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.