its risk-based capital standards to ensure that those standards take adequate account of interest rate risk, concentration of credit risk and the risks of nontraditional activities, as well as reflect the actual performance and expected risk of loss on multifamily mortgages.

Pursuant to FDICIA, each federal banking agency has specified, by regulation, the levels at which an insured institution would be considered well capitalized, adequately capitalized, undercapitalized, significantly undercapitalized and critically undercapitalized. As of December 31, 2020, Equity Bank exceeded the capital levels required to be deemed well capitalized.

Additionally, FDICIA requires bank regulators to take prompt corrective action to resolve problems associated with insured depository institutions.  Under these prompt corrective action provisions of FDICIA, if a controlled bank is undercapitalized, then the regulators could require the bank to submit a capital restoration plan.  If an institution becomes significantly undercapitalized or critically undercapitalized, additional and significant limitations are placed on the institution.  The capital restoration plan of an undercapitalized institution will not be accepted by the regulators unless each company having control of the undercapitalized institution guarantees the subsidiary’s compliance with the capital restoration plan, until it becomes adequately capitalized.  We have control of Equity Bank for the purpose of this statute.

Further, by statute and regulation, a bank holding company must serve as a source of financial and managerial strength to each bank that it controls and, under appropriate circumstances, may be required to commit resources to support each such controlled bank.  This support may be required at times when the bank holding company may not have the resources to provide the support.  In addition, if the Federal Reserve believes that a bank holding company’s activities, assets or affiliates represent a significant risk to the financial safety, soundness or stability of a controlled bank, then the Federal Reserve could require the bank holding company to terminate the activities, liquidate the assets or divest the affiliates.  The regulators may require these and other actions in support of controlled banks even if such actions are not in the best interests of the bank holding company or its stockholders.

Acquisitions by Bank Holding Companies

The BHC Act requires every bank holding company to obtain the prior approval of the Federal Reserve before it may acquire all or substantially all of the assets of any bank or ownership or control of any voting shares of any bank if after such acquisition it would own or control, directly or indirectly, more than 5% of the voting shares of such bank.  In approving bank acquisitions by bank holding companies, the Federal Reserve is required to consider the financial and managerial resources and future prospects of the bank holding company and banks concerned, the convenience and needs of the communities to be served, the effect on competition as well as the financial stability of the United States.  The Attorney General of the United States may, within 30 days after approval of an acquisition by the Federal Reserve, bring an action challenging such acquisition under the federal antitrust laws, in which case the effectiveness of such approval is stayed pending a final ruling by the courts.  Under certain circumstances, the 30-day period may be shortened to 15 days.

Control Acquisitions

The Change in Bank Control Act (“CBCA”) prohibits a person or group of persons from acquiring “control” of a bank holding company unless the Federal Reserve has been notified and has not objected to the transaction.  Under a rebuttable presumption established by the Federal Reserve, the acquisition of 10% or more of a class of voting stock of a bank holding company with a class of securities registered under Section 12 of the Exchange Act, such as ourselves, would, under the circumstances set forth in the presumption, constitute acquisition of control of us.

In addition, the BHC Act prohibits any entity from acquiring 25%, or more (the BHC Act has a lower limit for acquirers that are existing bank holding companies), of a bank holding company’s or bank’s voting securities, or otherwise obtaining control or the power to exercise a “controlling influence” over a bank holding company or bank, without the prior approval of the Federal Reserve.  On January 30, 2020, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System adopted a final rule revising the Federal Reserve’s regulations related to determinations of whether a company has the ability to exercise a controlling influence over another company, including a bank holding company or a bank, for purposes of the BHC Act.  The final rule establishes a comprehensive framework that employs several factors to determine if a company has control over another company, including the first company’s total voting and non-voting equity investment in the second company; director, officer and employee overlaps between the first company and the second company; and the scope of business relationships between the first company and the second company.  The final rule went into effect on April 1, 2020.

Interstate Branching

The Dodd-Frank Act permits a national or state bank, with the approval of its regulator, to open a branch in any state if the law of the state in which the branch is located would permit the establishment of the branch if the bank were a bank chartered in that state.

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Anti-Tying Restrictions

Bank holding companies and their affiliates are prohibited from tying the provision of certain services, such as extensions of credit, to other services offered by a holding company or its affiliates.

Bank Regulation

Equity Bank operates under a Kansas state bank charter and is subject to regulation by the OSBC and the Federal Reserve.  The OSBC and the Federal Reserve regulate or monitor all areas of Equity Bank’s operations, including capital requirements, issuance of stock, declaration of dividends, interest rates, deposits, loans, investments, borrowings, record keeping, establishment of branches, acquisitions, mergers, information technology and employee responsibility and conduct.  The OSBC places limitations on activities of Equity Bank, including the issuance of capital notes or debentures and the holding of real estate and personal property and requires Equity Bank to maintain a certain ratio of reserves against deposits.  The OSBC requires Equity Bank to file a report annually, in addition to any periodic report requested.

The Federal Reserve and the OSBC regularly examine Equity Bank and its records.  The FDIC may also periodically examine and evaluate insured banks.

Standards for Safety and Soundness

As part of FDICIA’s efforts to promote the safety and soundness of depository institutions and their holding companies, appropriate federal banking regulators are required to have in place regulations specifying operational and management standards (addressing internal controls, loan documentation, credit underwriting and interest rate risk), asset quality and earnings.  As discussed above, the Federal Reserve and the FDIC have extensive authority to police unsafe or unsound practices and violations of applicable laws and regulations by depository institutions and their holding companies.  For example, the FDIC may terminate the deposit insurance of any institution that it determines has engaged in an unsafe or unsound practice.  The agencies can also assess civil money penalties of up to $1 million per day, issue cease-and-desist or removal orders, seek injunctions and publicly disclose such actions.

The ability of Equity Bank, as a Kansas state bank, to pay dividends is restricted under the Kansas Banking Code.  Pursuant to the Kansas Banking Code, a Kansas state bank may declare and pay a dividend out of undivided profits after deducting losses to the holders of record of the stock outstanding on the date the dividend is declared.  However, prior to the declaration of any dividend, a Kansas state bank must transfer 25% of its net profits since the last preceding dividend to its surplus fund until the surplus fund is equal to its total capital stock.  In addition, no dividend may be declared without the approval of the OSBC, if such dividend would reduce the surplus fund to an amount less than 30% of the resulting total capital of the bank.

Equity Bank is also subject to certain restrictions on the payment of dividends as a result of the requirement that it maintain an adequate level of capital in accordance with guidelines promulgated from time to time by the federal regulators.

The present and future dividend policy of Equity Bank is subject to the discretion of its boards of directors.  In determining whether to pay dividends to us and, if paid, the amount of the dividends, the board of directors of Equity Bank considers many of the same factors discussed above.  Equity Bank cannot guarantee that it will have the financial ability to pay dividends to us, or if dividends are paid, that they will be sufficient for us to make distributions to our stockholders.  Equity Bank is not obligated to pay dividends.

Insider Transactions

A bank is subject to certain restrictions on extensions of credit to insiders of the bank or of any affiliate.  Insiders include executive officers, directors, certain principal stockholders and their related interests.  Extensions of credit include derivative transactions, repurchase and reverse repurchase agreements and securities borrowing and lending transactions to the extent that such transactions cause a bank to have credit exposure to an insider.  Any extension of credit to an insider must:

 

Be made on substantially the same terms, including interest rates and collateral, as those prevailing at the time for comparable transactions with third parties; and

 

Involve no more than the normal risk of repayment or present other unfavorable features.

For loans above certain threshold amounts, board approval is required, and the interested insider may not be involved.  In addition, a bank may purchase an asset from or sell an asset to an insider only if the transaction is on market terms and, if representing more than 10% of capital, is approved in advance by the majority of disinterested directors.

Additional and more stringent limits apply to a bank’s transactions with its own executive officers and certain directors.  These limits do not apply to transactions with all directors or to insiders of the bank’s affiliates.

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Restrictions on Transactions with Affiliates

Section 23A of the Federal Reserve Act imposes quantitative and qualitative limits on transactions between a bank and any affiliate and requires certain levels of collateral for any such loans.  It also limits the amount of advances to third parties which are collateralized by the securities or obligations of a holding company.  Section 23B of the Federal Reserve Act requires that certain transactions between Equity Bank and its affiliates must be on terms substantially the same, or at least as favorable, as those prevailing at the time for comparable transactions with or involving other nonaffiliated companies.  In the absence of such comparable transactions, any transaction between Equity Bank and its affiliates must be on terms and under circumstances, including credit standards, which in good faith would be offered to or would apply to nonaffiliated companies.

Capital Adequacy

In addition to the capital rules applicable to both banks and bank holding companies discussed above, under the prompt corrective action regulations, the federal bank regulators are required and authorized to take supervisory actions against undercapitalized banks.  For this purpose, a bank is placed in one of the following five categories based on the bank’s capital:

 

well capitalized (at least 5% leverage ratio, 6.5% CET1 risk-based capital ratio, 8% Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio and 10% total risk-based capital ratio);

 

adequately capitalized (at least 4% leverage ratio, 4.5% CET1 risk-based capital ratio, 6% Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio and 8% total risk-based capital ratio);

 

undercapitalized (less than 4% leverage ratio, 4.5% CET1 risk-based capital ratio, 6% Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio or 8% total risk-based capital ratio);

 

significantly undercapitalized (less than 3% leverage ratio, 3% CET1 risk-based capital ratio, 4% Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio or 6% total risk-based capital ratio); and

 

critically undercapitalized (less than 2% tangible capital to total assets).

Federal banking regulators are required to take various mandatory supervisory actions and are authorized to take other discretionary actions with respect to institutions in the three undercapitalized categories.  The severity of the action depends upon the capital category in which the institution is placed.  The regulators have the discretion to downgrade a bank from one category to a lower category.  Generally, subject to a narrow exception, banking regulators must appoint a receiver or conservator for an institution that is “critically undercapitalized.”  An institution that is categorized as “undercapitalized,” “significantly undercapitalized,” or “critically undercapitalized” is required to submit an acceptable capital restoration plan to its appropriate federal banking agency.

Failure to meet capital guidelines could subject Equity Bank to a variety of enforcement remedies, including issuance of a capital directive, the termination of deposit insurance by the FDIC, a prohibition on accepting brokered deposits and other restrictions on our business.

As of December 31, 2020, Equity Bank exceeded the capital levels required to be deemed well capitalized.

Deposit Insurance

The FDIC insures the deposits of federally insured banks up to prescribed statutory limits for each depositor, through the Deposit Insurance Fund (“DIF”) and safeguards the safety and soundness of the banking and thrift industries.  The Dodd-Frank Act permanently raised the standard maximum deposit insurance amount to $250,000.  The amount of FDIC assessments paid by each insured depository institution is based on its relative risk of default as measured by financial ratios and supervisory factors derived from a statistical model that estimates a bank’s probability of failure within three years.

In connection with the Dodd Frank Act’s requirement that insurance assessments be based on assets, the FDIC has redefined its deposit insurance premium assessment base to be an institution’s average consolidated total assets minus average tangible equity.  The FDIC also has revised its deposit insurance assessment rate schedule in light of this change to the assessment base.  The revised rate schedule and other revisions to the assessment rules became effective July 1, 2016.

We are generally unable to control the amount of premiums that we are required to pay for FDIC insurance.  At least semi-annually, the FDIC will update its loss and income projections for the DIF and, if needed, will increase or decrease assessment rates, following notice-and-comment rulemaking, if required.  If there are additional bank or financial institution failures or if the FDIC otherwise determines to increase assessment rates, Equity Bank may be required to pay higher FDIC insurance premiums.  Any future increases in FDIC insurance premiums may have a material and adverse effect on our earnings.

