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3 strategies to help retirement plan sponsors manage nondiscrimination testing

Originally published on BenefitsPro.com on January 9, 2019

BY: BRAD KNOWLES
Managing Director, Argent/Heritage Retirement Plan Advisors
(405) 608-8660  |  brad@heritagetrust.com

With 2018 now over, company retirement plan sponsors should start the new year fresh and revisit nondiscrimination testing to ensure contributions are within federal limits and the program is designed to maximize employee participation.

January is the perfect time for company benefits executives to reexamine their retirement plans now that they’ve finished year-end tasks for other essential programs, such as health insurance open enrollment (and filing all the necessary paperwork required by federal and state regulators).

One of the best places to start is by taking a deep dive into nondiscrimination testing to see if your plan is in compliance with federal regulations.

The IRS requires companies perform annual nondiscrimination testing on their qualified retirement plans – for example, a 401(k) and some 403(b) plans – to ensure highly compensated employees (HCEs) do not receive preferential treatment over non-highly compensated employees (NHCEs).

Use nondiscrimination testing

In general, there are two primary nondiscrimination tests: actual deferral percentage (ADP) and actual contribution percentage (ACP).

Actual deferral percentage (ADP): This test compares pre-tax and Roth contribution percentages for HCEs to the average salary deferral percentage for NHCEs. Employers pass if the ADP for eligible HCEs doesn’t exceed the greater of the following:

  •  125 percent of the ADP for the group of NHCEs,
  •  Or the lesser of:
    •  200 percent of the ADP for the group of NHCEs, or
    •  The ADP for the NHCEs plus 2 percent.

Actual contribution percentage (ACP): This test examines employee after-tax and employer matching contributions and compares the percentages for HCEs versus NHCEs. Employers pass if the ACP for the eligible HCEs doesn’t exceed the greater of the following:

  •  125 percent of the ACP for the group of NHCEs,
  •  Or the lesser of:
    •  200 percent of the ACP for the group of NHCEs, or
    •  The ACP for the NHCEs plus 2 percent.

If a company’s plan fails the ADP or ACP test, plan sponsors have two and a half months after the end of the plan year to return excess contributions to HCE employees to avoid a 10 percent penalty.

Distributions of excess contributions can be done any time during the plan year. Failure to make corrections could result in the plan losing its tax-exempt status.

Adopt non-qualified deferred compensation

The rule of thumb is employees should save 12 to 15 percent of their salary for retirement. Unfortunately, due to lower participation and contributions from NHCEs, most HCEs are prevented from meeting that saving rate.

One way to avoid non-compliance is adopting a non-qualified deferred compensation for HCEs, while also encouraging NHCEs – through webinars, company meetings and related activities – to maximize their contributions.

Monitor contributions

Monitoring contributions to make sure a retirement plan remains in compliance can be daunting. To keep your program in compliance with the IRS and help your employees save for retirement, consider these three strategies:

1.Review last year’s nondiscrimination testing

Plan sponsors should examine last year’s ADP/ACP test results and compare it to the current HCE contribution percentage. This will help plan sponsors determine which NHCEs are able to increase their contributions before year-end. It will also show if any HCEs over-contributed to the plan and how much should be refunded. It will also serve as a helpful benchmark for determining contributions for HCEs.

2. Set up automatic enrollment

Automatic enrollment is one of the most effective ways employers can increase plan participation. Once the employee onboarding process is set up, automatic enrollment is easy to manage and results in increased participation. One study showed auto enrollment plans resulted in participation rates of more than 90 percent compared with only 50 percent for plans that require employees to opt in.

3. Consider a Safe Harbor plan

Per IRS regulations, a Safe Harbor plan requires a mandatory contribution by the employer into the retirement account for every eligible employee.

In return for treating all employees equally, employers can automatically pass ADP/ACP testing.

To qualify, employers have two options:

  1. Contribute a minimum of 3 percent of every employee’s salary (regardless of participation in the plan) or
  2. Provide a minimum contribution of 100 percent match of the first 3 percent of employee contributions and 50 percent of the next 2 percent.

Poring through retirement plan contribution data isn’t the most exciting way to start the new year. But if you follow these three tips, you’ll be in a better position to pass nondiscrimination testing, help employees save more for retirement and start 2019 on a positive note.

