How Steve Bradshaw Saved his Oklahoma Bank from the Great Recession

Over the last two decades, while scores of other regional banks struggled or were snapped up by nationals, BOK Financial has quietly thrived, expanding its operations from 20 branches within Oklahoma to nine West South Central states.

Notably, the bank escaped unscathed from the mortgage-lending crisis that scuttled so many financial institutions during 2008 and 2009. In fact, BOK took a contrarian approach during that turbulent time, one that ultimately paid off, recounts Steve Bradshaw, who took over as president and CEO of BOK Financial last year.

“A lot of banks were getting out of the mortgage business and independent firms were closing up because risk was elevated—but the returns were being elevated in that space as well,” he says. “We saw that as an opportunity to jump in and, as a result, we tripled that business. It went from being almost nonexistent in terms of earnings for us to accounting for 15 percent of our earnings by 2012 and about 13 percent last year.” However, things were not quite as rosy when Bradshaw first joined BOK back in 1991.

“George is an amazing entrepreneur. He had a bold vision for the bank—and you know what? It was right.”

Just a year prior, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based business had faltered and been placed into Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation receivership. Concerned that the bank would get gobbled up, depriving Oklahoma energy businesses of their go-to financial institution, wealthy local oilman George Kaiser bought it himself for about $60 million.

“George is an amazing entrepreneur,” recalls Bradshaw, who sold his own small retail securities firm to Kaiser and joined BOK to help it establish a new consumer investment business.

“He had a bold vision for the bank—and you know what? It was right.” Under Kaiser’s ownership, BOK set its sights on expanding into neighboring markets. The bank now operates in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Arkansas, Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Utah. Today, it is a $27.4 billion corporation providing commercial and consumer banking, investment and trust services, mortgage origination and servicing, and the TransFund electronic funds transfer network. That general description, however, doesn’t quite capture the bank’s specialty—an expertise in energy lending and a commitment to seeing investments through.


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