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Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The Dodd-Frank Act created the CFPB which is granted broad rulemaking, supervisory and enforcement powers under various federal consumer financial protection laws, including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Truth in Lending Act, Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Fair Debt Collection Act, the Consumer Financial Privacy provisions of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and certain other statutes.  The CFPB has examination and primary enforcement authority with respect to depository institutions with $10 billion or more in assets.  Depository institutions with less than $10 billion in assets, such as Equity Bank, are subject to rules promulgated by the CFPB, which may increase their compliance risk and the costs associated with their compliance efforts, but such banks will continue to be examined and supervised by federal banking regulators for consumer compliance purposes.  The CFPB has authority to prevent unfair, deceptive or abusive practices in connection with the offering of consumer financial products.

The Dodd-Frank Act authorizes the CFPB to establish certain minimum standards for the origination of residential mortgages, including a determination of the borrower’s ability to repay.  In addition, the Dodd-Frank Act allows borrowers to raise certain defenses to foreclosure if they receive any loan other than a “qualified mortgage” as defined by the CFPB.

The CFPB has issued a number of regulations related to the origination of mortgages, foreclosure and overdrafts as well as many other consumer issues.  Additionally, the CFPB has proposed, or will be proposing, additional regulations on issues that directly relate to our business.  Although it is difficult to predict at this time the extent to which the CFPB’s final rules impact the operations and financial condition of Equity Bank, such rules may have a material impact on Equity Bank’s compliance costs, compliance risk and fee income.

Privacy

Under the Right to Financial Privacy Act, which imposes a duty to maintain confidentiality of consumer financial records and prescribes procedures for complying with administrative subpoenas of financial records, financial institutions are required to disclose their policies for collecting and protecting confidential information.  Customers generally may prevent financial institutions from sharing personal financial information with nonaffiliated third parties except for third parties that market the institutions’ own products and services.  Additionally, financial institutions generally may not disclose consumer account numbers to any nonaffiliated third party for use in telemarketing, direct mail marketing or other marketing through electronic mail to consumers.

Recent cyber-attacks against bank and other institutions that resulted in unauthorized access to confidential customer information have prompted the federal banking agencies to issue extensive guidance on cyber security.  The regulatory agencies may devote more resources to this part of their safety and soundness examination than they may have in the past.

Like other lending institutions, our subsidiary bank uses credit bureau data in its underwriting activities.  Use of that data is regulated under the Federal Credit Reporting Act on a uniform, nationwide basis.  The act and its implementing regulation, Regulation V, cover credit reporting, prescreening, sharing of information between affiliates and the use of credit data.  The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 allows states to enact identity theft laws that are not inconsistent with the conduct required by the provisions of the act.

The Patriot Act, International Money Laundering Abatement and Financial Anti-Terrorism Act and Bank Secrecy Act

A major focus of governmental policy on financial institutions has been aimed at combating money laundering and terrorist financing.  The Patriot Act and the International Money Laundering and Financial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 substantially broadened the scope of U.S. anti-money laundering laws and penalties, specifically related to the Bank Secrecy Act and expanded the extra-territorial jurisdiction of the United States.  The U.S. Treasury has issued a number of implementing regulations that apply various requirements of the Patriot Act to financial institutions, such as Equity Bank.  These regulations impose obligations on financial institutions to maintain appropriate policies, procedures and controls to detect, prevent and report money laundering and terrorist financing and to verify the identity of their customers.

Failure of a financial institution and its holding company to maintain and implement adequate programs to combat money laundering and terrorist financing, or to comply with relevant laws and regulations, could have serious legal, reputational and financial consequences for the institution.  Because of the significance of regulatory emphasis on these requirements, Equity Bank will continue to expend significant staffing, technology and financial resources to maintain programs designed to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations and an effective audit function for testing of Equity Bank’s compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act, on an ongoing basis.

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Community Reinvestment Act

The CRA requires that, in connection with examinations of financial institutions within its jurisdiction, the federal and the state banking regulators, as applicable, evaluate the record of each financial institution in meeting the credit needs of its local community, including low and moderate-income neighborhoods.  These facts are also considered in evaluating mergers, acquisitions and applications to open a branch or facility.  Failure to adequately meet these criteria could impose additional requirements and limitations on us.  Additionally, we must publicly disclose the terms of various CRA-related agreements.

Other Regulations

Interest and other charges that Equity Bank collects or contracts for are subject to state usury laws and federal laws concerning interest rates.  Equity Bank’s loan operations are also subject to federal laws applicable to credit transactions, such as:

 

the Federal Truth-In-Lending Act, governing disclosures of credit terms to consumer borrowers;

 

the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, requiring financial institutions to provide information to enable the public and public officials to determine whether a financial institution is fulfilling its obligation to help meet the housing needs of the community it serves;

 

the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, creed or other prohibited factors in extending credit;

 

the Fair Credit Reporting Act, governing the use and provision of information to credit reporting agencies;

 

the Fair Debt Collection Act, governing the manner in which consumer debts may be collected by collection agencies; and

 

the rules and regulations of the various governmental agencies charged with the responsibility of implementing these federal laws.

In addition, Equity Bank’s deposit operations are subject to the Electronic Funds Transfer Act and Regulation E issued by the Federal Reserve to implement such act, which govern automatic deposits to and withdrawals from deposit accounts and customers’ rights and liabilities arising from the use of automated teller machines and other electronic banking services.

Concentrated Commercial Real Estate Lending Regulations

The Federal Reserve and other federal banking regulatory agencies have promulgated guidance governing financial institutions with concentrations in commercial real estate lending.  The guidance provides that a bank may be exposed to heightened commercial real estate lending concentration risk and subject to further supervisory analysis if (i) total reported loans for construction, land development and other land represent 100% or more of total capital or (ii) total reported loans secured by multifamily residential properties, non-farm non-residential properties and loans for construction, land development and other land, together with loans to finance commercial real estate, construction and land development activities that are not secured by real estate, represent 300% or more of total capital and the bank’s commercial real estate loan portfolio has increased 50% or more during the prior 36 months.  If a concentration is present, management is expected to employ heightened risk management practices including board and management oversight and strategic planning, development of underwriting standards, risk assessment and monitoring through market analysis and stress testing and increasing capital requirements.

Effect of Governmental Monetary Policies

The commercial banking business is affected not only by general economic conditions but also by both U.S. fiscal policy and the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve.  Some of the instruments of fiscal and monetary policy available to the Federal Reserve include changes in the discount rate on member bank borrowings, the fluctuating availability of borrowings at the “discount window,” open market operations, the imposition of and changes in reserve requirements against member banks’ deposits and assets of foreign branches, the imposition of and changes in reserve requirements against certain borrowings by banks and their affiliates and the placing of limits on interest rates that member banks may pay on time and savings deposits.  Such policies influence, to a significant extent, the overall growth of bank loans, investments and deposits and the interest rates charged on loans or paid on time and savings deposits.  We cannot predict the nature of future fiscal and monetary policies and the effect of such policies on the future business and our earnings.

 

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Item 1A: Risk Factors

Our business and results of operations are subject to numerous risks and uncertainties, many of which are beyond our control.  The material risks and uncertainties that management believes affect the Company are described below.  Additional risks and uncertainties that management is not aware of, or that management currently deems immaterial, may also impair the Company’s business operations.  This report is qualified in its entirety by these risk factors.  If any of the following risks actually occur, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.  If this were to happen, the value of our securities could decline significantly, and you could lose all or part of your investment.  Some statements in the following risk factors constitute forward-looking statements.  Please refer to “Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements” elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

Summary of Risk Factors

Our risk factors can be broadly summarized by the following categories:

 

Economic Risks

 

Credit and Interest Rate Risks

 

Strategic Risks

 

Risks Relating to the Regulation of Our Industry

 

Risks Relating to the Company’s Common Stock

 

General Risks

While not an exhaustive list, our risk factors are generally composed of the following items:

 

a change in economic conditions or a return to recessionary conditions could result in increases in our level of nonperforming loans and/or reduced demand for our products and services;

 

the value of real estate collateral may fluctuate significantly resulting in an under-collateralized loan portfolio;

 

external economic factors, such as changes in monetary policy and inflation and deflation, may have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations;

 

inability to effectively manage or adequately measure credit risk;

 

we could suffer losses from a decline in the credit quality of the assets that we hold;

 

a significant portion of our loan portfolio is secured by real estate, and events that negatively impact the real estate market could negatively impact our business;

 

a large portion of our loan portfolio is comprised of commercial loans that are secured by accounts receivable, inventory, equipment or other asset-based collateral, and deterioration in the value of such collateral could increase our exposure to future probable losses;

 

our largest lending relationships currently make up a material percentage of our total loan portfolio;

 

a new accounting standard will result in a significant change in how we recognize credit losses and may have a material impact on our financial condition or results of operations;

 

our profitability is vulnerable to interest rate fluctuations;

 

market interest rates for loans, investments and deposits are highly sensitive to many factors beyond our control;

 

we may be adversely impacted by the transition from LIBOR as a reference rate;

 

the outbreak of COVID-19, or other epidemic, pandemic or highly contagious disease occurring in the United States or in the geographies in which we conduct operations;

 

our financial performance will be negatively impacted if we are unable to execute our growth strategy;

 

our strategy of pursuing acquisitions exposes us to financial, execution, compliance and operational risks;

 

acquisitions may disrupt our business, dilute stockholder value and be costly to integrate;

 

we rely heavily on our management team and could be adversely affected by the unexpected loss of key officers;

 

our business is concentrated in, and largely dependent upon, the continued growth and welfare of the general geographic markets in which we operate;

 

our ability to grow our loan portfolio may be limited;

 

our future profitability levels are dependent on our ability to grow and maintain deposits at competitive costs;

 

our ability to retain bankers and recruit additional successful bankers is critical to the success of our business strategy;

 

a lack of liquidity could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations;

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our financial projections are based upon numerous assumptions about future events and our actual financial performance may differ materially from our projections if our assumptions are inaccurate;

 

we continually encounter technological change and may have fewer resources than our competitors;

 

our information systems may experience a failure or interruption;

 

we use information technology in our operations and offer online banking services to our customers, and unauthorized access to our or our customers’ confidential or proprietary information as a result of a cyber-attack or otherwise;

 

we are dependent upon outside third parties for the processing and handling of our records and data;

 

if our enterprise risk management framework is not effective at mitigating risk and loss to us;

 

changes in accounting standards could materially impact our financial statements;

 

if the goodwill that we have recorded or may record in connection with a business acquisition becomes impaired, it could require charges to earnings, which would adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations;

 

we may be required to repurchase mortgage loans or indemnify buyers against losses in some circumstances, which could harm liquidity, results of operations and financial condition;

 

we are subject to extensive regulations in the conduct of our business, which imposes additional costs on us;

 

changes in laws, government regulation and monetary policy may have a material effect on our results of operations;

 

our banking subsidiary may be required to pay higher FDIC insurance premiums or special assessments;

 

we are subject to certain capital requirements by regulators;

 

we are subject to stringent capital requirements, which may adversely impact our return on equity or constrain us from paying dividends or repurchasing shares;

 

we may need to raise additional capital in the future and the capital may not be available when it is needed or may be dilutive to stockholders;

 

we are subject to the Bank Secrecy Act and other anti-money laundering statutes and regulations, and any deemed deficiency by us with respect to these laws could result in significant liability;

 

the laws that regulate our operations are designed for the protection of depositors and the public, not our stockholders;

 

as a bank holding company, the sources of funds available to us are limited;

 

the market price of our Class A common stock may be subject to substantial fluctuations which may make it difficult for you to sell your shares at the volumes, prices and times desired;

 

the obligations associated with being a public company requires significant resources and management attention;

 

we have not historically declared or paid cash dividends on our common stock and we do not expect to pay dividends on our common stock in the foreseeable future;

 

securities analysts may not initiate or continue coverage on our Class A common stock, which could adversely affect the market for our Class A common stock;

 

use of our common stock for future acquisitions or to raise capital may be dilutive to existing stockholders;

 

a future issuance of stock could dilute the value of our Class A common stock;

 

we have significant institutional investors whose interests may differ from yours;

 

our directors and executive officers beneficially own a significant portion of our Class A common stock and have substantial influence over us;

 

shares of our Class A common stock are not insured deposits and may lose value;

 

we have the ability to incur debt and pledge our assets, including our stock in Equity Bank, to secure that debt, and holders of any such debt obligations will generally have priority over holders of our Class A common stock with respect to certain payment obligations;

 

if we fail to maintain an effective system of disclosure controls and procedures and internal control over financial reporting, we may not be able to accurately report our financial results or prevent fraud;

 

our board of directors may issue shares of preferred stock that would adversely affect the rights of our Class A common stockholders;

 

the return on your investment in our Class A common stock is uncertain;

 

we operate in a highly competitive industry and face significant competition from other banking organizations;

 

as a community bank, our ability to maintain our reputation is critical to the success of our business, and the failure to do so may materially adversely affect our performance;

 

we are subject to environmental risk in our lending activities;

 

we are subject to claims and litigation pertaining to intellectual property;

 

we have pledged all of the stock of Equity Bank as collateral for a loan, and if the lender forecloses, you could lose your investment; and

 

we have outstanding subordinated debt obligations, and if the Company defaults on those obligations, the debt holders could lose their investment.