Earning Your Trust in 2019 and Beyond

BY: J. AARON JACK

Chief Development Officer
(405) 608-8654  |  ajack@argentfinancial.com

Aaron Jack

J. Aaron Jack

As we turn the calendar to 2019, I’ve been reflecting back on our progress at Argent over the past 12 months. In short, 2018 was busy! From the inside, our growth has felt measured and steady. But when I take a step back and look at the whole year, it’s amazing how much we’ve accomplished.

In addition to finalizing some important acquisitions — Independence Trust in Nashville and AmeriTrust in Tulsa — we opened a number of new offices, including one in New Orleans and three in Texas (Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth). All have outstanding growth potential and enhance our footprint throughout the region. In addition, bringing Independence Trust and Live Oak Bank’s trust business into the Argent family helps us diversify our offerings and solidifies our company as an industry leader in funeral and cemetery trust services.

We also significantly increased our presence in Birmingham by hiring several key professionals and establishing a new trust operations center. This center allows us to centralize and streamline our back-office operations with specialized, state-of-the-art software. Bringing these responsibilities in-house creates greater efficiency and flexibility, which allows us to enhance our client service and communication. This was an important step for our company’s future.

Overall, our sustained growth has been noteworthy, as evidenced by Argent being named to the Inc. 5000 as one of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. But none of this is possible unless we continue to employ and develop highly capable professionals. We’re proud of the recent additions we’ve made across our footprint and the success of all our colleagues. Throughout my travels across the company, there is always a common theme that our professionals say has driven their success: a relentless focus on serving our clients.

At Argent’s core, we have a service mindset. We serve one client at a time, one day at a time. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that no single client is alike. A key difference for Argent is our ability to customize our approach and service to deliver the client exactly what they need. Our scale and sustainability allow for us to bring comprehensive internal resources to the table to take care of our clients.

As we wind down 2018, we’ve seen a volatile few months for the stock market after several years of strong growth. Some skittishness on the part of investors is understandable, but what gives me comfort is that our professionals are highly experienced and remain focused on the long term. Many of them have been in their jobs for decades, so their deep understanding of the market’s idiosyncrasies helps our clients feel confident that they’re on the right track financially.

Looking out into 2019, we’re going to stay mindful of where our industry is heading. We’re always aware of technology advances and other changes in our industry, and our flexibility and creativity will continue to allow us to serve the unique needs of each relationship.

No matter what ups and downs the market may experience, clients are ultimately looking for peace of mind and to be served well — those things aren’t going to change. We will serve with humble confidence and keep only our clients’ best interest in mind — those things won’t change either.

We’re incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve and wish you and yours a prosperous 2019.

Heritage Institutional Services Rebrands as Heritage Retirement Plan Advisors

 

 

 

 

MEDIA RELEASE
Contact: Taryn Clark
Heritage
TClark@heritagetrust.com
405-848-8899

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Heritage Institutional Services Rebrands as Heritage Retirement Plan Advisors

 OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla., Nov. 5, 2018 – Heritage Institutional Services announced today that it is rebranding as Heritage Retirement Plan Advisors, LLC. The new name reflects the company’s primary focus in providing fiduciary-level investment advisory services for employer-sponsored retirement plans. Heritage Retirement Plan Advisors will remain a subsidiary of Argent Financial Group.  Heritage Retirement Plan Advisors will continue to operate in Oklahoma as a DBA (Doing Business As) of Argent Retirement Plan Advisors, formerly Argent Institutional Services.

The name change pertains to the offices in Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Texas; New Orleans and Shreveport, Louisiana; as well as Nashville, Tennessee.

Heritage and Argent Retirement Plan Advisors’ clients are mid-size to large employers and, in particular, their human resources departments. The rebranding highlights the company’s mission to maintain an independent fiduciary relationship with plan sponsors and participants.

“Our award-winning team is lauded by clients as being extremely knowledgeable and informed about relevant issues and timely changes to the rules governing their administration,” said Brad Knowles, managing director of Heritage Retirement Plan Advisors. “This name makes it clear that our focus is on helping employers manage the retirement plans they have established for their employees, an area that is becoming increasingly important as employees needs and retirement options become ever more complex.”

“Our new name defines the specialty service that we provide to plan sponsors and fiduciaries of retirement plans and employee benefits. This is where we focus 100 percent of our efforts, which is a rarity in this industry,” said Chris Shankle, senior vice president of Agent Retirement Plan Advisors.

