Banking is in Pete Knight’s blood. The President of Renasant Bank in Montgomery grew up in the capital city with a banker father and entered banking straight after earning his finance degree. The industry and even his office feel familiar; today, he’s working out of the same bank building his dad did. These deep Montgomery roots tie a common bond between Knight and the Chamber, and the organization’s tireless work to power his hometown’s progress has earned his admiration and support.
What first got you interested in banking and finance? My dad was in banking for 45 years here, so that set the stage. I graduated from Jefferson Davis High School and went to Auburn before finishing up at AUM with a finance degree and then following in his footsteps, going straight to work at a bank in town. He’d told me, “Don’t get a finance degree,” and he thought I’d be an accountant. But instead, I ended up as the second-generation career banker. He actually spent 40 years in this building [Renasant’s main branch on the corner of Commerce Street downtown], so the Knight family has spent a lot of time in this place now.
When did you start at Renasant Bank? In July 2011, a team of myself and three other bankers started it up from scratch here with the Renasant Bank franchise behind us. Renasant was started in 1904 in Tupelo, Mississippi, and what attracted us to the bank was its senior management had the same goals and values we did. They did business like we did and like we wanted to continue to do, so it was a great fit. The culture of the bank is very customer oriented; you can always talk to a real banker. Our main goal is to take care of our customers, and that’s above profits and growth.
There are a lot of banks in Montgomery; what’s one thing that sets Renasant apart? The first word that comes to my mind is our diversity, and by that I mean we are so many different things to different markets and customers, and we try to do them all really well, and I think we do. Here, people think of us as a community bank, and we operate in that way. We’re not Regions or PNC. But Renasant also has 200 locations. We are in Atlanta, Nashville and Memphis and competing in those spots. Yet, we’re also in Ponotoc, Mississippi, and other little one-bank towns. We do the $25 million loans and the $2,500 loans. You just don’t see many mixed markets like we have. So many banks are either big banks or little banks. We’re both.
What changes are on the horizon for the banking industry and for your bank? The way we deliver products to market is continuously changing and has changed more in the last five years than in the previous 15 and will likely change more in the next five years than it ever has. This is mainly technology driven with mobile banking and such, resulting in shifts in the way we think about physical facilities. These days, with the majority of young people not banking in person, you don’t need more than a few branches to be competitive. But it is driven by consumer demand and politics too. Right now, on the consumer side, there is a push for everyone to have the ability to own a home, and we are trying to help with that. We have programs for 100-percent loans. We know that a down payment can be a major hurdle for many first-time homebuyers. There’s also more money, more liquidity, in the system than there has ever been. All banks are begging to make loans.
What is the most challenging part of your job? Keeping our team trained and up to date with tech and customer demands as they change, which is all the time. We also work to keep them motivated to want to adapt to these constant changes. If you don’t like change, don’t work in banking.
What is the most rewarding part of your work? That’s easy. Helping people reach their dreams. Being out in public and having someone stop me and then introduce me to a friend or family member by saying, “This is Mr. Knight, and he helped us buy our house.” Or “Mr. Knight helped us grow our business. We couldn’t have expanded without that help.” And that’s not limited to customers. I love seeing employees move up the ranks, take on more responsibility and reach their potential.
What is your impression of Montgomery’s current business climate? Things are very stable here. We’re not necessarily enjoying the successes that we’re seeing right now in a Huntsville or Auburn, but we have a strong, stable base to work with, and that’s great. The biggest challenge I see is getting our young people to step up and take leadership roles in the business community to ensure we continue to drive future growth. Having that young blood is essential. And some of that is on them. But some of it is on us. When you go to a Chamber meeting right now, there are too many gray hairs in there. We need to see leadership open the door wider to encourage younger people in. We have by no means shut the door on them, but we need to pull them in. We have such amazing senior leadership, it makes it hard to turn over the reins, but we have to. Of course, first we have to keep more of the young people here in the city. We’re getting better at that, but we can do more. And that’s on my industry. All banks should be reaching out to students at our local higher education institutions and not letting them move away. We all need to recruit better in our own backyard.
Why do you choose to be so involved with and supportive of The Chamber and its work? We have been Chamber investors since day one of this bank, and that’s, for one, because I feel like the Chamber is such a well-oiled machine. It does vital work for our community and does it so well. I’m always amazed at Chamber functions, from early morning to evening events, the Chamber team is there. They are relentless in promoting Montgomery and working to better quality of life. I will always support a group working that hard. And that’s not the norm. As I said, Renasant has branches all over, and many of them have no local chamber support. Here, the communication between business and our Chamber is second to none.
Pete Knight was born and raised in the capital city, finished his college degree here and then started his banking career in Montgomery. “I’ve not spent too much time outside these city limits,” he said. His community involvements and out-of-office interests are evidence of his devotion to his home. “I’ve been very active with MACOA [Montgomery Area Council on Aging] for 20-plus years. I’m dedicated to taking care of our seniors, those who took care of us. I am a past chair of MMFA. I believe we have a real treasure there that we need to be so proud of and promote even more,” he said. “My wife is teacher in MPS, so I’m very attuned to the challenges and successes there. My son is studying engineering just over at Auburn. I love being at my house and working in my yard. We’re a close-knit family who loves it here, and we want to be good citizens in every way we can.”