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The foregoing factors should not be construed as exhaustive.  This summary of risk factors should be read in conjunction with the more detailed risk factors below.

Economic Risks

Recessionary conditions could result in increases in our level of nonperforming loans and/or reduced demand for our products and services, which could have an adverse effect on our results of operations.

Economic recession or other economic problems, including those affecting our markets and regions, but also those affecting the U.S. or world economies, could have a material adverse impact on the demand for our products and services.  If economic conditions deteriorate, or if there are negative developments affecting the domestic and international credit markets, the value of our loans and investments may be harmed, which in turn would have an adverse effect on our financial performance and our financial condition may be adversely affected.  In addition, although deteriorating market conditions could adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows, we may not benefit from any market growth or favorable economic conditions, either in our primary market areas or nationally, even if they do occur.

Changes in economic conditions could cause an increase in delinquencies and nonperforming assets, including loan charge-offs, which could depress our net income and growth.

Our loan portfolio includes many real estate secured loans, demand for which may decrease during economic downturns as a result of, among other things, an increase in unemployment, a decrease in real estate values and a slowdown in housing.  If we see negative economic conditions develop in the United States as a whole or our Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma markets, we could experience higher delinquencies and loan charge-offs, which would reduce our net income and adversely affect our financial condition.  Furthermore, to the extent that real estate collateral is obtained through foreclosure, the costs of holding and marketing the real estate collateral, as well as the ultimate values obtained from disposition, could reduce our earnings and adversely affect our financial condition.

The value of real estate collateral may fluctuate significantly resulting in an under-collateralized loan portfolio.

The market value of real estate, particularly real estate held for investment, can fluctuate significantly in a short period of time as a result of market conditions in the geographic area in which the real estate is located.  If the value of the real estate serving as collateral for our loan portfolio were to decline materially, a significant part of our loan portfolio could become under-collateralized.  If the loans that are collateralized by real estate become troubled during a time when market conditions are declining or have declined, then, in the event of foreclosure, we may not be able to realize the amount of collateral that we anticipated at the time of originating the loan.  This could have a material adverse effect on our provision for loan losses and our operating results and financial condition.

External economic factors, such as changes in monetary policy and inflation and deflation, may have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Our financial condition and results of operations are affected by credit policies of monetary authorities, particularly the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System or the Federal Reserve.  Actions by monetary and fiscal authorities, including the Federal Reserve, could lead to inflation, deflation or other economic phenomena that could adversely affect our financial performance.  The primary impact of inflation on our operations most likely will be reflected in increased operating costs.  Conversely, deflation generally will tend to erode collateral values and diminish loan quality.  Virtually all of our assets and liabilities are monetary in nature.  As a result, interest rates have a more significant impact on our performance than general levels of inflation or deflation. Interest rates do not necessarily move in the same direction or by the same magnitude as the prices of goods and services.

Volatility in commodity prices may adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.

In addition to the geographic concentration of our markets, certain industry-specific economic factors also affect us.  For example, while we do not have a concentration in energy lending, the industry is cyclical and recently has experienced a significant drop in crude oil and natural gas prices.  In addition, we make loans to customers involved in the agricultural industry, many of whom are also impacted by fluctuations in commodity prices.  Volatility in commodity prices could adversely impact the ability of borrowers in these industries to perform under the terms of their borrowing arrangements with us and, as a result, a severe and prolonged decline in commodity prices may adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.  It is also difficult to project future commodity prices as they are dependent upon many different factors beyond our control.

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Credit and Interest Rate Risks

Inability to effectively manage credit risk.

As a lender, we are exposed to the risk that our loan customers may not repay their loans according to the terms of these loans and the collateral securing the payment of these loans may be insufficient to fully compensate us for the outstanding balance of the loan plus the costs to dispose of the collateral.  We may experience significant loan losses, which could have a material adverse effect on our operating results and financial condition.  Management makes various assumptions and judgments about the collectability of our loan portfolio, including the diversification by industry of our commercial loan portfolio, the amount of nonperforming loans and related collateral, the volume, growth and composition of our loan portfolio, the effects on the loan portfolio of current economic indicators and their probable impact on borrowers and the evaluation of our loan portfolio through our internal loan review process and other relevant factors.

We maintain an allowance for loan losses, which is an allowance established through a provision for loan losses charged to expense that represents management’s best estimate of probable incurred losses in our loan portfolio.  Additional credit losses will likely occur in the future and may occur at a rate greater than we have experienced to date.  In determining the amount of the allowance, we rely on an analysis of our loan portfolio, our experience and our evaluation of general economic conditions.  If our assumptions, including our qualitative factors or the implementation of ASC Topic 326 Current Expected Credit Loss (“CECL”) in 2021 and for future periods, prove to be incorrect, our current allowance may not be sufficient and adjustments may be necessary to allow for different economic conditions or adverse developments in our loan portfolio.  In addition, as an acquirer of other banks, our allowance for loan losses may not be sufficient when coupled with purchase discounts on acquired portfolios.  Material additions to the allowance could materially decrease our net income.

In addition, banking regulators periodically review our allowance for loan losses and may require us to increase our provision for loan losses or recognize further charge-offs, based on judgments different than those of our management.  Any increase in our allowance for loan losses or charge-offs as required by these regulatory agencies could have a material negative effect on our operating results, financial condition and liquidity.

We could suffer losses from a decline in the credit quality of the assets that we hold.

We could sustain losses if borrowers, guarantors, and related parties fail to perform in accordance with the terms of their loans.  We have adopted underwriting and credit monitoring procedures and policies that we believe are appropriate to minimize this risk, including the establishment and review of the allowance for credit losses, periodic assessment of the likelihood of nonperformance, tracking loan performance and diversifying our credit portfolio.  These policies and procedures, however, may not prevent unexpected losses that could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.  In particular, we face credit quality risks presented by past, current and potential economic and real estate market conditions.

A significant portion of our loan portfolio is secured by real estate, and events that negatively impact the real estate market could negatively impact our business.

There are significant risks associated with real estate-based lending.  Real estate collateral may deteriorate in value during the time that credit is extended, in which case we might not be able to sell such collateral for an amount necessary to satisfy a defaulting borrower’s obligation to us.  In that event, there could be a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.  Additionally, commercial real estate loans are subject to unique risks.  These types of loans are often viewed as having more risks than residential real estate or other consumer loans, primarily because relatively large amounts are loans to a relatively small number of borrowers.  Thus, the deterioration of even a small number of these loans could cause a significant increase in the loan loss allowance or loan charge-offs, which in turn could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.  Furthermore, commercial real estate loans depend on cash flows from the property securing the debt.  Cash flows may be affected significantly by general economic conditions and a downturn in a local economy in one of our markets or in occupancy rates where a property is located could increase the likelihood of default.

The foregoing risks are enhanced as a result of the limited geographic scope of our principal markets.  Most of the real estate securing our loans is located in our Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma markets.  Because the value of this collateral depends upon local real estate market conditions and is affected by, among other things, neighborhood characteristics, real estate tax rates, the cost of operating the properties and local governmental regulation, adverse changes in any of these factors in our markets could cause a decline in the value of the collateral securing a significant portion of our loan portfolio.  Further, the concentration of real estate collateral in these four markets limits our ability to diversify the risk of such occurrences.

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A large portion of our loan portfolio is comprised of commercial loans that are secured by accounts receivable, inventory, equipment or other asset-based collateral, and deterioration in the value of such collateral could increase our exposure to future probable losses.

These commercial loans are typically larger in amount than loans to individuals and therefore, have the potential for larger losses on a single loan basis.  Additionally, asset-based borrowers are often highly leveraged and have inconsistent historical earnings and cash flows.  Historically, losses in our commercial credits have been higher than losses in other classes of our loan portfolio.  Significant adverse changes in our borrowers’ industries and businesses could cause rapid declines in values of, and collectability associated with, those business assets, which could result in inadequate collateral coverage for our commercial loans and expose us to future losses.  An increase in specific reserves and charge-offs related to our commercial loan portfolio could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and future prospects.

Our use of appraisals in deciding whether to make a loan secured by real property does not ensure the value of the real property collateral.

In considering whether to make a loan secured by real property, we generally require an appraisal.  However, an appraisal is only an estimate of the value of the property at the time the appraisal is made.  If the appraisal does not reflect the amount that may be obtained upon any sale or foreclosure of the property, we may not realize an amount equal to the indebtedness secured by the property.

A portion of our loan portfolio is comprised of participation and syndicated transaction interests, which could have an adverse effect on our ability to monitor the lending relationships and lead to an increased risk of loss.

We participate in loans originated by other institutions and in syndicated transactions (including shared national credits) in which other lenders serve as the agent bank.  Our reduced control over the monitoring and management of these relationships, particularly participations in large bank groups, could lead to increased risk of loss, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and future prospects.

Our largest loan relationships currently make up a material percentage of our total loan portfolio.

As of December 31, 2020, our ten largest loan relationships totaled over $241.3 million in loan exposure, or 9.3% of the total loan portfolio.  The concentration risk associated with having a small number of large loan relationships is that, if one or more of these relationships were to become delinquent or suffer default, we could be at serious risk of material losses.  The allowance for loan losses may not be adequate to cover losses associated with any of these relationships and any loss or increase in the allowance would negatively affect our earnings and capital.  Even if the loans are collateralized, the large increase in classified assets could harm our reputation with our regulators, investors and potential investors and inhibit our ability to execute our business plan.

We may not be able to adequately measure and limit the credit risk associated with our loan portfolio, which could adversely affect our profitability.

As a part of the products and services that we offer, we make commercial and commercial real estate loans.  The principal economic risk associated with each class of loans is the creditworthiness of the borrower, which is affected by the strength of the relevant business market segment, local market conditions and general economic conditions.  Additional factors related to the credit quality of commercial loans include the quality of the management of the business and the borrower’s ability both to properly evaluate changes in the supply and demand characteristics affecting our market for products and services and to effectively respond to those changes.  Additional factors related to the credit quality of commercial real estate loans include tenant vacancy rates and the quality of management of the property.  A failure to effectively measure and limit the credit risk associated with our loan portfolio could have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

We could be adversely affected by the soundness of other financial institutions.

Financial services institutions are interrelated as a result of trading, clearing, counterparty or other relationships.  We have exposure to many different industries and counterparties, and routinely execute transactions with counterparties in the financial services industry, including commercial banks, brokers and dealers, investment banks and other institutional clients.  Many of these transactions expose us to credit risk in the event of a default by a counterparty or client.  In addition, our credit risk may be exacerbated when our collateral cannot be foreclosed upon or is liquidated at prices not sufficient to recover the full amount of the credit or derivative exposure due.  Any such losses could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.

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A new accounting standard will result in a significant change in how we recognize credit losses and may have a material impact on our financial condition or results of operations.