About Argent Financial Group

Argent Financial Group (AFG) is a leading independent fiduciary wealth management firm. Responsible for $19 billion in client assets, AFG provides individuals, families, institutions and businesses with a broad range of wealth management services including trust administration and related services, investment management, family office services, retirement plan and charitable organization administration, mineral (oil and gas) management, and financial, retirement and estate planning. The company was also recently named to the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. For more information, visit www.ArgentFinancial.com.

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A Relationship Based on Trust

by Nancy P. Ellis, Co-Founder of Heritage Trust Company

Although Heritage Trust officially opened its doors 20 years ago in 1998, the full story of the company — and my relationship with them — stretches back a bit
further.

In 1981, I was a recent widow, having lost my husband a year earlier. I was 38 at the time and raising four children between the ages of 18 and 10. My husband’s
family was in the oil business. When my father-in-law died in August 1981, I began working with the trust department of Liberty Bank, located in my home of Oklahoma City, as I negotiated the sale of the family oil company. That began a financial advisory relationship that lasted more than 15 years. Over that time, I worked with four fine men at Liberty — Mike Carroll, Don Balaban, Ron Bowles and Dick Kerrick.  

I have a very strong faith, and I really do feel that God brought all those people into my life for a reason. I came to understand the secret of a successful trust company: building strong relationships with your clients by always doing right by them. I remained a client at Liberty Bank through 1997, when the bank was acquired by a large, national bank. After the sale, it soon became clear that many of the longtime employees were concerned with the bank’s new focus on proprietary products.

We saw a real need in Oklahoma City for a small trust company that focused instead on serving the individual needs of its customers. I asked Mike and the others whether they had something in mind. I offered to assist in any way possible — including writing a check. That’s how I became a co-founder of Heritage Trust Company. Because I knew what it was like to be a client, I feel that I brought a different perspective into this business. I knew the level of personal service that other clients should expect.

Although I worked in the Heritage office, I didn’t deal with client business; my role was in community relations. I’ve lived in Oklahoma City all my life and raised my family here, so I felt my deep roots and connection to the community helped prepare me to be an effective company spokesperson.

Mike Carroll came in as the president of Heritage, and Cathy McKinzie from Liberty also came in as comptroller. We also had the invaluable help of Randy Royse, the president of NBC Bank in Oklahoma City. He brought in Ken Fergeson, the chairman of all four NBC banks, who agreed to be Heritage’s banking partner and since then has been the greatest partner anyone could ask for. Ken is a straight shooter, an honest man. From the very beginning, he had confidence in what
we wanted to do and offered his unfailing support. While many other banks in town were focused on selling products, we were focused on serving people. That’s what made us unique. Clients liked the idea that we were locally-owned, and that they knew the people they were dealing with. They appreciated that a real person answered the phone when they called. If we had a client who was ill or housebound, we would actually team up and go out to their house to meet
with them. They always had someone they could talk to.

Heritage Trust Company became profitable in only eight months, and over the past two decades, we’ve grown into one of the city’s most highly regarded trust companies. In 2015, we merged with Argent Financial Group. It’s been a great arrangement that has expanded our services while allowing us to keep serving clients the same way we always have.

Our success has gone hand-in-hand with Oklahoma City’s growth, and I think this city is the ideal setting for a business like Heritage Trust to thrive. We’ve worked actively to improve our community along the way — most notably in the renovation of the downtown Journal Record building, which now
houses our offices.

I’ve been blessed with the resources to help others, and I’m proud to have contributed to Heritage’s success. When I hear good feedback from our clients, I always tell them: I’m happy that you’re happy. And if you’re not happy, please call me first.

Behind the Scenes at Heritage

by Cathy McKinzie, Director of Operations

Since the beginning, one thing that’s always set Heritage Trust Company apart is the quality of our personalized service. We focus on building long-lasting relationships with our clients and take seriously our fiduciary role to put their needs first and foremost. Working with clients takes a special skill set — one that,
truthfully, I don’t have. I know my personality, and I know I wouldn’t be a good client-facing person. Working with numbers is what I enjoy— I like the structure of making things balance.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve realized that employees, like myself — who clients may never meet but who work equally hard behind the scenes — play our own vital
roles in Heritage’s success.

