Jennifer Jones, as President and Chief Executive Officer for Citizens Building and Loan, is one of six women holding a position of that magnitude in South Carolina banking.
CBL hired Jones just after graduating Presbyterian College and 16 years later she runs the oldest financial institution in Greer. CBL was founded in 1907.
“Over the past fifteen to sixteen years, I think my passion and love for Greer has become evident to other people,” Jones said. “I feel (CBL) has always been successful, professional and for people to congratulate me in the same arena is pretty humbling.”
Jones was promoted to replace the retired past president and CEO Tommy Johnson. The announcement was made in December but Jones was being groomed the past 18 months for a smooth transition.
“I am so pleased that Jennifer will be my replacement at CBL,” Johnson, said.” Obviously, she is highly regarded by our board of directors. She has a long career at CBL and is highly skilled and knowledgeable.”
She officially began her duties on Jan. 1. Jones manages a staff of 12 and is the bank’s compliance officer.
Jones is a Greer native, married, Walden, and mother of two children, passionate about her hometown and its future, and is a key collaborator for the city’s future.
“I love going out into the community representing CBL,” Jones said.
Perhaps the passion Jones has invested into her hometown can be shown with her inclusion into Partnership for Tomorrow (PFT), an economic fundraiser, with public and private monies, and think tank.
“Jennifer is a Greer-made person,” Mark Owens, president and CEO of the Greater Greer Chamber of Commerce,” said. “She is a perfect example for our community and goes way beyond her contributions to Greer and reaching into the schools and education.”
CBL’s Foundation annually offers $5,000 scholarships to a deserving student at Blue Ridge High School and Greer High School. The bank participates in the Greer Education Foundation, sponsored by the Chamber, provides backpacks to students and teacher welcome back to school kits, and provides educational material at community events. The Foundation is a valuable contributor to many area non-profits.
“It’s a fine line, a lot of things people will find things we do we are proud of it,” Jones said. “I think that is just being a genuine, good partner in the community. We don’t expect credit for everything, we truly want to help citizens and organizations for the betterment for our community.”
Jones said she has two things to prove. “I feel like I have to prove myself as far as people. My biggest thing is I have worked hard, not so much to get this job, but for self satisfaction, to be a part of the school system, to be part of the industrial world, to be a part of my church.
“All of those things are what I wanted to do and I don’t want people to think I will stop,” Jones said. “If anything it makes me want to be more out there to just know things are going well.”
Jones is happy being a leader and shaping Greer’s future. “That’s why I like being a part of the Partnership (PFT),” Jones said. “To hear the round table discussions and ideas is probably one of the most beneficial things I attend.
“Jennifer brings great leadership, judgment and is just a great person,” Reno Deaton, Executive Director of Greer Development, said. “She has served a variety of roles (PFT treasurer) has great influence and brings great perspective.”
“Listening to Ed Driggers (City Administrator), Reno and Mark discussing, with complete transparency, how small and big businesses and banks communicate is a pretty powerful meeting. I don’t know other cities that can have that. It’s one of my favorite things to do outside the building.”
Jones was named South Carolina Bankers Association’s Outstanding Young Banker for 2016. It is the highest honor presented in the state banking industry. She has been selected chairman of the board for Young Bankers this year.
Executives from larger banks often converse with Jones to sift through their institutions layers, she said.
Jones is also promoting younger leaders taking part in Greer’s future.
“I do think we need more young leaders,” Jones said, mentioning Owens and Deaton.
“There’s a lot to learn from the older generation, how things worked in the past,” Jones said. “I feel like I have worked in both generations, especially how things have worked in the past. Mark (Owens) has done a good job and started the stakeholders committee bridging the old and young.”
"Jennifer will lead our company with great integrity and ability," Johnson said. "She is a native of Greer and truly wants to see this community grow. CBL is the oldest financial institution based in Greer and we want to foster future growth. Jennifer will make sure that happens.”
Jones said CBL’s future will be to bring new ideas with fresh technology to its customers.
“We are a conservative bank. We're fortunate that we have a board of directors that care about the community,” Jones said. “We like to keep our operations simple.
“We don’t want to change but we do see room for ease into technology, ease of customer transactions, and more online options.”
Jones said CBL’s biggest expense in 2016 was for technology and the regulatory concerns. “That’s what makes me sad, is it takes me away from people and that’s what bothers me the most.”
Jones said she has seen a shift in the core of Greer. “We want to communicate that we don’t just live in 29651 and 29650,” she said. “Probably 40 percent of our lending is in Greer and the rest is outside the area. We only do Greenville and Spartanburg counties. Even a large part of our deposits were outside of the Greer area.”
CBL doesn’t offer personal checking. That, according to Jones, keeps intact CBL’s philosophy to serve its customers in more valuable ways.
“Our loan demands have been astronomical,” Jones said. “It’s because we don’t sell our loans to the secondary market. We do loans and we are able to keep them in-house. Construction loans, especially for builders, are going very well and we will do loans for remodeling for homes. We have different, outside the box, opportunities for lending for somebody who wants to buy a home and remodel it.”
But Jones said she wants to maintain CBL core customer service values of sending handwritten cards to customers, give peaches to customers in July and have customer appreciation CD rates.
“My number one love is the people that come in here,” Jones said.
Note: This story has been updated with the S.C. Bankers Association confirming there are now six women CEOs in the banking industry in the state.