In June 2016, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (“FASB”) issued an accounting standard update, “Financial Instruments-Credit Losses (Topic 326), Measurement of Credit Losses on Financial Instruments,” which replaces the current “incurred loss” model for recognizing credit losses with an “expected loss” model referred to as the Current Expected Credit Loss (“CECL”) model.  Under the CECL model, we will be required to present certain financial assets carried at amortized cost, such as loans held for investment and held-to-maturity debt securities, at the net amount expected to be collected.  The measurement of expected credit losses is to be based on information about past events, including historical experience, current conditions and reasonable and supportable forecasts that affect the collectability of the reported amount.  This measurement will take place at the time the financial asset is first added to the balance sheet and periodically thereafter.  This differs significantly from the “incurred loss” model required under current general accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”), which delays recognition until it is probable a loss has been incurred.  Accordingly, we expect that the adoption of the CECL model will materially affect how we determine our allowance for loan losses and could require us to significantly increase our allowance.  Moreover, the CECL model may create more volatility in the level of our allowance for loan losses.  If we are required to materially increase our level of allowance for loan losses for any reason, such increase could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.

The new CECL standard will become effective for us on January 1, 2021, and for interim periods beginning March 31, 2021.  For additional information about the Company’s adoption of CECL and the projected impact from adoption see “NOTE 1 – NATURE OF OPERATIONS AND SUMMARY OF SIGNIFICANT ACCOUNTING POLICIES” in Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements and “Item 7 – Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations – Financial Condition – Allowance for loan losses”.

Our profitability is vulnerable to interest rate fluctuations.

Our profitability depends substantially upon our net interest income.  Net interest income is the difference between the interest earned on assets (such as loans and securities held in our investment portfolio) and the interest paid for liabilities (such as interest paid on savings and money market accounts and time deposits).  Income associated with interest-earning assets and costs associated with interest-bearing liabilities may not be affected uniformly by fluctuations in interest rates.  The magnitude and duration of changes in interest rates are events over which we have no control and such changes may have an adverse effect on our net interest income.  Prepayment and early withdrawal levels, which are also impacted by changes in interest rates, can significantly affect our assets and liabilities.  For example, an increase in interest rates could, among other things, reduce the demand for loans and decrease loan repayment rates.  Such an increase could also adversely affect the ability of our floating-rate borrowers to meet their higher payment obligations, which could in turn lead to an increase in nonperforming assets and net charge-offs.  Conversely, a decrease in the general level of interest rates could affect us by, among other things, leading to greater competition for deposits and incentivizing borrowers to prepay or refinance their loans more quickly or frequently than they otherwise would.  The primary tool that management uses to measure interest rate risk is a simulation model that evaluates the impact of varying levels of prevailing interest rates and the impact on net interest income and the economic value of equity.  Generally, the interest rates on our interest-earning assets and interest-bearing liabilities do not change at the same rate, to the same extent or on the same basis.  Even assets and liabilities with similar maturities or re-pricing periods may react in different degrees to changes in market interest rates.  Interest rates on certain types of assets and liabilities may fluctuate in advance of changes in general market interest rates, while interest rates on other types of assets and liabilities may lag behind changes in general market rates.  Certain assets, such as fixed and adjustable rate mortgage loans, have features that limit changes in interest rates on a short-term basis and over the life of the asset.  Changes in interest rates could materially and adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.  See “Item 7A – Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosure About Market Risk” for a discussion of interest rate risk modeling and the inherent risks in modeling assumptions.

Market interest rates for loans, investments and deposits are highly sensitive to many factors beyond our control.

Generally, interest rate spreads (the difference between interest rates earned on assets and interest rates paid on liabilities) have narrowed in recent years as a result of changing market conditions, policies of various government and regulatory authorities and competitive pricing pressures and we cannot predict whether these rate spreads will narrow even further.  This narrowing of interest rate spreads could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.  In addition, we cannot predict whether interest rates will continue to remain at present levels.  Changes in interest rates may cause significant changes, up or down, in our net interest income.

We attempt to minimize the adverse effects of changes in interest rates by structuring our asset-liability composition in order to obtain the maximum spread between interest income and interest expense.  However, there can be no assurance that we will be successful in minimizing the adverse effects of changes in interest rates.  Depending on our portfolio of loans and investments, our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected by changes in interest rates.

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We may be adversely impacted by the transition from LIBOR as a reference rate.

In 2017, the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority announced that after 2021 it would no longer compel banks to submit the rates required to calculate LIBOR.  This announcement indicates that the continuation of LIBOR on the current basis cannot and will not be guaranteed after 2021.  It remains unclear what rate or rates may develop as accepted alternatives to LIBOR, or what the effect of such changes will be on the markets for LIBOR-based financial instruments.  The Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) has been recommended by the Alternative Reference Rates Committee (a group of private-market participants convened by the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) as an alternative for USD LIBOR, but uncertainty as to the adoption, market acceptance or availability of SOFR or other alternative reference rates may adversely affect the value of LIBOR or SOFR-based assets and liabilities held or issued by the Company.

We occasionally have loans, derivative contracts, borrowings and other financial instruments with attributes that are either directly or indirectly dependent on LIBOR.  The transition from LIBOR could create considerable costs and additional risk.  Since proposed alternative rates are calculated differently, payments under contracts referencing new rates will differ from those referencing LIBOR.  The transition will change our market risk profiles, requiring changes to risk and pricing models, valuation tools, product design and hedging strategies.  Furthermore, failure to adequately manage this transition process with our customers could adversely impact our reputation.  

The language in our contracts and financial instruments that define and use LIBOR have developed over time and have various events that trigger when a successor rate to the designated rate would be selected.  If a trigger is satisfied, contracts and financial instruments often give the calculation agent (which may be us) discretion over the successor rate or benchmark to be selected.  As a result, there is considerable uncertainty as to how the financial services industry will address the discontinuance of designated rates in contracts and financial instruments or such designated rates ceasing to be acceptable reference rates.  This uncertainty could ultimately result in client disputes and litigation surrounding the proper interpretation of our LIBOR-based contracts and financial instruments.

Although we are currently unable to assess what the ultimate impact of the transition from LIBOR will be, failure to adequately manage the transition could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Strategic Risks

The outbreak of COVID-19, or other such epidemic, pandemic, or highly contagious disease occurring in the United States or in the geographies in which we conduct operations, could adversely affect the Company’s business operations, asset valuations, financial condition and results of operations.

The Company’s business is dependent upon the willingness and ability of our customers to conduct banking and other financial transactions. The COVID-19 outbreak, or other highly contagious or infectious disease, could negatively impact the ability of our employees and customers to conduct such transactions and disrupt the business activities and operations of our customers in the geographic areas in which we operate. The spread of the COVID-19 virus had an impact on our operations during 2020, and the Company expects that the virus will continue to have an impact on the business, financial condition, and results of operations of the Company and its customers during 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused changes in the behavior of customers, businesses, and their employees, including illness, quarantines, social distancing practices, cancellation of events and travel, business and school shutdowns, reduction in commercial activity and financial transactions, supply chain interruptions, increased unemployment, and overall economic and financial market instability. Future effects, including additional actions taken by federal, state, and local governments to contain COVID-19 or treat its impact, are unknown. Any sustained disruption to our operations is likely to negatively impact the Company’s financial condition and results of operations. Notwithstanding our contingency plans and other safeguards against pandemics or another contagious disease, the spread of COVID-19 could also negatively impact the availability of Equity Bank staff who are necessary to conduct our business operations, as well as potentially impact the business and operations third party service providers who perform critical services for us. If the response to contain COVID-19, or another highly infectious or contagious disease, is unsuccessful, the Company could experience a material adverse effect on our business operations, asset valuations, financial condition, and results of operations. Material adverse impacts may include all or a combination of valuation impairments on the Company’s intangible assets, investments, loans, loan servicing rights, deferred tax assets, or counter-party risk derivatives.

Our financial performance will be negatively impacted if we are unable to execute our growth strategy.

Our current growth strategy is to grow organically and supplement that growth with select acquisitions.  Our ability to grow organically depends primarily on generating loans and deposits of acceptable risk and expense and we may not be successful in continuing this organic growth.  Our ability to identify appropriate markets for expansion, recruit and retain qualified personnel and fund growth at a reasonable cost depends upon prevailing economic conditions, maintenance of sufficient capital, competitive factors, and changes in banking laws, among other factors.  Conversely, if we grow too quickly and are unable to control costs and maintain

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asset quality, such growth, whether organic or through select acquisitions, could materially and adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.

We may not be able to identify and acquire other financial institutions, which could hinder our ability to continue to grow.

A substantial part of our historical growth has been a result of acquisitions of other financial institutions.  We intend to continue our strategy of evaluating and selectively acquiring other financial institutions that serve customers or markets we find desirable. However, the market for acquisitions remains highly competitive and we may be unable to find satisfactory acquisition candidates in the future that fit our acquisition strategy.  To the extent that we are unable to find suitable acquisition candidates, an important component of our strategy may be lost.  If we are able to identify attractive acquisition opportunities, we must generally satisfy a number of conditions prior to completing any such transaction, including certain bank regulatory approval, which has become substantially more difficult, time-consuming and unpredictable as a result of the recent financial crisis.  Additionally, any future acquisitions may not produce the revenue, earnings or synergies that we anticipated.

Our strategy of pursuing acquisitions exposes us to financial, execution, compliance and operational risks that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and growth prospects.

We intend to continue pursuing a strategy that includes acquisitions.  An acquisition strategy involves significant risks, including the following:

 

finding suitable candidates for acquisition;

 

attracting funding to support additional growth within acceptable risk tolerances;

 

maintaining asset quality;

 

retaining customers and key personnel, including bankers;

 

obtaining necessary regulatory approvals, which we may have difficulty obtaining or be unable to obtain;

 

conducting adequate due diligence and managing known and unknown risks and uncertainties;

 

integrating acquired businesses; and

 

maintaining adequate regulatory capital.

The market for acquisition targets is highly competitive, which may adversely affect our ability to find acquisition candidates that fit our strategy and standards.  We face significant competition in pursuing acquisition targets from other banks and financial institutions, many of which possess greater financial, human, technical and other resources than we do.  Our ability to compete in acquiring target institutions will depend on our available financial resources to fund the acquisitions, including the amount of cash and cash equivalents we have and the liquidity and market price of our Class A common stock.  In addition, increased competition may also drive up the acquisition consideration that we will be required to pay in order to successfully capitalize on attractive acquisition opportunities.  To the extent that we are unable to find suitable acquisition targets, an important component of our growth strategy may not be realized.

Acquisitions of financial institutions and branches also involve operational risks and uncertainties, such as unknown or contingent liabilities with no available manner of recourse, exposure to unexpected problems such as asset quality, the retention of key employees and customers and other issues that could negatively affect our business.  We may not be able to complete future acquisitions or, if completed, we may not be able to successfully integrate the operations, technology platforms, management, products and services of the entities that we acquire or to realize our attempts to eliminate redundancies.  The integration process may also require significant time and attention from our management that would otherwise be directed toward servicing existing business and developing new business.  Failure to successfully integrate the entities we acquire into our existing operations in a timely manner may increase our operating costs significantly and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.  Further, acquisitions typically involve the payment of a premium over book and market values and therefore, some dilution of our tangible book value and net income per common share may occur in connection with any future acquisition and the carrying amount of any goodwill that we currently maintain or may acquire may be subject to impairment in future periods.

If we continue to grow, we will face risks arising from our increased size.  If we do not manage such growth effectively, we may be unable to realize the benefit from the investments in technology, infrastructure and personnel that we have made to support our expansion.  In addition, we may incur higher costs and realize less revenue growth than we expect, which would reduce our earnings and diminish our future prospects and we may not be able to continue to implement our business strategy and successfully conduct our operations.  Risks associated with failing to maintain effective financial and operational controls as we grow, such as maintaining appropriate loan underwriting procedures, information technology systems, determining adequate allowances for loan losses and

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complying with regulatory accounting requirements, including increased loan losses, reduced earnings and potential regulatory penalties and restrictions on growth, all could have a negative effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Acquisitions may disrupt our business and dilute stockholder value and integrating acquired companies may be more difficult, costly or time-consuming than we expect.

Our pursuit of acquisitions may disrupt our business and any equity that we issue as merger consideration may have the effect of diluting the value of common stockholders.  In addition, we may fail to realize some or all of the anticipated benefits of completed acquisitions.  We anticipate that the integration of businesses that we may acquire in the future will be a time-consuming and expensive process, even if the integration process is effectively planned and implemented.