The common thread in my career, both at Heritage and before, is that I sometimes move into new job opportunities based on the strength of my working relationships with my colleagues. My respect for Ron Bowles, who later became a senior vice president at Heritage, led me to join him in 1987 at Liberty Bank in Oklahoma City, as a trust securities processing manager.

Many of Heritage’s initial employees came from Liberty, where I worked until shortly after it was bought in summer 1997 by a large national competitor. At the time, we were a tightly knit operation with strong, long running relationships with many of our clients.

There was no reason to start changing things; yet, over a period of several months, the new management gradually sectioned us off and began changing our internal structure.

In spring 1998, my job in Oklahoma City was eliminated and I was given the option of moving to branches in Columbus, Ohio, or Dallas, Texas. My daughter was in high school, so neither of those options were ideal.

One of my colleagues at Liberty, Mike Carroll, had already started exploring the idea of starting an independent trust company in collaboration with the
Payne family. They invited me to come aboard at what would become Heritage Trust Company. I liked and trusted Mike, so I knew even if this new business didn’t succeed, it would still be run with integrity. Saying yes was easy.

As with any startup company, we flew by the seats of our pants for the first several months. Each of us took ownership of several aspects of the business, even ones for which we weren’t normally suited. Because I have an accounting background, I handled payroll. I’m also an office supply nerd, so that was one of my jobs as well.

There were seven of us working together day in and day out. It sounds hectic, but it felt easy, because even when things got stressful, you knew you always had the
support and help that you needed.

Mike, former senior vice president Don Balaban and Ron Bowles were on the phone with clients every day, telling them what our vision was. Many of our clients
from Liberty Bank came over to Heritage based largely on knowing and trusting these gentlemen.

As Heritage has grown over the years, we’ve expanded into areas including oil and gas, mineral management, real estate management and institutional services. My job responsibilities have changed as well, and I’m now the head of a three-person operations department.

In operations, we take pride in knowing that the information we provide to clients is correct. We record their income, settle trades and provide them with accurate statements. We’re even picky about spelling errors.

I’m proud to say that I work for Heritage. Our clients have always been our core, so everything revolves around doing what’s best for them. When clients call, we don’t have to ask for things like account numbers because we know all our accounts by name.

As we look forward to the next 20 years, I feel confident our company identity and vision are as strong as ever, and we’re well equipped with the knowledge and
experience to keep delivering the level of service that our clients have come to expect.

Emerging Leaders Q & A

with David Luke & Brad Knowles

As part of our Heritage Trust 20th anniversary celebration, we recently asked two of our emerging leaders to share their thoughts about our company and its future. David Luke, president of Argent Mineral Management, and Brad Knowles, managing director of Heritage Institutional, discussed why they joined Heritage Trust and some of their personal milestones/achievements.

Q: What initially drew you to Heritage, and what skills or experience do you believe you brought to the company?

Luke: I joined Heritage for the opportunity to lead a group of oil and gas professionals. I brought hands-on oil and gas experience from the E&P (exploration and production) side, which is not typical in the mineral management world. I was also attracted to Heritage’s deep commitment to growing the minerals management business and the benefits of having access to the expertise of the different services at Argent Financial Group.

Knowles:
The main reason I joined Heritage was the opportunity to merge my company (RBK Capital, LLC) with Heritage to form Heritage Institutional. It was a merger of like-minded companies that allowed Heritage to take its fiduciary and investment philosophy and experience and apply it to a new market (retirement plan consulting). I was excited about the challenge of building and growing a new business within Heritage.

Q: What would you consider your career milestones or your most memorable experiences at Heritage?

Luke: I’m most proud about the work our team has done in combining Heritage Mineral Management with Argent Property Services and turning it into a thriving business that has seen substantial growth over the past several years. And we did it during a period when oil prices plunged.

Knowles: My first career milestone was when we doubled the assets and revenue of Heritage Institutional in the first 18 months. The enormous respect in the community for the Heritage brand and its people gave Heritage Institutional immediate credibility with decision makers, which allowed us to grow at a fast rate.

Q: What do you wish more people knew about the company?

Luke: I wish more people knew that a good portion of our team is made up of experienced oil and gas people who are affiliated with a great variety of specialists at Argent Financial Group. That’s rare in the mineral management industry.

