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Profile: Peoples Bank and Trust Co.: 100 years in Indianapolis and still in the family, this bank is not for sale.

Celebrating its centennial, Peoples Bank and Trust Co. in Indianapolis is a model of traditional Indiana banking.

Guided by the fourth-generation president from the McWhirter family, People Bank is small by Indianapolis standards but large by state standards. With $330 million in assets and 3 percent of the Indianapolis market, Peoples rank 33rd out of 300 Indiana banks. It is the oldest state bank in Indianapolis, and it has grown and prospered without mergers, acquisitions or stock sales.

In 1891, Felix T. McWhirter began simple banking operations in an office located just 15 feet from the bank's current location at 130 E. Market St. His small operation flourished, and in 1905 the bank moved next door, then bought its 12-story building in 1920. The bank now has 13 branches and a large new data-processing facility.

Son Felix M. McWhirter was president from 1915 until 1959. Felix M. frequently referred to a slogan framed on a bank office wall: "The Lord gave us two ends--one to sit on and one to think with. A man's success depends upon which he uses more--it's a case of 'heads you win, tails you lose.'"

After the stock market crash of 1929, Felix M. was proud to report at year end 1933 that "Peoples had no unpaid bills nor liabilities and that it had met all its obligations." During the Depression when patrons were unable to meet their full loan payments, he made arrangements with them to make reduced payments so that they could remain in their homes.

His son, F.T. McWhirter II, became president of Peoples in 1959 and continued to follow the adage that the bank was "home-grown and home-owned." Even though the McWhirters were interested in sound growth, F.T. would say, "I'd rather have a good bank than a big bank."

In 1984, F.T. became chairman and his son, William E. "Mac" McWhirter became president at the age of 33. Peoples Bank must be doing something right. It has consistently been listed among the nation's soundest banks by various rating services.

In light of recent banking developments and proposals, it is interesting to note some prophetic statements on the record from McWhirter presidents. In 1953, Felix M. noted that "a lot of banks are going beyond their capacity and are relying upon the FDIC's cover of depositors to cover mistakes." In 1977, F.T. predicted that "the proposed 100 percent insurance on all deposits will be open license for go-go bankers to launch new wildcat financial ventures. Since there is no taxpayer money in the FDIC, the well-run banks' insurance assessments will sop up future financial disasters." Mac has suggested that "If the 'too big to fail' policy were eliminated, then bank (industry) discipline would start to come back."

In 1961, The Indianapolis News asked Felix M. and F.T. in an interview whether Peoples might someday be swallowed by a larger financial institution. Both replied emphatically: "Not as long as I am alive."

In 1985, soon after Mac became president, Indiana banking laws changed to allow acquisitions and mergers throughout the state and contiguous states. The state allowed banks to "opt out" of any intrastate or interstate acquisition activity, and Peoples Bank was one of the few that did so. "The board of directors and shareholders have recently reconfirmed our position to stay independent," reports Mac. With the majority of voting shares in Mac's control, an unfriendly takeover is unlikely.

Although traditional, Peoples Bank has a history that includes many banking firsts. Peoples was the first bank in the state to appoint a woman director. Mrs. F.T. (Luella) McWhirter, an active suffragist, was on the board from 1990 to 1936. Peoples was the first in the state to offer a drive-up window in 1931, and the first in Indianapolis to offer a free-standing drive-through in 1950. It was the first in Indiana to originate an Federal Housing Administration loan, and in 1963, the first to introduce Saturday banking hours.

Mac McWhirter has a son and two daughters. In looking to the future, it was suggested that his son, Mark, would be the fifth McWhirter to become president of the bank after graduating from DePauw University as did the first four. Mac immediately replied, "It might be one of my daughters. Who knows? Sometimes in the 21st century, Elizabeth Evans McWhirter or Julia Jennings McWhirter may follow in the footsteps of their great-great grandmother Luella and be directors. One of them may even become the fifth McWhirter president."
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Author:Gibbs, John R.
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:Biography
Date:May 1, 1991
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