In addition, our acquisition activities could be material to our business and involve a number of significant risks, including the following:

 

incurring time and expense associated with identifying and evaluating potential acquisitions and negotiating potential transactions, resulting in our attention being diverted from the operation of our existing business;

 

using inaccurate estimates and judgments to evaluate credit, operations, management and market risks with respect to the target company or the assets and liabilities that we seek to acquire;

 

exposure to potential asset quality issues of the target company;

 

intense competition from other banking organizations and other potential acquirers, many of which have substantially greater resources than we do;

 

potential exposure to unknown or contingent liabilities of banks and businesses we acquire, including, without limitation, liabilities for regulatory and compliance issues;

 

inability to realize the expected revenue increases, cost savings, increases in geographic or product presence and other projected benefits of the acquisition;

 

incurring time and expense required to integrate the operations and personnel of the combined businesses;

 

inconsistencies in standards, procedures and policies that would adversely affect our ability to maintain relationships with customers and employees;

 

experiencing higher operating expenses relative to operating income from the new operations;

 

creating an adverse short-term effect on our results of operations;

 

losing key employees and customers;

 

significant problems relating to the conversion of the financial and customer data of the entity;

 

integration of acquired customers into our financial and customer product systems;

 

potential changes in banking or tax laws or regulations that may affect the target company; or

 

risks of impairment to goodwill.

If difficulties arise with respect to the integration process, the economic benefits expected to result from acquisitions might not occur.  As with any merger of financial institutions, there also may be business disruptions that cause us to lose customers or cause customers to move their business to other financial institutions.  Failure to successfully integrate businesses that we acquire could have an adverse effect on our profitability, return on equity, return on assets or our ability to implement our strategy, any of which in turn could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

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Operational Risks

We rely heavily on our management team and could be adversely affected by the unexpected loss of key officers.

We are led by an experienced management team with substantial experience in the markets that we serve and the financial products that we offer.  Our operating strategy focuses on providing products and services through long-term relationship managers.  Accordingly, our success depends in large part on the performance of our key personnel, as well as on our ability to attract, motivate and retain highly qualified senior and middle management.  Competition for employees is intense and the process of locating key personnel with the combination of skills and attributes required to execute our business plan may be lengthy.  We may not be successful in retaining our key employees and the unexpected loss of services of one or more of our key personnel could have a material adverse effect on our business because of their skills, knowledge of our market and financial products, years of industry experience, long-term customer relationships and the difficulty of promptly finding qualified replacement personnel.  If the services of any of our key personnel should become unavailable for any reason, we may not be able to identify and hire qualified persons on terms acceptable to us, which could have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Our business is concentrated in, and largely dependent upon, the continued growth and welfare of the general geographic markets in which we operate.

Our banking operations are concentrated in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.  As a result, our financial condition and results of operations and cash flows are affected by changes in the economic conditions of our markets.  Our success depends to a significant extent upon the business activity, population, income levels, deposits and real estate activity in these markets.  Although our customers’ business and financial interests may extend well beyond these market areas, adverse conditions that affect these market areas could reduce our growth rate, affect the ability of our customers to repay their loans, affect the value of collateral underlying loans, impact our ability to attract deposits and generally affect our financial conditions and results of operations.  Because of our geographic concentration, we may be less able than other regional or national financial institutions to diversify our credit risks across multiple markets.

Difficult conditions in the market for financial products and services may materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.

Recessionary periods historically have brought about increased foreclosures and unemployment which have resulted in significant write-downs of asset values by financial institutions, including government-sponsored entities and major commercial and investment banks.  These write-downs, initially of mortgage-backed securities but spreading to credit default swaps and other derivative securities, have historically caused many financial institutions to seek additional capital, to merge with larger and stronger institutions and, in some cases, to fail.  This market turmoil and tightening of credit have led to an increased level of commercial and consumer delinquencies, lack of consumer confidence, increased market volatility and widespread reduction of business activity generally.  Although conditions have improved, a return of these trends could have a material adverse effect on our business and operations.  Negative market developments may affect consumer confidence levels and may cause adverse changes in payment patterns, causing increases in delinquencies and default rates, which may impact our charge-offs and provisions for loan and credit losses.  Economic deterioration that affects household and/or corporate incomes could also result in reduced demand for credit or fee-based products and services.  These conditions would have adverse effects on us and others in the financial services industry.

Our ability to grow our loan portfolio may be limited by, among other things, economic conditions, competition within our market areas, the timing of loan repayments and seasonality.

Our ability to continue to improve our operating results is dependent upon, among other things, growing our loan portfolio.  While we believe that our strategy to grow our loan portfolio is sound and our growth targets are achievable over an extended period of time, competition within our market areas is significant, particularly for high credit quality borrowers.  We compete with both large regional and national financial institutions, who are sometimes able to offer more attractive interest rates and other financial terms than we choose to offer, as well as other community-based banks who seek to offer a similar level of service to that which we offer.  This competition can make loan growth challenging, particularly if we are unwilling to price loans at levels that would cause unacceptable levels of compression of our net interest margin or if we are unwilling to structure a loan in a manner that we believe results in a level of risk to us that we are not willing to accept.  Moreover, loan growth throughout the year can fluctuate due in part to seasonality of the businesses of our borrowers and potential borrowers and the timing on loan repayments, particularly those of our borrowers with significant relationships with us, resulting from, among other things, excess levels of liquidity.  To the extent that we are unable to increase loans, we may be unable to successfully implement our growth strategy, which could materially and adversely affect us.

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Several of our large depositors have relationships with each other, which creates a higher risk that one customer’s withdrawal of its deposit could lead to a loss of other deposits from customers within the relationship, which, in turn, could force us to fund our business through more expensive and less stable sources.

As of December 31, 2020, our ten largest non-brokered depositors accounted for $279.3 million in deposits, or approximately 8.1% of our total deposits.  Further, our non-brokered deposit account balance was $3.41 billion, or approximately 98.9% of our total deposits, as of December 31, 2020.  Several of our large depositors have business, family or other relationships with each other, which creates a risk that any one customer’s withdrawal of its deposit could lead to a loss of other deposits from customers within the relationship.

Withdrawals of deposits by any one of our largest depositors or by one of our related customer groups could force us to rely more heavily on borrowings and other sources of funding for our business and withdrawal demands, adversely affecting our net interest margin and results of operations.  We may also be forced, as a result of any withdrawal of deposits, to rely more heavily on other, potentially more expensive and less stable funding sources.  Consequently, the occurrence of any of these events could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, financial condition and future prospects.

Our future profitability levels are dependent on our ability to grow and maintain deposits at competitive costs.

Our ability to fund our lending and investing activities at a reasonable cost depends on our ability to maintain adequate deposit levels at an economically competitive cost structure.  The following risks could impact the cost structures of deposits:

 

Increased competition over transactional and time deposit accounts could increase the costs of these deposits by increasing the rate of change and velocity of change in deposit rates, as overall market rates change;

 

Migration of transactional deposit accounts to time deposit accounts could increase the overall costs of deposits; and

 

Changes in the mix of retail and public funds deposit customers could increase the costs of deposits.  Public funds deposits are more rate sensitive than retail deposits and if we are forced to rely more heavily on those types of deposits overall funding cost could increase.

Our ability to retain bankers and recruit additional successful bankers is critical to the success of our business strategy and any failure to do so could adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and growth prospects.

Our ability to retain and grow our loans, deposits and fee income depends upon the business generation capabilities, reputation and relationship management skills of our bankers.  If we were to lose the services of any of our bankers, including successful bankers employed by banks that we may acquire, to a new or existing competitor or otherwise, we may not be able to retain valuable relationships and some of our customers could choose to use the services of a competitor instead of our services.

Our growth strategy also relies on our ability to attract and retain additional profitable bankers.  We may face difficulties in recruiting and retaining bankers of our desired caliber, including as a result of competition from other financial institutions.  In particular, many of our competitors are significantly larger with greater financial resources and may be able to offer more attractive compensation packages and broader career opportunities.  Additionally, we may incur significant expenses and expend significant time and resources on training, integration and business development before we are able to determine whether a new banker will be profitable or effective.  If we are unable to attract and retain successful bankers, or if our bankers fail to meet our expectations in terms of customer relationships and profitability, we may be unable to execute our business strategy and our business, financial condition, results of operations and growth prospects may be adversely affected.

Any expansion into new markets or new lines of business might not be successful.

As part of our ongoing strategic plan, we may consider expansion into new geographic markets.  Such expansion might take the form of the establishment of de novo branches or the acquisition of existing banks or bank branches.  There are considerable costs associated with opening new branches and new branches generally do not generate sufficient revenues to offset costs until they have been in operation for some time.  Additionally, we may consider expansion into new lines of business through the acquisition of third parties or organic growth and development.  There are substantial risks associated with such efforts, including risks that (i) revenues from such activities might not be sufficient to offset the development, compliance and other implementation costs, (ii) competing products and services and shifting market preferences might affect the profitability of such activities and (iii) our internal controls might be inadequate to manage the risks associated with new activities.  Furthermore, it is possible that our unfamiliarity with new markets or lines of business might adversely affect the success of such actions.  If any such expansions into new geographic or product markets are not successful, there could be an adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.

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Our small to medium-sized business and entrepreneurial customers may have fewer financial resources than larger entities to weather a downturn in the economy that might impair a borrower’s ability to repay a loan and could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.

We focus our business development and marketing strategy primarily to serve the banking and financial services needs of small to medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs.  These small to medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs may have fewer financial resources in terms of capital or borrowing capacity than larger entities.  If economic conditions negatively impact our markets generally, and small to medium-sized businesses are adversely affected, our financial condition and results of operations may be negatively affected.

A lack of liquidity could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.

Liquidity is essential to our business.  We rely on our ability to generate deposits and effectively manage the repayment and maturity schedules of our loans to ensure that we have adequate liquidity to fund our operations.  An inability to raise funds through deposits, borrowings, the sale of loans and other sources could have a substantial negative effect on our liquidity.  Our most important source of funds is deposits.  Deposit balances can decrease when customers perceive alternative investments as providing a better risk/return tradeoff.  If customers move money out of bank deposits and into other investments such as money market funds, we would lose a relatively low-cost source of funds, increasing our funding costs and reducing our net interest income and net income.

Other primary sources of funds consist of cash flows from operations, maturities and sales of investment securities and proceeds from the issuance and sale of our equity securities to investors.  Additional liquidity is provided by the ability to borrow from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Topeka.  We also may borrow funds from third-party lenders, such as other financial institutions.  Our access to funding sources in amounts adequate to finance or capitalize our activities, or on terms that are acceptable to us, could be impaired by factors that affect us directly or the financial services industry or economy in general, such as disruptions in the financial markets or negative views and expectations about the prospects for the financial services industry.  Our access to funding sources could also be affected by a decrease in the level of our business activity as a result of a downturn in our markets or by one or more adverse regulatory actions against us.

Any decline in available funding could adversely impact our ability to originate loans, invest in securities, meet our expenses or to fulfill obligations such as repaying our borrowings or meeting deposit withdrawal demands, any of which could have a material adverse impact on our liquidity, business, financial condition and results of operations.

As a community banking institution, we have lower lending limits and different lending risks than certain of our larger, more diversified competitors.

We are a community banking institution that provides banking services to the local communities in the market areas in which we operate.  Our ability to diversify our economic risks is limited by our own local markets and economies.  We lend primarily to individuals and small to medium-sized businesses, which may expose us to greater lending risks than those of banks that lend to larger, better-capitalized businesses with longer operating histories.  In addition, our legally mandated lending limits are lower than those of certain of our competitors that have more capital than we do.  These lower lending limits may discourage borrowers with lending needs that exceed our limits from doing business with us.  We may try to serve such borrowers by selling loan participations to other financial institutions; however, this strategy may not succeed.

Our financial projections are based upon numerous assumptions about future events and our actual financial performance may differ materially from our projections if our assumptions are inaccurate.