Knowles: The people and their expertise. The depth and breadth of services Heritage provides and the caliber of the people delivering our services is amazing.

Q: Why is the work you do important?

Luke: Mineral ownership is intimidating, complicated and confusing to those outside our industry — and at times even to those in the business. The work we do here provides peace of mind, financial success and security for our clients.

Knowles:
At Heritage Institutional, we work directly with companies in a consulting capacity to help their employees save for retirement. It’s very rewarding to
partner with a client to create an efficient plan that’s easy for them to manage, is transparent and provides their employees with options they didn’t have before.

Q: What are your thoughts on the future of the company?

Luke: The future is bright. The energy market in this part of the country still has a long, healthy future, even with the gradual emergence of renewable energy
sources. The company is staffed with experienced, intelligent people who are located throughout the heart of America’s energy belt, and that’s a very big
plus for our company.

Knowles:
The sky’s the limit for Heritage. We could easily double the assets under advisement (for retirement plans) at Heritage Institutional during the next three years. We’re really gaining traction and it’s due to the expertise and proven track record of the Heritage team and the efficiencies of our processes and systems.

Blaze a Trail

by Aaron Jack, Chief Development Officer

There is a large reservoir near my home that has hills of varied size. Perfect for sledding in the rare instance of snow in Oklahoma City, the hills also represent a great workout opportunity.

There are several options, but historically I’ve settled on one that balances distance and the challenge of a steep slope. An admitted creature of habit, I always return to the same starting point.

Soon after incorporating the hill into my workouts, I noticed a path was beginning to appear from my steps. Whether the grass is overgrown from the summer rain or brown from a recent freeze, I can always find my path.

I take pride in the fact that my hard work has blazed a trail.

Twenty years ago, a group of people in Oklahoma City decided to carve out a new path. Concerned about the consolidation of the banking industry, the Payne family and a group of professionals from Liberty Bank started Heritage Trust out of the trunk of a car in 1998.

Fast-forward 20 years, and today, we are the largest trust-based wealth management firm in the South. I’m honored to have had the chance to play a small part
in this success story. Our team at Heritage has blazed quite a trail.

Walking home from a recent workout, I reflected on the Heritage Trust journey. While the story is far from finished, our 20th anniversary represents a time to
reflect on lessons learned, celebrate success and look to the future. Here are three quick leadership/legacy thoughts that come to mind:

WIN THE DAY. There is no shortcut. Success comes one step at a time. I personally grow tired of trite corporate sayings. However, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” is one that stands the test of time. The trail on the hill began with a single step, followed by thousands more. Our success at Heritage came by serving our clients for a single day, followed by over 7,300 more. The best chance each of us has to influence the future is the opportunity of today. Take the first step.

TREAT PEOPLE WELL. This sounds simple, but sometimes it’s the most difficult principle of all. One of my favorite sayings is this: “People remember 7 percent of what you say, but they always remember how you made them feel.” It’s a concept our founders never let us forget. So many in our field focus on pushing product sand forget why they’re in business in the first place — the people. Our fiduciary duty sits at the core of our decision making, but I’m always most impressed with how our professionals strive to truly know our clients, their situations and why they are sitting across the table from us. We take great pride in the relationship part of our business. 

HUMBLE CONFIDENCE. In a recent blog, Argent CEO, Kyle McDonald, wrote the following: “Being a fiduciary means you are in the service business, and to serve someone you must place your needs behind the needs of the other — i.e., be humble — but you also must have confidence in your abilities, or your service will be of little value.” For 20 years, we’ve aimed to keep the client at the center of everything we do. Our responsibility as a fiduciary is not to sell a product, but to learn what is in the client’s best interest and do all we can to see that those interests are met. Since 1998, we’ve taken this approach to serve Oklahoma families and institutions. I’m excited about many more anniversaries to come. 2017 Heritage Grand Opening at The Heritage

Twenty Years in the People Business

by Mike Carroll, CEO

It’s hard to believe that I’ve now spent two decades as CEO of Heritage Trust Company. As I reflect upon the reasons for our continued success over the past 20 years, I remember a phrase that the political strategist James Carville used during his time as campaign manager for the Bill Clinton campaign in 1992. Everyone assumed George Bush, Sr. would win a second term because of the recent Iraq war. “It’s about the economy, stupid” was James’ response. 

