SCOTT PFEIFFER | CONTRIBUTOR
On March 18, 1946, a 13-year-old named Carl Smith walked across the street from his post office job into the just-opened Bank of Travelers Rest and made his, and the bank’s, first customer deposit.
That year, as the GIs were returning to the Upstate from Europe and Asia, textile factories were booming and both the local and national economies were growing rapidly, the Bank of Travelers Rest opened its doors and welcomed the residents of the thriving community. Northern Greenville County needed access to modern financial products and services, and the bank intended to provide them. Rising wages throughout the decade saw more and more workers opening savings accounts, which earned good interest. Employment was growing, too, from 55 million employed workers in the U.S. in 1946 to more than 60 million less than a decade later. The postwar era was booming.
Founded by local businessmen, the bank prided itself on its hometown feel and on taking the time to get to know the customers. The new bank offered new services — like Saturday banking — and was open six days a week. As the bank grew, it continued to innovate, introducing drive-up teller windows in the mid-1950s and a computerized account system in 1968. Starting with just $36,000 in assets, the bank relied on small deposits from local workers to grow. Today, 70 years after its founding, the bank has 10 branches and more than $600 million in assets, but still prides itself on treating all customers, and employees, like family.
The first step to maintaining that hometown bank feel, says Tom Britt, the bank president, starts with your employees. “We have many employees who have worked here a long time,” Britt says.
The bank’s CEO, Bruce White, has worked at the Bank of Travelers Rest since he graduated from Clemson in 1971. “I’m a one-trick pony,” White jests.
Of course, White really is family. His father, John White, was one of the bank’s founders. Three of Bruce’s children work at the bank now — the third generation of Whites serving, in many cases, the third or fourth generations of many of the bank’s first customers. But it isn’t only the White family that has made a career out of working at the bank. Britt has been with the bank for 25 years. Chief Credit Officer and Executive Vice President Eddie Fewell has worked there for 35.
The second step is to get to know your customers, Britt says. Employees are encouraged to spend time with customers. Talk with them. Listen to them. Ask about their kids and grandkids. Taking the time to learn about the customers makes for better banking decisions, he says: “We understand what they need and why.”
White believes that helping customers succeed is the best part of his career at the Bank of Travelers Rest. “The nice part of this life has been the opportunity to contribute to people’s success. It is most gratifying,” White said.
While the Bank of Travelers Rest is a full-service bank, White said, “Our bread and butter is families and small businesses. We have a lot of customers that are a husband-and-wife-owned business with just three or four employees.”
Apparently, the bank’s focus on creating and maintaining long-term customer relationships is working. At the grand opening of the bank’s 10th branch, on March 18, 2016 — 70 years to the day after the grand opening of the bank — Carl Smith, the former teenage post office employee and first depositor, cut the ceremonial ribbon. He is still a bank customer today, and so is his daughter.
The Bank of Travelers Rest is the oldest bank to be chartered and remain headquartered in Greenville County. Having expanded out from northern Greenville County to 10 locations around the county, it has become not just a Travelers Rest bank but also a real partner in the greater Greenville community. “Greenville has been a great place to be,” White said.
The bank continues to offer all the cutting-edge services one expects of a modern bank, from online banking to mobile banking and continuing the Saturday hours it has maintained since its founding. The true secret of their 70 years of success, though, is their focus on the customer. “We can only be as good as our customers,” White said, “and a customer is anyone who walks in the door.”
Bank of Travelers Rest Timeline
March 18, 1946:
Bank of Travelers Rest opens for business in a small building on the corner of McElhaney Road and Highway 276.
Dec. 20, 1955:
Moves its facility to Poinsett Highway. The new office has drive-up teller windows and air conditioning.
July 11, 1962:
Opens its first branch location, just north of Travelers Rest in Marietta.
Oct. 1, 1968:
Converts all customer accounts to a new computerized system.
April 15, 1970:
Opens in its current Main Office location at 42 Plaza Drive in Travelers Rest, giving the bank three locations.
Jan. 1, 1972:
Bruce White starts his career at Bank of Travelers Rest.
Jan. 6, 1977:
Bruce White succeeds his father as Bank of Travelers Rest president and chairman of the board.
April 17, 1978:
Bank opens branch at Old Buncombe Road. The event includes giveaways of a color television, two C.B. radios and 20 dinners at local eatery Epps.
April 1, 1985:
Introduces customers to “24-Hour Banking” through an Automated Teller Machine or ATM.
Oct. 13, 1992:
Hires Tom Britt as manager for its branch on Old Buncombe Road in Greenville.
Aug. 26, 2013:
Enters a new platform in banking with the release of their banking app, myBTRmoney.
Nov. 10, 2015:
Promotes Tom Britt from executive vice president to president, and Bruce White becomes CEO and remains chairman of the board.
March 18, 2016:
Bank of Travelers Rest celebrates its 70th anniversary with the grand opening of its 10th branch in Greenville County.
Top: Tom Britt, president, and Bruce White, CEO of the Bank of Travelers Rest. Photo by Chelsey Ashford.