If the communities in which we operate do not grow, or if the prevailing economic conditions locally or nationally are less favorable than we have assumed, then our ability to reduce our nonperforming loans and other real estate owned portfolios and to implement our business strategies may be adversely affected and our actual financial performance may be materially different from our projections.

Moreover, we cannot give any assurance that we will benefit from any market growth or favorable economic conditions in our market areas even if they do occur.  If our senior management team is unable to provide the effective leadership necessary to implement our strategic plan our actual financial performance may be materially adversely different from our projections.  Additionally, to the extent that any component of our strategic plan requires regulatory approval, if we are unable to obtain necessary approval, we will be unable to completely implement our strategy, which may adversely affect our actual financial results.  Our inability to successfully implement our strategic plan could adversely affect the price of our Class A common stock.

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We depend on the accuracy and completeness of information about customers and counterparties.

In deciding whether to extend credit or enter into other transactions with customers and counterparties, we may rely on information furnished to us by or on behalf of customers and counterparties, including financial statements and other financial information.  We also may rely on representations of customers and counterparties as to the accuracy and completeness of that information and, with respect to financial statements, on reports of independent auditors. In deciding whether to extend credit, we may rely upon our customers’ representations that their financial statements conform to GAAP and present fairly, in all material respects, the financial condition, results of operations and cash flows of the customer.  We also may rely on customer representations and certifications or other audit or accountants’ reports, with respect to the business and financial condition of our clients.  Our financial condition, results of operations, financial reporting and reputation could be negatively affected if we rely on materially misleading, false, inaccurate or fraudulent information.

We are subject to possible claims and litigation pertaining to fiduciary responsibility.

From time to time, customers could make claims and take legal action pertaining to our performance of our fiduciary responsibilities.  Whether customer claims and legal action related to our performance of our fiduciary responsibilities are founded or unfounded, if such claims and legal actions are not resolved in a manner favorable to us, they may result in significant financial liability and/or adversely affect our market perception of our products and services as well as impact customer demand for those products and services.  Any financial liability or reputation damage could have a material adverse effect on our business, which, in turn, could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.

We continually encounter technological change and may have fewer resources than our competitors to continue to invest in technological improvements.

The banking and financial services industries are undergoing rapid technological changes with frequent introductions of new technology-driven products and services.  In addition to enhancing the level of service provided to customers, the effective use of technology increases efficiency and enables financial institutions to reduce costs.  Our future success will depend, in part, upon our ability to address the needs of our customers by using technology to provide products and services that enhance customer convenience and create additional efficiencies in operations.  Many of our competitors have greater resources to invest in technological improvements and we may not be able to effectively implement new technology-driven products and services, which could reduce our ability to effectively compete.

Our information systems may experience a failure or interruption.

We rely heavily on communications and information systems to conduct our business.  Any failure or interruption in the operation of these systems could impair or prevent the effective operation of our customer relationship management, general ledger, deposit, lending or other functions.  While we have policies and procedures designed to prevent or limit the effect of a failure or interruption in the operation of our information systems, there can be no assurance that any such failures or interruptions will not occur or, if they do occur, that they will be adequately addressed.  The occurrence of any failures or interruptions impacting our information systems could damage our reputation, result in a loss of customer business and expose us to additional regulatory scrutiny, civil litigation and possible financial liability, any of which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.

We use information technology in our operations and offer online banking services to our customers, and unauthorized access to our or our customers’ confidential or proprietary information as a result of a cyber-attack or otherwise could expose us to reputational harm and litigation and adversely affect our ability to attract and retain customers.

Information security risks for financial institutions have generally increased in recent years, in part because of the proliferation of new technologies, the use of the internet and telecommunications technologies to conduct financial transactions and the increased sophistication and activities of organized crime, hackers, terrorists, activists and other external parties.  The financial services industry has seen increases in electronic fraudulent activity, hacking, security breaches, sophisticated social engineering and cyber-attacks, including in the commercial banking sector, as cyber criminals have been targeting commercial bank and brokerage accounts on an increasing basis.  We are under continuous threat of loss due to fraudulent activity, hacking and cyber-attacks, especially as we continue to expand customer capabilities to utilize internet and other remote channels to transact business.  Our risk and exposure to these matters remains heightened because of the evolving nature and complexity of these threats from cyber criminals and hackers, our plans to continue to provide internet banking and mobile banking channels and our plans to develop additional remote connectivity solutions to serve our customers.  Therefore, the secure processing, transmission and storage of information in connection with our online banking services are critical elements of our operations.  However, our network could be vulnerable to unauthorized access, computer viruses and other malware, phishing schemes or other security failures.  In addition, our customers may use personal smartphones, tablet PCs or other mobile devices that are beyond our control systems in order to access our products and services.  Our

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technologies, systems and networks and our customers’ devices, may become the target of cyber-attacks, electronic fraud or information security breaches that could result in the unauthorized release, gathering, monitoring, misuse, loss or destruction of our or our customers’ confidential, proprietary and other information, or otherwise disrupt our or our customers’ or other third parties’ business operations.  As cyber threats continue to evolve, we may be required to spend significant capital and other resources to protect against these threats or to alleviate or investigate problems caused by such threats.  Our business relies on the secure processing, storage, transmission and retrieval of confidential customer information in our computer and data management systems and networks, and in the computer and data management systems and networks of third parties, and any breaches or unauthorized access to such information could present significant regulatory costs and expose us to litigation and other possible liabilities.  Any inability to prevent these types of security threats could also cause existing customers to lose confidence in our systems and could adversely affect our reputation and ability to generate deposits.  While we have not experienced any material losses relating to cyber-attacks or other information security breaches to date, we may suffer such losses in the future.  The occurrence of any cyber-attack or information security breach could result in financial losses or increased costs to us or our clients, disclosure or misuse of confidential information belonging to us or personal or confidential information belonging to our clients, misappropriation of assets, reputational damage, damage to our competitive position and the disruption of our operations, all of which could adversely affect our financial condition or results of operations.

In addition to well-known risks related to fraudulent activity, which take many forms, such as check “kiting” or fraud, wire fraud and other dishonest acts, information security breaches and cybersecurity-related incidents have become a material risk in the financial services industry.  These threats may include fraudulent or unauthorized access to data processing or data storage systems used by us or by our clients, electronic identity theft, “phishing”, account takeover, denial or degradation of service attacks and malware or other cyber-attacks.  These electronic viruses or malicious code are typically designed to, among other things:

 

obtain unauthorized access to confidential information belonging to us or our clients and customers;

 

manipulate or destroy data;

 

disrupt, sabotage or degrade service on a financial institution’s systems; or

 

steal money.

In recent periods, several governmental agencies and large corporations, including financial service organizations and retail companies, have suffered major data breaches, in some cases exposing not only their confidential and proprietary corporate information, but also sensitive financial and other personal information of their clients or clients and their employees or other third parties and subjecting those agencies and corporations to potential fraudulent activity and their clients, clients and other third parties to identity theft and fraudulent activity in their credit card and banking accounts.  Therefore, security breaches and cyber-attacks can cause significant increases in operating costs, including the costs and capital expenditures required to correct the deficiencies in and strengthen the security of data processing and storage systems.

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to anticipate, detect, or recognize these threats to our systems, or to implement effective preventative measures against all breaches, whether those breaches are malicious or accidental.  Cybersecurity risks for banking organizations have significantly increased in recent years and have been difficult to detect before they occur because, among other reasons:

 

the proliferation of new technologies and the use of the Internet and telecommunications technologies to conduct financial transactions;

 

these threats arise from numerous sources, not all of which are in our control, including among others, human error, fraud or malice on the part of employees or third parties, accidental technological failure, electrical or telecommunication outages, failures of computer servers or other damage to our property or assets, natural disasters or severe weather conditions, health emergencies or pandemics, or outbreaks of hostilities or terrorist acts;

 

the techniques used in cyber-attacks change frequently and may not be recognized until launched or until well after the breach has occurred;

 

the increased sophistication and activities of organized crime groups, hackers, terrorist organizations, hostile foreign governments, disgruntled employees or vendors, activists and other external parties, including those involved in corporate espionage;

 

the vulnerability of systems to third parties seeking to gain access to such systems either directly or using equipment or security passwords belonging to employees, customers, third-party service providers or other users of our systems; and

 

our frequent transmission of sensitive information to, and storage of such information by, third parties, including our vendors and regulators, and possible weaknesses that go undetected in our data systems notwithstanding the testing we conduct of those systems.

Although to date we have not experienced any losses or other material consequences relating to technology failure, cyber-attacks or other information, we may suffer such losses or other consequences in the future.  While we invest in systems and processes that are designed to detect and prevent security breaches and cyber-attacks and we conduct periodic tests of our security systems and processes, we may not succeed in anticipating or adequately protecting against or preventing all security breaches and cyber-attacks from occurring.  Even the most advanced internal control environment may be vulnerable to compromise.  Targeted social engineering

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attacks are becoming more sophisticated and are extremely difficult to prevent.  Additionally, the existence of cyber-attacks or security breaches at third parties with access to our data, such as vendors, may not be disclosed to us in a timely manner.  Further, we may not be able to insure against losses related to cyber threats.  As cyber threats continue to evolve, we may be required to expend significant additional resources to continue to modify or enhance our protective measures or to investigate and remediate any information security vulnerabilities or incidents.

As is the case with non-electronic fraudulent activity, cyber-attacks or other information or security breaches, whether directed at us or third parties, may result in a material loss or have material consequences.  Furthermore, the public perception that a cyber-attack on our systems has been successful, whether or not this perception is correct, may damage our reputation with customers and third parties with whom we do business.  A successful penetration or circumvention of system security could cause us negative consequences, including loss of customers and business opportunities, disruption to our operations and business, misappropriation or destruction of our confidential information and/or that of our customers, or damage to our customers’ and/or third parties’ computers or systems, and could expose us to additional regulatory scrutiny and result in a violation of applicable privacy laws and other laws, litigation exposure, regulatory fines, penalties or intervention, loss of confidence in our security measures, reputational damage, reimbursement or other compensatory costs, additional compliance costs, and could adversely impact our results of operations, liquidity and financial condition.

We are dependent upon outside third parties for the processing and handling of our records and data.

We rely on software developed by third-party vendors to process various transactions.  In some cases, we have contracted with third parties to run their proprietary software on our behalf.  These systems include, but are not limited to, general ledger, payroll, employee benefits, loan and deposit processing and securities portfolio accounting.  While we perform a review of controls instituted by the applicable vendors over these programs in accordance with industry standards and perform our own testing of user controls, we must rely on the continued maintenance of controls by these third-party vendors, including safeguards over the security of customer data.  In addition, we maintain, or contract with third parties to maintain, daily backups of key processing outputs in the event of a failure on the part of any of these systems.  Nonetheless, we may incur a temporary disruption in our ability to conduct business or process transactions, or incur damage to our reputation, if the third-party vendor fails to adequately maintain internal controls or institute necessary changes to systems.  Such a disruption or breach of security may have a material adverse effect on our business.

We are subject to losses due to the errors or fraudulent behavior of employees or third parties.

We are exposed to many types of operational risk, including the risk of fraud by employees and outsiders, clerical record-keeping errors and transactional errors.  Our business is dependent on our employees as well as third-party service providers to process a large number of increasingly complex transactions.  We could be materially adversely affected if someone causes a significant operational breakdown or failure, either as a result of human error or where an individual purposefully sabotages or fraudulently manipulates our operations or systems.  When we originate loans, we rely upon information supplied by loan applicants and third parties, including the information contained in the loan application, property appraisal and title information, if applicable, and employment and income documentation provided by third parties.  If any of this information is misrepresented and such misrepresentation is not detected prior to loan funding, we generally bear the risk of loss associated with the misrepresentation.  Any of these occurrences could result in a diminished ability of us to operate our business, potential liability to customers, reputational damage and regulatory intervention, which could negatively impact our business, financial condition and results of operations.

If our enterprise risk management framework is not effective at mitigating risk and loss to us, we could suffer unexpected losses and our results of operations could be materially adversely affected.

