First Commerce Bancshares, Inc.

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First Commerce Bancshares, Inc.

NBC Center
1248 O Streets
Lincoln, Nebraska 68508
(402) 434-4110
Fax: (402) 434-4181

Public Company
May 2, 1985
Total Assets: $2.3 billion (est. 1995)
Employees: 950
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
SICs: 6712 Bank Holding Companies; 6021 National Commercial Banks

First Commerce Bancshares, Inc. is the holding company for National Bank of Commerce Trust & Savings Association, a bank with a long and distinguished history in the state of Nebraska. First Commerce holds over 99 percent interest in National Bank of Commerce and six other banks in the state, including First National Bank & Trust, Overland National Bank, North Platte National Bank, City National Bank, First National Bank of West Point, and First National Bank of McCook. First Commerce also manages a growing mortgage company, and an asset management firm. While providing a full range of financial services to its customers, through its subsidiary, NBC/Computer Services Corporation, the bank also supplies highly sophisticated computer technology services to banks throughout Nebraska and surrounding states.

The founder of the bank, Morris Well, arrived in the United States from France at the tender age of 17 in 1875. He traveled to Kansas where he married and began to raise a family. An ambitious man working in the mercantile business, Well opened his own store, the Lincoln Paint and Color Company in 1892. Turning the business over to his son Julius, Well then decided to create a banking operation in Lincoln, Nebraska, as his other son, Carl, was working there in one of the local financial establishments. The Bank of Commerce was opened in 1902 with a state charter and $50,000 in capital.

Even though Well had formed the bank for his son Carl, the father remained in control of all banking operations and served as president. During the early years of the banks activities, the economy seemed like a roller-coaster ride for anyone involved in the financial services industry. The panic of 1907 drove many banks out of business throughout the United States, and severe drought in the plains states led to a series of agricultural crises. Yet under Wells leadership, the Bank of Commerce not only survived these obstacles but thrived during the early part of the twentieth century. Well recognized that the key to success in his situation was in becoming a bankers bank. As a result, Well applied for a national charter, and the bank was renamed the National Bank of Commerce of Lincoln.

During the early years of the banks existence, Well traveled throughout the state of Nebraska and called on many regional and community banks. In return for counseling them on matters such as loans and investments, these banks opened accounts with National Bank of Commerce. In a few years, Wei! had solicited over 100 new accounts from banks, resulting in approximately 50 percent of National Banks total deposits. Although Well concentrated on correspondent banking, at the same time he also cultivated the business of ordinary consumers and local merchants who had opened stores in Lincoln, Nebraska.

In 1911, National Bank of Commerce opened a savings department, one of the first in the entire state. As the bank grew during the First World War and into the 1920s, its burgeoning operations necessitated new offices. In 1924, the bank moved to a new location on the corner of 13th and O streets, and built a modern six-story building to house its administrative offices. When the Great Depression came, and America was thrown into social and economic chaos, National Bank remained a pillar of stability in the city of Lincoln. One of the few banks to survive the bank holiday of President Franklin Delano Roosevelts New Deal policies, National Commerce served both its customers and the community of Lincoln, Nebraska well during the height of the Depression. For Morris Well, the most significant loss that he experienced during these years was not brought on by the economic upheaval. When Carl Well died in 1934, the son for whom he started the bank, Morris Well was emotionally devastated. Yet the elderly man conducted himself with quiet dignity, and continued on as president of the bank. Although Well managed the banks operations through the tumultuous years of World War II, his once energetic spirit began to slowly diminish. Morris Well died in July 1945, having served as president of the bank for 43 years.

Well was replaced by Byron Dunn as president of the National Bank of Commerce. Dunn had started working in the bank in 1905 at the age of 17 and had gained invaluable experience first watching and later working closely with Morris Well. During the 1920s, Well sent Dunn to Colorado in order to collect cattle loans. National Bank of Commerce had gone into the business of arranging cattle loans through a bank in Denver, Colorado. Unfortunately, the bank in Denver collapsed. To collect on the loans, Dunn hired cowboys and rode over a good deal of range country rounding up cattle. At the same time, other banks that had made cattle loans disputed National Bank of Commerces claiming the cattle as collateral. Dunn, however, was undeterred. He possessed more cowboys and guns than any other claimant, and thus National Bank of Commerce was able to round up the majority of the cattle to cover the banks loans.

When Dunn took over leadership of the bank, he exhibited the same determination as he had in the 1920s at the time of the Colorado roundup. A confident and affable man, Dunn initiated an aggressive campaign to develop the bank into a full-service financial services facility. While keeping the correspondent banking business as the cornerstone of the banks operations, Dunn created a marketing department to promote the banks new services, increased the advertising budget for newspaper and radio spots, remodeled the interior of the bank to enhance its new emphasis on individual customer service, inaugurated a new charge account service, and printed checks in Braille for those people who were blind. Personally approved by Dunn, the slogan of the bank became: National Bank of Commerce, The Family Bank.

During the 1950s, Dunn became well know both for his civic leadership and community involvement, and for the concern that he showed his employees. Dunn was also well-known as an amateur photographer and traveled across the United States snapping pictures of business executives whom he had met. He encouraged his employees to call him Byron and garnered a reputation for listening to and helping them with personal problems. Dunn was instrumental in creating an employee newspaper, the Commerce Newsgram, and built a lodge for the use and enjoyment of the banks staff. Located in South Bend, Nebraska, the lodge become one of the most popular getaways for bank employees. All of these activities helped National Bank of Commerce grow. In 1952, deposits at the bank had grown to surpass $50 million. By the time Byron Dunn retired from his position as president in 1961, the banks deposits had surpassed the $80 million mark.