When I mentor current Heritage employees about our business, I like to use my own version of Carville’s phrase: “It’s about the people, stupid.” We are in the people business. We’re on the same side of the table as our clients and are true partners. We have their best interests at heart, because our interests are aligned. As fiduciaries, we’re legally bound to always act in the best interests of our clients, and I think our dedication to that responsibility has distinguished Heritage Trust Company from our competitors from the very start. More than that, it’s our reason for existing.

Back in the summer of 1997, I was senior vice president at Liberty Bank in Oklahoma City, responsible for trust administration in the Oklahoma City market. I had been there since 1982 and had previously, from 1974 until then, been with the old 1st National of OKC. Liberty Bank was purchased by one of the big national banks in 1997, and it was soon evident to us that our way of doing business was about to change. The focus was becoming more about selling products than taking care of people. I and many of our longtime employees were concerned about the changes and that they were not in our clients’ best interest.

Among our customers at the bank was the William T. (Bill) Payne family. I had a strong relationship with Nancy Payne Ellis, the family matriarch, and felt comfortable discussing the situation with her in a straightforward way. She was concerned, supportive and wanted to be part of the solution. Although we did not start with the independent trust company idea, it became increasingly plausible the more we explored our options. We next found banking partners in Ken Ferguson and the late Randy Royse of NBC Bank, and with their guidance and support were able to open Heritage Trust Company’s first office in December 1997 with a staff of just six people. Nancy’s son, Bond Payne and I worked together early in the process, long before we had “an office.” Bond later became Chairman of the Board. Nancy was our initial chairman, but also took on an active role in promoting our company to potential clients.

We were fueled by the belief that many of our existing clients had the same concerns that we did about “the big bank way” of doing things. As time went on,
we became increasingly confident that our instincts were correct. Because of the strength of our existing relationships, we were able to hit the ground running,
with many former bank clients moving over to Heritage. Much credit is due to the hard work and reputation of the initial six employees. It would have not been
possible without them. We had between $200 million and $300 million in assets within three years, which I credit to our reputation in the community and for
taking care of our customers.

Although we achieved profitability rather quickly, I take the most pride in the fact that we did what my banker friends said we couldn’t do. We created
35 good jobs that pay well and over the past two decades have been a positive force in our community and our state. Many of my relationships today are in
their third generation, and I enjoy being able to tell stories to the new generation about their family. I’m a CPA — I understand the numbers, but the numbers
are a pure commodity. If you think you can succeed on the numbers only, think again. In every relationship, you need to be bringing value.

People in our business sometimes make it too complicated. Ultimately, clients just want to know that somebody cares about them and is in their corner.
That’s what we’ve always done at Heritage Trust Company, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

An Independent and Sustainable Future

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” -Chinese Proverb

Twenty years ago, a group of trust customers and trust professionals came together to form an independent trust company to serve the Oklahoma City community. Our core belief was that fiduciary services are best provided locally by local decision makers who enjoy personal relationships with their clients. They named the company Heritage Trust and adopted the tag line “Money does grow on trees…family trees.” Today, Heritage manages more than $2 billion for Oklahoma families, as part of Argent Financial Group’s $18 billion wealth management platform.

My step-father, Bob Ellis, was the first person to tell me about the Chinese proverb about planting trees, and it stuck with me. And my favorite children’s book is “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, where a tree gives everything it has to serve the boy he loves, from childhood to maturity. So you can imagine my dismay when, in 1998, a local banker, who learned of our plans to start a trust company, told me he was “too old to plant small trees.”

For the past fifteen years, I have been writing letters to our clients as part of our TRUST publication. In preparation for our 20th anniversary, I looked back at prior letters to see what I had written, fearing that my old words might come back to haunt me. Instead, I was struck by how relevant those words are, even today, and how they provide accountability and serve as a moral compass for Heritage into the future.

As Heritage continues to grow and serve the next generation, we are focused on building a company that is independent and sustainable, serving its clients with humble confidence. And while we do not know what the next 20 years will look like, we trust that our clients, employees and shareholders will continue to be well served by the values that have guided us for the past twenty years. 

Thank you for your continued loyalty and support.

Bond Payne

Co-Founder and Chairman

 

Executive Q & A with Mike Carroll: Trust company head enjoys serving people, families

by Paula Burkes
Published: Sun, July 22, 2018

Mike Carroll, with Heritage Trust, for Executive Q&A Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

“It’s about the people, stupid.”

