Martin Noto, Konrad Halbert and Tony Fore

Martin Noto, Konrad Halbert and Tony Fore

First Financial Bankshares Inc.

1000 Forest Park Blvd.

Fort Worth 76110


First Financial Bank traces its roots to 1890 in its headquarters city of Abilene, population 3,000 at the time. After more than 125 years the institution has spread to 69 Texas locations, and in 2009 it took a big step by establishing a large and high-profile presence in Fort Worth.

For most of its history the bank, now a subsidiary of First Financial Bankshares Inc. (NASDAQ: FFIN), was content to grow generally along the Interstate 20 corridor, mostly serving small communities.

“We want to be in relatively smaller markets where we can be a major player,” said Martin Noto, president and CEO of First Financial’s Fort Worth region. “Culturally, Fort Worth was a fit and we were in markets surrounding the city.”

Last year the bank opened its new four-story building south of I-30 and Chisholm Trail Parkway at 1000 Forest Park Blvd., adjacent to the Medical District.

Noto said that much of its local customer base worked in Fort Worth while living in nearby towns. The bank saw the move as a customer service opportunity by giving its clients daytime banking options with a location closer to where they worked.

The first three floors of the building are occupied by the bank, First Financial Mortgage and First Financial Trust and Asset Management Co. The remaining space is leased to tenants.

Competing in Fort Worth is a “two-edged sword,” Noto said. He gives credit to a “pro-business City Hall” and cites the low cost of doing business here, but for those and other reasons, he said, “Every bank wants to be here.”

To gain an edge, First Financial works to make smart acquisitions and hire people with deep local roots and long industry experience to provide leadership. It starts at the top in Abilene with Scott Dueser, who joined the company in 1975 after graduating from Texas Tech University and became CEO in 2001.

Noto has 33 years of financial industry experience, including middle market, commercial real estate and lending. He’s held executive positions in local banks, including Community Trust Bank, BBVA Compass, J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank One.

First Financial maintains its local profile in a variety of ways. When it opened its new building on Forest Park, the bank donated $3,500 to Ronald McDonald House Fort Worth, and at the recent Dean & DeLuca Invitational golf tournament it sponsored a hospitality tent for first responders.

In 2015 the bank got a significant boost to its mortgage lending capabilities when it acquired 4Trust Mortgage Inc., which originated about $175 million in home loans during 2014. Tony Fore, one of the company’s owners, began working for his mother’s Shreveport mortgage company as a high school student 35 years ago. He now leads all of First Financial’s mortgage services business.

Konrad Halbert has worked in trust operations for more than 20 years and since 2005 has been with First Financial Trust, where he is the Dallas-Fort Worth area manager, responsible for trust, asset and retirement plan administration.

First Financial’s geographic growth, experienced leadership and focus on customer service has paid off with 30 consecutive years of earnings growth. At the end of this year’s first quarter, the bank had assets of $6.93 billion, loans totaled $3.39 billion and deposits were $5.66 billion. Earnings were $26.6 million.

First Financial Bankshares was recognized in 2014 by Bank Director magazine as the best-performing bank among the nation's 300 largest publicly owned banks in the $5 billion to $50 billion category. Using several metrics, the publication compiles its Bank Performance Scorecard and First Financial has been among the top 10, usually in the first, second or third spot for most of the past decade.

Noto says the company will probably be looking to expand to a second Fort Worth location by 2019.

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