Our enterprise risk management framework seeks to achieve an appropriate balance between risk and return, which is critical to optimizing stockholder value.  We have established processes and procedures intended to identify, measure, monitor, report and analyze the types of risk to which we are subject, including credit, liquidity, operational, regulatory compliance and reputational.  However, as with any risk management framework, there are inherent limitations to our risk management strategies as there may exist, or develop in the future, risks that we have not appropriately anticipated or identified.  For example, the recent financial and credit crisis and resulting regulatory reform highlighted both the importance and some of the limitations of managing unanticipated risks.  If our risk management framework proves ineffective, we could suffer unexpected losses and our business and results of operations could be materially adversely affected.

Changes in accounting standards could materially impact our financial statements.

From time to time, the Financial Accounting Standards Board or the SEC may change the financial accounting and reporting standards that govern the preparation of our financial statements.  Such changes may result in us being subject to new or changing accounting and reporting standards.  In addition, the bodies that interpret the accounting standards (such as banking regulators, outside auditors or management) may change their interpretations or positions on how these standards should be applied.  These changes may

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be beyond our control, can be hard to predict and can materially impact how we record and report our financial condition and results of operations.  In some cases, we could be required to apply a new or revised standard retrospectively or apply an existing standard differently, also retrospectively, in each case resulting in our needing to revise or restate prior period financial statements.

If the goodwill that we have recorded or may record in connection with a business acquisition becomes impaired, it could require charges to earnings, which would adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Goodwill represents the amount by which the cost of an acquisition exceeded the fair value of net assets we acquired in connection with the purchase of another financial institution.  We review goodwill for impairment at least annually, or more frequently if a triggering event occurs which indicates that the carrying value of the asset might be impaired.  There can be no assurance that our future evaluations of our existing goodwill or goodwill we may acquire in the future will not result in findings of impairment and related write-downs, which could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.  For additional information about the Company’s impairment assessment process and results see “NOTE 7 – GOODWILL AND CORE DEPOSIT INTANGIBLES” in Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.

We may be required to repurchase mortgage loans or indemnify buyers against losses in some circumstances, which could harm liquidity, results of operations and financial condition.

When mortgage loans are sold, whether as whole loans or pursuant to a securitization, we are required to make customary representations and warranties to purchasers, guarantors and insurers, including government-sponsored enterprises, about the mortgage loans and the manner in which they were originated.  We may be required to repurchase or substitute mortgage loans, or indemnify buyers against losses, in the event we breach these representations or warranties.  In addition, we may be required to repurchase mortgage loans as a result of early payment default of the borrower on a mortgage loan.  With respect to loans that are originated through Equity Bank or correspondent channels, the remedies available against the originating broker or correspondent, if any, may not be as broad as the remedies available to purchasers, guarantors and insurers of mortgage loans against us.  We face further risk that the originating broker or correspondent, if any, may not have financial capacity to perform remedies that otherwise may be available.  Therefore, if a purchaser, guarantor or insurer enforces its remedies against us, we may not be able to recover losses from the originating broker or correspondent.  If repurchase and indemnity demands increase and such demands are valid claims and are in excess of our provision for potential losses, our liquidity, results of operations and financial condition may be adversely affected.

Risks Relating to the Regulation of Our Industry

 

We are subject to extensive regulation in the conduct of our business, which imposes additional costs on us and adversely affects our profitability.

As a bank holding company, we are subject to federal regulation under the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, as amended, or the BHC Act, and the examination and reporting requirements of the Federal Reserve. Federal regulation of the banking industry, along with tax and accounting laws, regulations, rules and standards, may limit our operations significantly and control the methods by which we conduct business, as they limit those of other banking organizations.  Banking regulations are primarily intended to protect depositors, deposit insurance funds and the banking system as a whole and not stockholders or other creditors.  These regulations affect lending practices, capital structure, investment practices, dividend policy and overall growth, among other things.  For example, federal and state consumer protection laws and regulations limit the manner in which we may offer and extend credit. In addition, the laws governing bankruptcy generally favor debtors, making it more expensive and more difficult to collect from customers who become subject to bankruptcy proceedings.

We also may be required to invest significant management attention and resources to evaluate and make any changes necessary to comply with applicable laws and regulations, particularly as a result of regulations adopted under the Dodd-Frank Act.  This allocation of resources, as well as any failure to comply with applicable requirements, may negatively impact our financial condition and results of operations.

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Changes in laws, government regulation and monetary policy may have a material effect on our results of operations.

Financial institutions have been the subject of significant legislative and regulatory changes and may be the subject of further significant legislation or regulation in the future, none of which is within our control.  New proposals for legislation continue to be introduced in the United States Congress that could further substantially increase regulation of the bank and non-bank financial services industries, impose restrictions on the operations and general ability of firms within the industry to conduct business consistent with historical practices, including in the areas of compensation, interest rates, financial product offerings and disclosures and have an effect on bankruptcy proceedings with respect to consumer residential real estate mortgages, among other things.  Federal and state regulatory agencies also frequently adopt changes to their regulations or change the manner in which existing regulations are applied.  Changes to statutes, regulations or regulatory policies, including changes in their interpretation or implementation by regulators, could affect us in substantial and unpredictable ways.  Such changes could, among other things, subject us to additional costs and lower revenues, limit the types of financial services and products that we may offer, ease restrictions on non-banks and thereby enhance their ability to offer competing financial services and products, increase compliance costs and require a significant amount of management’s time and attention.  Failure to comply with statutes, regulations or policies could result in sanctions by regulatory agencies, civil monetary penalties or reputational damage, each of which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Banking agencies periodically conduct examinations of our business, including compliance with laws and regulations, and our failure to comply with any supervisory actions to which we become subject as a result of such examinations could materially and adversely affect us.

We are subject to supervision and regulation by federal and state banking agencies that periodically conduct examinations of our business, including compliance with laws and regulations – specifically, our subsidiary, Equity Bank, is subject to examination by the Federal Reserve and the OSBC and we are subject to examination by the Federal Reserve.  Accommodating such examinations may require management to reallocate resources, which would otherwise be used in the day-to-day operation of other aspects of our business.  If, as a result of an examination, any such banking agency was to determine that the financial condition, capital resources, allowance for loan losses, asset quality, earnings prospects, management, liquidity or other aspects of our operations had become unsatisfactory, or that we or our management were in violation of any law or regulation, such banking agency may take a number of different remedial actions as it deems appropriate.  These actions include the power to enjoin “unsafe or unsound” practices, to require affirmative actions to correct any conditions resulting from any violation or practice, to issue an administrative order that can be judicially enforced, to direct an increase in our capital, to restrict our growth, to assess civil monetary penalties against us, our officers, or directors, to remove officers and directors and, if it is concluded that such conditions cannot be corrected or there is an imminent risk of loss to depositors, to terminate our deposit insurance.  If we become subject to such a regulatory action, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Our banking subsidiary may be required to pay higher FDIC insurance premiums or special assessments which may adversely affect our earnings.

As a member institution of the FDIC, our banking subsidiary, Equity Bank, is assessed a quarterly deposit insurance premium.  We are generally unable to control the amount of premiums or special assessments that Equity Bank is required to pay, future bank failures may stress the Deposit Insurance Fund and prompt the FDIC to increase its premiums or to issue special assessments.  Any future changes in the calculation or assessment of FDIC insurance premiums may have a material adverse effect on our results of operations, financial condition and our ability to continue to pay dividends on our common stock at the current rate or at all.

We are subject to certain capital requirements by regulators.

Applicable regulations require us to maintain specific capital standards in relation to the respective credit risks of our assets and off-balance sheet exposures.  Various components of these requirements are subject to qualitative judgments by regulators.  We maintain a “well capitalized” status under the current regulatory framework.  Our failure to maintain a “well capitalized” status could affect our customers’ confidence in us, which could adversely affect our ability to do business.  In addition, failure to maintain such status could also result in restrictions imposed by our regulators on our growth and other activities.  Any such effect on customers or restrictions by our regulators could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.

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We are subject to stringent capital requirements, which may adversely impact our return on equity or constrain us from paying dividends or repurchasing shares.

Banking institutions are required to hold more capital as a percentage of assets than most industries.  Holding high amounts of capital compresses our earnings and constrains growth.  In addition, the failure to meet applicable regulatory capital requirements could result in one or more of our regulators placing limitations or conditions on our activities, including our growth initiatives, or restricting the commencement of new activities, and could affect client and investor confidence, our costs of funds and FDIC insurance costs and our ability to make acquisitions and result in a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and growth prospects.

We may need to raise additional capital in the future, including as a result of potential increased minimum capital thresholds established by regulators, but that capital may not be available when it is needed or may be dilutive to stockholders.

We are required by federal and state regulatory authorities to maintain adequate capital levels to support our operations.  New regulations implementing minimum capital standards could require financial institutions to maintain higher minimum capital ratios and may place a greater emphasis on common equity as a component of “Tier 1 capital,” which consists generally of stockholders’ equity and qualifying preferred stock, less certain goodwill items and other intangible assets.  In order to support our operations and comply with regulatory standards, we may need to raise capital in the future.  Our ability to raise additional capital will depend on conditions in the capital markets at that time, which are outside of our control, and on our financial performance.  Accordingly, we cannot assure you of our ability to raise additional capital, if needed, on favorable terms.  The capital and credit markets have experienced significant volatility in recent years.  In some cases, the markets have produced downward pressure on stock prices and credit availability for certain issuers without regard to those issuers’ underlying financial strength.  If we cannot raise additional capital when needed, our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected and our banking regulators may subject us to regulatory enforcement action, including receivership.  Furthermore, our issuance of additional shares of our Class A common stock could dilute the economic ownership interest of our Class A stockholders.

Stockholders may be deemed to be acting in concert or otherwise in control of us and our bank subsidiary, which could impose prior approval requirements and result in adverse regulatory consequences for such holders.

We are a bank holding company regulated by the Federal Reserve.  Any entity (including a “group” composed of natural persons) owning 25% or more of a class of our outstanding shares of voting stock, or a lesser percentage if such holder or group otherwise exercises a “controlling influence” over us, may be subject to regulation as a “bank holding company” in accordance with the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, as amended.  In addition, (i) any bank holding company or foreign bank with a U.S. presence is required to obtain the approval of the Federal Reserve under the Bank Holding Company Act to acquire or retain 5% or more of a class of our outstanding shares of voting stock, and (ii) any person other than a bank holding company may be required to obtain prior regulatory approval under the Change in Bank Control Act to acquire or retain 10% or more of our outstanding shares of voting stock.  Any stockholder that is deemed to “control” the Company for bank regulatory purposes would become subject to prior approval requirements and ongoing regulation and supervision.  Such a holder may be required to divest amounts equal to or exceeding 5% of the voting shares of investments that may be deemed incompatible with bank holding company status, such as an investment in a company engaged in non-financial activities.  Regulatory determination of “control” of a depository institution or holding company is based on all of the relevant facts and circumstances.  Potential investors are advised to consult with their legal counsel regarding the applicable regulations and requirements.

Shares of our common stock owned by holders determined by a bank regulatory agency to be acting in concert would be aggregated for purposes of determining whether those holders have control of a bank or bank holding company.  Each stockholder obtaining control that is a “company” would be required to register as a bank holding company.  “Acting in concert” generally means knowing participation in a joint activity or parallel action towards the common goal of acquiring control of a bank or a parent company, whether or not pursuant to an express agreement.  The manner in which this definition is applied in individual circumstances can vary and cannot always be predicted with certainty.  Many factors can lead to a finding of acting in concert, including where: (i) the stockholders are commonly controlled or managed; (ii) the stockholders are parties to an oral or written agreement or understanding regarding the acquisition, voting or transfer of control of voting securities of a bank or bank holding company; (iii) the stockholders are immediate family members; or (iv) both a stockholder and a controlling stockholder, partner, trustee or management official of such stockholder own equity in the bank or bank holding company.

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We are subject to numerous laws designed to protect consumers, including the Community Reinvestment Act and fair lending laws, and failure to comply with these laws could lead to a wide variety of sanctions.

