Chris Webster is president and CEO of Commerce Bank of Arizona

Chris Webster is president and CEO of Commerce Bank of Arizona, which was recently recognized as the Best Small Bank in Arizona by Newsweek.

As small businesses scrambled to stay afloat during the pandemic, small local banks were working hard to assist them.

Commerce Bank of Arizona in particular not only worked day and night to provide desperately needed PPP loans to businesses in need.

Now it has been recognized by Newsweek as the Best Small Bank in Arizona.

CBAZ President and CEO Chris Webster called the award “completely unexpected.”

“Besides a range of financial metrics, Newsweek evaluated banks with the fewest number of complaints filed with the FDIC. We were delighted to rank at the top of that list,” Webster said.

Newsweek’s inaugural America’s Best Banks 2021 list, published last fall, assessed U.S. banks and the savings and checking accounts they offer based on 55 separate factors to come up with best-in-class options in 19 categories.

“We have always been dedicated to helping Arizona’s small businesses succeed, and we are honored to be recognized with this title,” CBAZ wrote. 

“This year was a challenging year for many people in Arizona, and we are proud of our team for rising to those challenges and serve each client with exceptional customer service.”

As a locally owned and managed bank, Webster said CBAZ has a better understanding on the Arizona business environment, in turn giving them a competitive edge.

“We always say ‘bank where you live, bank local,’” Webster said. “CBAZ has a dedicated focus on the unique business banking needs of companies in our community.”

During the pandemic, CBAZ’s lending and customer support teams worked tirelessly to provide desperately needed PPP loans to not only existing business owners but also many new customer-business owners, Webster said.

And that hard work more than paid off.

CBAZ Financial, Inc., the parent company of CBAZ, recently reported consolidated earnings of more than $1.52 million in Q4 2020 — a 373 percent increase from $457,000 in the third quarter.

According to a release in February, total assets increased by 7.3 percent to $355.8 million during the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2020 and increased 49.6 percent compared to $237.8 million a year ago. 

“Our financial metrics for the year were excellent,” Webster said. “The bank generated strong loan and deposit growth…and we were able to re-align key non-interest costs – which will benefit the bank in the years to come.”

Webster also attributed the growth to the CBAZ team’s “exceptional customer service performance standards” throughout a pandemic that disrupted face-to-face communication.

“We build relationships with our customers through face-to-face communication,” Webster said. “Last March, that activity stopped immediately.”

CBAZ’s pivot to virtual forms of communication didn’t stop the company from working just as closely with their customers, however.

“There’s a saying in banking, ‘Banks like to give you an umbrella when the sun is shining only to take it away when it starts to rain.’ I can tell you that our team provided hundreds of umbrellas to many, many grateful business owners,” Webster said. “And there’s nothing more rewarding than to let a business owner know at 3 in the morning that his or her PPP loan has been approved.”

It’s this customer service that Webster prides his team on.

“The team at Commerce Bank of Arizona strives every day to provide best-in-class banking services to small and medium size businesses throughout Arizona. It is an honor that our customer first culture is recognized by business owners,” he said.

Founded in 2002, CBAZ is a full-service community bank that caters to small-to mid-sized businesses and real estate professionals. 

It offers commercial clients a variety of services ranging from U.S. Small Business Administration financing solutions, construction loans, and commercial real estate loans. 

Webster joined the company in 2015. Previously, he led the commercial banking division at BBVA/Compass in Phoenix and later co-founded First Scottsdale Bank.

“His leadership is inspiring to us all and we are thankful for his wisdom and guidance during these challenging times,” CBAZ said at the time of Webster’s hiring. “With Chris as our leader, we are confident that our small business community can come out of this crisis stronger than ever.”

Looking ahead, Webster said CBAZ looks forward to supporting local businesses as the Arizona economy recovers.

“We are already seeing significant loan demand across many industries,” Webster said. “Many segments of the Arizona economy are doing very well, despite the pandemic. And most business segments impacted by the pandemic are poised to rebound as the vaccination rate increases.”