Mike Carroll, CEO of Heritage Trust Co., said the variation of a phrase coined by political consultant James Carville perfectly sums up his business philosophy.

“People want a relationship with someone in their corner,” Carroll said. “They want to know who the decision maker is and want to look them in the eyes and touch them.”

With the backing of Nancy Payne Ellis, Carroll, a former senior vice president with Liberty National Bank, and his trusts team there started Heritage in September 1997, after Liberty was acquired by Bank One.

“My employees were concerned that the banking industry was becoming all about the numbers and selling products,” he said, “and that we were leaving behind the people with whom we’d worked for so many years and to whom we felt a duty.”

Today, Heritage manages $1.2 billion in assets, Carroll said. But what’s most important, he said, is the people: its 35 employees and 700 relationships. Bond Payne, Ellis’ son, chairs the company.

From his offices in the Journal Record building downtown, Carroll, 66, sat down with The Oklahoman on Monday to talk about his life and career. This is an edited transcript:

Q: Tell us about your roots.

A: My great-grandfather and Kansas native Lewis Carroll participated in the Oklahoma Land Run. His wagon, diary and revolver are on display at the Oklahoma Historical Society. I don’t know if I should be proud to say that he was a Sooner. He’d already staked a homestead in Kay County when he came to Guthrie to file the claim. My mom was from Pauls Valley where I was born. When I was 2 months old, my parents moved to Williston, South Carolina, where they both worked in the Savannah River Plant nuclear facility. My younger brother and sister still live in South Carolina. I also had an older brother who’s deceased.

Q: What was your thing growing up?

A: Williston is a small town; the population then was around 6,000. The closest big city is Augusta, Georgia, about 40 miles away. We were an hour and half from the coast, where I often went offshore fishing with my father. Growing up, I was involved in sports (basketball and baseball), church and scouting. I especially loved the Boy Scouts, including the camping and leadership skills I learned. With the help of several friends’ parents, I stayed with it and became an Eagle Scout. When I raised my own boys, I was a scout leader, including leading a 70-mile adventure in northern New Mexico in 2000. All three sons are Eagle Scouts too. Today, my oldest works in technology in Boulder; my middle son is a doctor at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa; and youngest, an executive with Sonic Corp.

Q: What brought you to Oklahoma?

A: I won a scholarship to Oklahoma Christian University, where I chose to major in accounting. In high school, I’d already taken calculus, trig and geometry, so I was pushed two years ahead. My last two years at Oklahoma Christian, I worked nights for First National Bank, balancing the bank and processing checks. On good days, I’d go in at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. and be out at 10:30 p.m. But at the end of the month, we could be there ‘til 3 a.m. When I graduated college in 1975, First National invited me to take a job opening on the day shift. When I started, I only knew about balancing banks and nothing about trusts. But I learned on the job, and advanced to vice president/head of operations.

Q: What did you learn in a theater class at Oklahoma Christian that helps you in business?

A: That it’s about your motivation; anybody can memorize lines. In other words, it’s not what you’re saying, but why you’re saying it that’s important. Funny. I just took theater because my college girlfriend did. But I learned that if I really listened to somebody, including clients, and understood a problem, I might be able to put a deal together.

Q: You said you’ve been lucky. How so?

A: When I left First National in February 1982, I asked if I could keep my stock. But since I was going to Liberty National Bank, a competitor, they told me “No way; you have to cash out.” Then Penn Square Bank collapsed that July, so the cash-out price I’d been given was the maximum stock price anybody got. Meanwhile, I had to work one year before I could buy stock at Liberty, so I came out ahead on that side, too. I tell people I’ve lived a charmed life.

Q: Who’s been your biggest mentor?

A: The late Don Balaban, who hired me at Liberty, was my boss for several years and, at age 65, came with me, Dick Kerrick, Ron Bowles and Cathy McKinzie (who’s still with us) to Heritage. He was honest and really cared about people. But we didn’t think alike at all. I was more liberal and he was more conservative. His pat answer was “No,” and mine was, “We can figure it out.” But I loved the man so much. He gave me what I needed, because he could find what was wrong with a deal. Together we were very formidable. Since his death, I frequently ask myself, “If Don were here, what would he be saying?”

