On Monday, Jan. 6, Louis Melton remembered what it was like 50 years ago on his first day on the job in the banking business.
Laughing, and using an adding machine, he figured out he was 23 years old at the time. “I had odd jobs before going into banking, but Frank Lee Coffman Sr. hired me for the note department of Security Bank. One thing I remember for sure, around 10 a.m. that day, it began snowing and stayed on ‘till March!”
In 1972, Melton was promoted to making consumer loans. “I remember I made my first loan to a good Christian man, Jerry Mefford.”
Melton feels very blessed to have learned from some great bankers in the area. He pointed to the picture frames on the cabinet behind him. “I have Frank Lee Coffman Sr. and Tom Bill Rogers Sr. looking over my shoulder every day as I sit at this desk. I learned a lot from them — especially about reading people.”
At the time Melton started making loans, there was no way to search for someone’s credit score. “We knew everyone and their family. Most of the time, if the parents were good people, so were the kids. I was taught how to analyze people by just talking to them. I usually knew within 10 minutes or so, if I was going to give them a loan.”
“I truly believe God placed me in the position to help people, when others might not,” he said. “When another bank wouldn’t loan someone money and they came to me, I could usually look them in the eye, get a handshake and a promise they would keep their word — and they made those payments.”
“My ‘pet’ projects were loans to tiny churches in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “My superiors would question the wisdom of the loan and remind me if the church defaulted, it would only be a good location for storing hay. But I had a mentor tell me, ‘Those are the best kind of loans you can make.’ All of them paid the bank off early, and invited me to the mortgage burning. It always felt good to help those people. None of them had deep pockets, but they cared about their church and it made me feel good to help.”
“I haven’t always been the best Christian I should have been, but I give God the credit for placing me in a job I truly love,” he said.
“I love helping people, and we’ve all made mistakes and we learn from them,” he said. “I grew up in Pyatt. There were two kinds of people there. The ‘poor’ and the ‘pur.’ Thankfully we were a little better off than the ‘pur,’ but my grandparents taught me to treat everybody with respect — the way I wanted to be treated. When I couldn’t give someone a loan, I knew not to be condescending and put them down. I wanted them to leave feeling just as good as when they walked in. Sometimes, people have no control over the reason why they need a loan. Yes, I remember the first loan I had to deny.”
Melton has also had a few customers default on a loan. “One of my mentors told me, ‘If you don’t have a few losses, you aren’t taking care of your people.’”
Melton has worked for five banks including Anstaff Bank which he joined three years ago.
“I was thrilled to join the staff at Anstaff Bank. Brad King is the same age as my son. I’ve known him since he was a baby. I’ve always competed with Steve Stafford. They are both great bankers, and I’m glad I don’t have to compete with Steve any more.”
Many times, during the interview, Melton would remember another banker he worked with and often say, “They were a good banker, too.” So the question was asked, what makes a good banker?
Melton thought a few seconds and said, “I think it’s being involved in the community and caring about the people (your customers) in the community.”
He has been a favorite banker in the community for years. Many customers would follow him to the next bank he worked at. “When I came to Anstaff, there was a customer waiting for me at the door at 8 a.m.,” he said. “Of course, now it’s a lot more difficult to change banks if you have a lot of automatic payments set up — but some still do. I’m very blessed.”
Melton officially retired for 10 months, but continued to get calls and help his long-time customers with loans when they needed him. “I’m going to just keep working — as long as I can.”
“I’ve never considered myself very smart. (He said you would laugh!) But I’ve been privileged to work with a lot of good people. Frank Coffman Sr. used to say, ‘We’re in the business to make a profit. But how you make that profit is very important.’ Tommy Rogers Sr. used to say, ‘Never give up a dollar to make a nickel.’ So basically, banking 50 years ago is no different. It’s all about taking care of customers. Sure, the technology and compliance laws are very different, and we don’t discuss religion or politics — just banking!”
“I didn’t always make good decisions in my personal life. But I always gave my best to banking,” he said. “I can honestly say, I always had the Lord on my side to handle the stress. I often walked away from Him, but He never walked away from me. I give all the credit to the Lord for giving me the ability to read and care for people. He put me here to help people His way.”
The leadership of Anstaff Bank said, “We are happy to celebrate with Louis as he achieves 50 years in his banking career. In addition to being an experienced banker, Louis has a reputation for being kind and thoughtful which has given him many friendships in the area. We are so proud of Louis and wish him all the best as he continues to serve the community at Anstaff Bank.”