First Citizens’ James Bennett Begins Term as S.C. Bankers Association Chairman

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

James Bennett, Mid-South area executive for First Citizens Bank, began a one-year term as chairman of the South Carolina Bankers Association on July 1. Bennett, the first African-American to hold the chairman’s position, was elected by a vote of SCBA members.

Bennett has spent 36 years in banking, including 26 years with First Citizens. He began his career with Bankers Trust of South Carolina and has also worked for Republic National Bank and South Carolina Community Bank. At the latter, he was chief executive officer.

With First Citizens, Bennett is the area leader for a 30-branch region that stretches from Camden to Augusta, Ga., and has $2 billion in deposits and $1 billion in loans.

In 1998, Bennett was recognized as South Carolina’s Outstanding Young Banker, the highest honor bestowed by the SCBA. He is the only African-American state banking association chairman in the country at present and one of just a handful in the history of the industry.

“It’s a heavy load. Much is expected of those to whom much is given, but it’s a great honor,” Bennett said. “There’s no doubt South Carolina banks – and all banks – continue to face numerous challenges these days, including:

  • Increasing competition from non-traditional financial services companies;
  • A continued transition to digital banking;
  • Ongoing regulatory compliance;
  • Rising customer expectations;
  • Keeping up with new technology;
  • Ensuring the safety and security of customer accounts; and
  • Developing the next generation of bankers – to name a few.”

Bennett, a native of Cheraw and graduate of the University of South Carolina, began his career at Bankers Trust of South Carolina. He later moved to Republic National Bank and First Citizens. In 2000, he was named CEO of South Carolina Community Bank, South Carolina’s only minority-owned institution, and spent two years at the Columbia bank before returning to First Citizens.

“I’ve known James since his time at Republic and have admired his personal and professional accomplishments,” SCBA President and CEO Fred Green said. “He will be a great leader of our banking industry in South Carolina during this chaotic time.”

Bennett succeeds Sam Erwin, South Carolina regional president for First Horizon Bank of Memphis, Tenn.

Bennett has been active on boards across the state. He currently serves on the board of Dominion Energy, Prisma Health and the Columbia Urban League, and is vice chair of USC Education Foundation the Midlands Business Leadership Group. He has also served on the boards of Claflin University and SCANA Corp.

Bennett, 59, lives in Columbia, and he and his wife Cynthia have two sons.