Q: To what do you attribute Heritage’s success?

A: It’s always about the people and holding true to principles. We don’t sell any products, and we don’t take any commissions, sales incentives or administrative fees. We have no vested interest in anything, but the best interests for our clients. Most competitors can’t say that.

Heritage, AmeriTrust Merge

The Heritage located at 621 N Robinson Ave in Oklahoma City, OK.

By: Brian Bus, Journal Record, June 29, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY – The merger of AmeriTrust Corp. of Tulsa into Oklahoma City-based Heritage Trust Co. and its parent company Argent Financial Group closed Friday, officials said.

The state Banking Department approved the deal in May, allowing the companies to continue to operate separately in their respective markets under one Oklahoma charter while both benefit from access to Argent’s $19 billion in assets.

“AmeriTrust and Heritage both have common roots coming out of big-bank trust departments,” Heritage Chairman Bond Payne said. “Both of us were pioneers in the independent trust space in the 1990s, and we’ve each spent the last 20 years building sustainable, independent, wealth management firms.”

“They’ve got a successful practice, and the last thing we want to do is disturb their relationships with their clients,” Payne said. “We just want to build on what they’ve got, and hopefully they can help us do the same.”

AmeriTrust Chief Executive Harvie Roe, who founded the company 21 years ago, will continue to manage the Tulsa operation. Fellow owner and AmeriTrust director Jerry Hudson will join the board of the merged company. Payne said no further leadership changes are expected.

Roe said the merger was initiated by his company when board Chairman Robert Biolchini died in 2017 and the ownership family decided it was time to divest – management succession was disrupted at the board level rather than the daily executive level, he said. The companies’ management teams have known each other for many years, so the merger was a natural fit.

Argent is domiciled in Louisiana and offers trust administration, retirement plans, estate planning and charitable organization administration. In addition to the company’s billion-dollar asset base, it is also responsible for managing 2 million mineral acres for families, institutions and business clients.

Aside from financial planning and trust administration, Heritage also offers management services in oil and gas and real estate. The company was founded in 1998 and now has offices in Ponca City and Southlake, Texas. It merged with Argent in 2015.

AmeriTrust, formed in 1997, provides similar trust management and administration services. The company on its own is responsible for more than $600 million in client assets.

How to approach legacy assets in your estate planning

Legacy assets may not always be worth much, but it’s still important to handle them in the right way: by communicating with your family members about your wishes.

By Mark Hartnett, president, Argent Family Wealth Services

After a loved one passes away, surviving family members frequently find themselves squabbling not over money, but over personal items left behind.

In many cases, the value of these so-called “legacy” assets is more sentimental than monetary — a great-grandfather’s shotgun, for instance, or a mother’s engagement ring.

These assets may not be worth much, but it’s still important to handle them in the right way — by clearly specifying in your will who gets what. The key is to remain intentional with your planning.

The first and most important step is to communicate with your family members about your wishes. Ask for their feedback and collaborate as a group to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding the fate of your ‘67 Chevy. No matter how small the legacy asset, list it in your estate. Doing this now will go a long way to keep the peace and avoid potential sibling quarrels.

You may determine it best for some assets to be sold, such as those with high monetary value. But many legacy items are likely to be sentimental, which could make them worthwhile to pass along as keepsakes to a special niece or grandson. Have a plan for either avenue by mentioning everything (and everyone) by name. Consider the following checklist:

What percentage of value does it represent of your estate? The item may have great value to you both monetarily and personally, but it could be sold to benefit all surviving family members equally upon your death.

Are there future storage or maintenance costs to consider? It’s not uncommon to forget these details. If you own a classic car, for example, you should consider the cost of storing the vehicle, needed maintenance or regular specialty washes to protect its appearance. These add up over time.

Is there a rate of depreciation to consider, or is it increasing in value? Weigh the item’s past, present and future value. Everything is evaluated differently. Some items might be best to sell immediately or within a few years. Others may be worth significantly more if they’re kept in good shape for a couple of decades. Research these values and seek proper appraisal.

These are just a few things to consider. There are many other angles to keep in mind when it comes to different legacy assets, which is why you should consult with a wealth management advisor. Most importantly, be sure to keep everyone apprised of your plans and wishes for these treasured possessions so that your gifts remain gifts — not a potential burden or kindling for a dispute.