In May 1961, Glenn Max Yaussi replaced Dunn as president of the bank. Yaussi started working at the bank in 1934, at the height of the Depression, when he walked in the front door and asked for a job. With an initial salary of only $55 per month, Yaussi worked his way steadily up the executive and administrative ladder. By the time he became president, Yaussi realized that the banking industry was on the verge of enormous changes. Determined not be to left behind, the new president hired a management consulting firm to help the bank develop up-to-date planning, accounting, budgeting, and management procedures.

Less than two months after Yaussi took office, a merger had been arranged between National Commerce Bank and First Trust Company, located in Lincoln, Nebraska. The merger resulted in increased assets and experienced staff for National Bank of Commerce. First Trust brought with it one of the largest and most successful trust departments in the state of Nebraska, a sophisticated farm management department, and mortgage loan operation. In 1964, Yaussi and his chief executives had the foresight to see a credit problem on the horizon and arranged for the bank to offer expanded savings deposits. The bank offered four percent interest on regular savings accounts, at that time one of the highest rates in the nation. This strategy led to an impressive 21 percent jump for time deposits, a $5 million increase.

One of the most important developments at the bank also occurred during 1964. National Bank of Commerce bought a computer system, and converted its entire accounting operation to that system. The bank developed a highly sophisticated computer proof and transit operation, the first of its kind in the plains states. Armed with this technology, National Bank of Commerce soon started marketing and selling its computer services to financial institutions and corresponding banks throughout Nebraska and neighboring states.

The late 1960s were years full of activity at the bank. In 1967, Paul Amen was appointed the fourth president of National Bank of Commerce, while Yaussi moved up to chairman and chief executive officer. Under the direction of Amen and Yaussi, in 1968 the bank combined with other banks from surrounding states in order to issue a Master Charge card under the auspices of the MidAmerica Bankcard Association. Also that year, National Bank of Commerce created a travel service, Travel Unlimited, in order to provide travel services to bank customers. Moreover, a third generation system for the banks computers was installed, thus allowing for faster and more efficient customer services.

During the early 1970s, National Bank of Commerce pursued an aggressive expansion program. In 1972, the bank acquired the Mutual Savings Company of Lincoln, Nebraska. The assets of this bank were relatively small, just less than $1 million, but management at National Bank of Commerce recognized the potential of its location and financial services. By 1977, Mutual Savings Company had increased its assets to over $23 million, vindicating the acquisition. In 1973, the bank acquired Nebraska Savings Company, located in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. This firms assets were also small, but by 1977 had grown to over $10 million. At approximately the same time, the bank purchased the Robert E. Schweser Company, Inc., a successful bond underwriting company that had a long and illustrious history in Nebraska, and the bank also created the NBC Leasing Company, a subsidiary formed to provide the banks customers with the opportunity to arrange financing by means of leases. And finally, by the end of the decade, the bank had constructed a new, 12-story modern office complex to house all its banking and financial services operations.

During the 1980s, National Bank of Commerce continued its expansion program. With a new president, James Stuart, Jr., a graduate of the University of Nebraska with extensive experience in the banking industry, most notably at Citibank in New York, the bank was thoroughly committed to developing an affiliate system that was part of its expansion strategy. In addition to National Bank of Commerce and Lincoln Bank South, the banks affiliate network grew to include First National Bank, Fremont; First State Bank, Fremont, First National Bank, Kearney; Overland National Bank, Grand Island; City National Bank, Hastings; First National Bank, West Point; First West-roads Bank, Omaha; Lincoln Bank East; and North Platte State Bank. In 1985, a bank holding company was incorporated to form First Commerce Bancshares. The holding company was created specifically to manage, administer, and supervise all of the affiliates within the banks growing network of financial services.

The early 1990s were devoted to developing the many subsidiaries and affiliates of First Commerce Bancshares. The NBC/Computer Software Services continued to develop highly sophisticated software programs for the financial services industry, and provided many new services to its banking customers. Over 20 new customers were contracted, thus bringing the total customer base of NBC/Computer Software Services to 284 banks. The weekly volume of new mortgage loans administered by First Commerce Mortgage Company shot up to over $10 million in 1993. And the BankCard Services division of National Commerce Bank grew to include over 90,000 active credit cards, with the average outstanding credit amounting to $78 million.

One of the outstanding regional bank holding companies, First Commerce Bancshares had an excellent reputation in Nebraska and the surrounding states. Management of the company was committed to providing its customers with high-quality, efficient banking services. And with the companys NBC/Computer Software Services riding the crest of banking technology, First Commerce Bancshares was well situated to grow larger and larger in the coming years.

Principal Subsidiaries

National Bank of Commerce Trust and Saving Association; First National Bank & Trust Company; Overland National Bank of Grand Island; North Platte National Bank; City National Bank and Trust Company; First National Bank of West Point; First National Bank of McCook; Commerce Affiliated Life Insurance Company; NBC/Computer Services Corporation; First Commerce Savings, Inc.; and First Commerce Investors, Inc.

Further Reading

Bank, Howard, Early Signs That The Credit Crunch May Ease, Forbes, October 14, 1991, p. 37.

Burns, Greg, and Kelly Holland, Plastic Talks, Business Week, February 14, 1994, pp. 105-7.

Foust, Dean, Bank Reform: Be Careful What You Wish For, Business Week, November 22, 1993, p. 55.

Lenzner, Robert, and Philippe Mao, Banking Pops Up In The Strangest Places, Forbes, April 10, 1995, pp. 72-76.

Special Report: Bank Cards, Banking, September 1977, pp. 42-129.

Yaussi, Glenn, National Bank of Commerce Trust and Savings Association, Newcomen Society: New York, 1977.

Thomas Derdak

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First Commerce Bancshares, Inc.

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