The Community Reinvestment Act, or CRA, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Fair Housing Act and other fair lending laws and regulations impose nondiscriminatory lending requirements on financial institutions.  The U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies are responsible for enforcing these laws and regulations.  A successful regulatory challenge to an institution’s performance under the CRA or fair lending laws and regulations could result in a wide variety of sanctions, including damages and civil money penalties, injunctive relief, restrictions on mergers and acquisitions activity, restrictions on expansion and restrictions on entering new business lines.  Private parties may also have the ability to challenge an institution’s performance under fair lending laws in private class action litigation.  Such actions could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and future prospects.

We are subject to the Bank Secrecy Act and other anti-money laundering statutes and regulations, and any deemed deficiency by us with respect to these laws could result in significant liability.

The Bank Secrecy Act, the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, or the Patriot Act, and other laws and regulations require financial institutions, among other duties, to institute and maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and file suspicious activity and currency transaction reports, when appropriate.  In addition to other bank regulatory agencies, the federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the U.S. Treasury, is authorized to impose significant civil money penalties for violations of those requirements and has recently engaged in coordinated enforcement efforts with the state and federal banking regulators, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service, or the IRS.  We are also subject to increased scrutiny of compliance with the rules enforced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Treasury regarding, among other things, the prohibition of transacting business with and the need to freeze assets of, certain persons and organizations identified as a threat to the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States.  If our policies, procedures and systems are deemed deficient, we would be subject to liability, including fines and regulatory actions, which may include restrictions on our ability to pay dividends and the necessity to obtain regulatory approvals to proceed with certain aspects of our business plan, including our acquisition plans.  Failure to maintain and implement adequate programs to combat money laundering and terrorist financing could also have serious reputational consequences for us.  Any of these results could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and future prospects.

Many of our new activities and expansion plans require regulatory approvals and failure to obtain them may restrict our growth.

We intend to complement and expand our business by pursuing strategic acquisitions of financial institutions and other complementary businesses.  Generally, we must receive state and federal regulatory approval before we can acquire an FDIC-insured depository institution or related business.  In determining whether to approve a proposed acquisition, federal banking regulators will consider, among other factors, the effect of the acquisition on competition, our financial condition, our future prospects and the impact of the proposal on U.S. financial stability.  The regulators also review current and projected capital ratios and levels, the competence, experience and integrity of management and its record of compliance with laws and regulations, the convenience and needs of the communities to be served (including the acquiring institution’s record of compliance under the CRA) and the effectiveness of the acquiring institution in combating money laundering activities.  Such regulatory approvals may not be granted on terms that are acceptable to us, or at all.  We may also be required to sell branches as a condition to receiving regulatory approval, which may not be acceptable to us or, if acceptable to us, may reduce the benefit of any acquisition.

The Federal Reserve may require us to commit capital resources to support our subsidiary, Equity Bank.

The Federal Reserve requires a bank holding company to act as a source of financial and managerial strength to its subsidiary banks and to commit resources to support its subsidiary banks.  Under the “source of strength” doctrine, the Federal Reserve may require a bank holding company to make capital injections into a troubled subsidiary bank at times when the bank holding company may not be inclined to do so and may charge the bank holding company with engaging in unsafe and unsound practices for failure to commit resources to such a subsidiary bank.  Accordingly, we could be required to provide financial assistance to our subsidiary, Equity Bank, if it experiences financial distress.

Such a capital injection may be required at a time when our resources are limited, and we may be required to borrow the funds to make the required capital injection.  In the event of a bank holding company’s bankruptcy, the bankruptcy trustee will assume any commitment by the holding company to a federal bank regulatory agency to maintain the capital of a subsidiary bank.  Moreover, bankruptcy law provides that claims based on any such commitment will be entitled to a priority of payment over the claims of the holding company’s general unsecured creditors, including the holders of any note obligations.

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The laws that regulate our operations are designed for the protection of depositors and the public, not our stockholders.

The federal and state laws and regulations applicable to our operations give regulatory authorities extensive discretion in connection with their supervisory and enforcement responsibilities and generally have been promulgated to protect depositors and the FDIC’s DIF and not for the purpose of protecting stockholders.  These laws and regulations can materially affect our future business. Laws and regulations now affecting us may be changed at any time and the interpretation of such laws and regulations by bank regulatory authorities is also subject to change.

As a bank holding company, the sources of funds available to us are limited.

Any future constraints on liquidity at the holding company level could impair our ability to declare and pay dividends on our Class A common stock.  In some instances, notice to, or approval from, the Federal Reserve may be required prior to our declaration or payment of dividends.  Further, our operations are primarily conducted by our subsidiary, Equity Bank, which is subject to significant regulation.  Federal and state banking laws restrict the payment of dividends by banks to their holding companies and Equity Bank will be subject to these restrictions in paying dividends to us.  Because our ability to receive dividends or loans from Equity Bank is restricted, our ability to pay dividends to our stockholders is also restricted.

Additionally, the right of a bank holding company to participate in the assets of its subsidiary bank in the event of a bank-level liquidation or reorganization is subject to the claims of the bank’s creditors, including depositors, which take priority, except to the extent that the holding company may be a creditor with a recognized claim.

Risks Relating to the Company’s Common Stock

The market price of our Class A common stock may be subject to substantial fluctuations which may make it difficult for you to sell your shares at the volumes, prices and times desired.

The trading price of our Class A common stock may be volatile, which may make it difficult for you to resell your shares at the volume, prices and times desired.  There are many factors that may impact the market price and trading volume of our Class A common stock, including:

 

actual or anticipated fluctuations in our operating results, financial condition or asset quality;

 

market conditions in the broader stock market in general or in our industry in particular;

 

publication of research reports about us, our competitors or the bank and non-bank financial services industries generally, or changes in, or failure to meet, securities analysts’ estimates of our financial and operating performance, or lack of research reports by industry analysts or ceasing of coverage;

 

future issuances of our Class A common stock or other securities;

 

significant acquisitions or business combinations, strategic partnerships, joint ventures or capital commitments by or involving our competitors or us;

 

additions or departures of key personnel;

 

trades of large blocks of our Class A common stock;

 

economic and political conditions or events;

 

regulatory developments; and

 

other news, announcements or disclosures (whether by us or others) related to us, our competitors, our core markets or the bank and non-bank financial services industries.

The stock market and, in particular, the market for financial institution stocks, have experienced substantial fluctuations in recent years, which in many cases have been unrelated to the operating performance and prospects of particular companies.  In addition, significant fluctuations in the trading volume in our Class A common stock may cause significant price variations to occur.  Increased market volatility may materially and adversely affect the market price of our Class A common stock, which could make it difficult to sell your shares at the volume, prices and times desired.

In the past, following periods of volatility in the market price of our common stock, securities class action litigation has been instituted.  Pending or future securities class action suits against us could result in significant liabilities and, regardless of the outcome, could result in substantial costs and the diversion of our management’s attention and resources.

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The obligations associated with being a public company require significant resources and management attention.

As a public company, we face increased legal, accounting, administrative and other costs and expenses that are not incurred by private companies, particularly now that we are no longer an emerging growth company.  We are subject to the reporting requirements of the Exchange Act, which requires that we file annual, quarterly and current reports with respect to our business and financial condition and proxy and other information statements, and the rules and regulations implemented by the SEC, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Dodd-Frank Act, the PCAOB and the NASDAQ Stock Market LLC, each of which imposes additional reporting and other obligations on public companies.  As a public company, we are required to:

 

prepare and distribute periodic reports, proxy statements and other stockholder communications in compliance with the federal securities laws and rules;

 

expand the roles and duties of our board of directors and committees thereof;

 

maintain an enhanced internal audit function;

 

institute more comprehensive financial reporting and disclosure compliance procedures;

 

involve and retain to a greater degree outside counsel and accountants in the activities listed above;

 

enhance our investor relations function;

 

establish new internal policies, including those relating to trading in our securities and disclosure controls and procedures;

 

retain additional personnel;

 

comply with the NASDAQ Global Select Market listing standards; and

 

comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

We expect these rules and regulations and changes in laws, regulations and standards relating to corporate governance and public disclosure, which have created uncertainty for public companies, to increase legal and financial compliance costs and make some activities more time consuming and costly.  These laws, regulations and standards are subject to varying interpretations, in many cases due to their lack of specificity and, as a result, their application in practice may evolve over time as new guidance is provided by regulatory and governing bodies.  This could result in continuing uncertainty regarding compliance matters and higher costs necessitated by ongoing revisions to disclosure and governance practices.  Our investment in compliance with existing and evolving regulatory requirements will result in increased administrative expenses and a diversion of management’s time and attention from revenue-generating activities to compliance activities, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.  These increased costs may require us to divert a significant amount of money that we could otherwise use to expand our business and achieve our strategic objectives

We have not historically declared or paid cash dividends on our common stock and we do not expect to pay dividends on our common stock in the foreseeable future. Consequently, your only opportunity to achieve a return on your investment is if the price of our Class A common stock appreciates.

The holders of our common stock will receive dividends if and when declared by our board of directors out of legally available funds.  Our board of directors has not declared a dividend on our common stock since our inception.  Any future determination relating to our dividend policy will be made at the discretion of our board of directors and will depend on a number of factors, including our future earnings, capital requirements, financial condition, future prospects, regulatory restrictions and other factors that our board of directors may deem relevant.

Our principal business operations are conducted through our subsidiary, Equity Bank. Cash available to pay dividends to our stockholders is derived primarily, if not entirely, from dividends paid by Equity Bank to us.  The ability of Equity Bank to pay dividends to us, as well as our ability to pay dividends to our stockholders, will continue to be subject to and limited by, certain legal and regulatory restrictions.  Further, any lenders making loans to us may impose financial covenants that may be more restrictive with respect to dividend payments than the regulatory requirements.

If a substantial number of shares become available for sale and are sold in a short period of time, the market price of our Class A common stock could decline.

If our existing stockholders sell substantial amounts of our Class A common stock in the public market, the market price of our Class A common stock could decrease significantly.  The perception in the public market that our existing stockholders might sell shares of Class A common stock could also depress our market price.  A decline in the price of shares of our Class A common stock

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might impede our ability to raise capital through the issuance of additional shares of our Class A common stock or other equity securities and could result in a decline in the value of the shares of our Class A common stock.

Securities analysts may not initiate or continue coverage on our Class A common stock, which could adversely affect the market for our Class A common stock.

The trading market for our Class A common stock may depend in part on the research and reports that securities analysts publish about us and our business.  We do not have any control over these securities analysts, and they may not cover our Class A common stock.  If securities analysts do not cover our Class A common stock, the lack of research coverage may adversely affect our market price.  If we are covered by securities analysts and our Class A common stock is the subject of an unfavorable report, the price of our Class A common stock may decline.  If one or more of these analysts cease to cover us or fail to publish regular reports on us, we could lose visibility in the financial markets, which could cause the price or trading volume of our Class A common stock to decline.

The trading volume in our common stock is less than other larger financial institutions.

Although our Class A common stock is listed for trading on the Nasdaq Global Select Market, the trading volume in our common stock is less than that of other, larger financial services companies.  A public trading market having the desired characteristics of depth, liquidity and orderliness depends on the presence in the marketplace of willing buyers and sellers of our Class A common stock at any given time.  This presence depends on the individual decisions of investors and general economic and market conditions over which we have no control.  Given the lower trading volume of our Class A common stock, significant sales of our Class A common stock or the expectation of these sales, could cause the price of our Class A common stock to decline.

Use of our common stock for future acquisitions or to raise capital may be dilutive to existing stockholders.

When we determine that appropriate strategic opportunities exist, we may acquire other financial institutions and related businesses, subject to applicable regulatory requirements.  We may use our common stock for such acquisitions.  We may also seek to raise capital for such acquisitions through selling additional common stock.  It is possible that the issuance of additional common stock in such acquisitions or capital transactions may be dilutive to the interests of our existing stockholders.

A future issuance of stock could dilute the value of our Class A common stock.

We may sell additional shares of Class A common stock, or securities convertible into or exchangeable for such shares, in subsequent public or private offerings.  Future