Creating a Successful Bank with Rick Saunders - Co-Founder of First Reliance Bank

Rick Saunders / Co-Founder & CEO of First Reliance Bank

January 31, 2023

Guest Bio

Rick Saunders / Co-Founder & CEO of First Reliance Bank

Rick Saunders has worked in finance and banking as his career of choice from an early age. From 1983 through 1997, Mr. Saunders was Senior Vice President and City Executive of Florence for Pee Dee State Bank, where he was also a member of the Senior Loan Committee and Board of Directors. During this time, his responsibilities included Corporate Banking, Business Development, and Policy Making. From 1997 to 1998, he served as Senior Market Executive with Centura Bank after its merger with Pee Dee State Bank. In 1998, he began organizing First Reliance Bank and presently serves as its Chief Executive Officer.

Rick founded First Reliance Bank in 1999 and it is the only locally owned and operated bank in Florence, South Carolina. It has assets of nearly $915 million and over 185 highly talented associates. Headquartered in Florence South Carolina, First Reliance Bank also spans the Low Country, where about one-third of their workforce resides, Midlands, Upstate, Pee Dee, Coastal regions of South Carolina and the Winston-Salem and Charlotte areas of North Carolina. Through the South Carolina Chamber, First Reliance has been named a "Best Places To Work" company for fifteen consecutive years an achievement based on associate survey scores. First Reliance Bank was recognized by The Institute for Extraordinary Banking™ with a Banky® Award for their commitment to strong community banking. This recognition is given to the top 1% of 6,000 banks across the country.

The bank Rick leads serves hard-working Americans, the majority of who are middle income households and small businesses who prefer to bank with people that understand their needs and are committed to helping them achieve their financial goals. The company has built a robust mortgage business division that has funded over a one billion dollars in mortgages for South Carolinians to purchase their dream home or to capture their equity through a refinance to invest in their business expansion, their child's college education, a vacation home or other areas that help them achieve their dreams. The bank also has a philanthropic program which supports the underbanked and unbanked demographic population by providing them with banking services.

The bank's purpose is 'to make the lives of our customers better'. Rick leads a team of associates who are deeply committed to this brand promise. As a result, the bank has earned a consistent customer satisfaction rating of 93%. The banks trademarks are exceptional service, online convenience, and custom-designed programs that fit the needs of the community.

First Reliance Bank makes significant economic contributions to the communities it serves. The Bank contributes approximately $20 million annually into the communities it serves from salaries, interest paid on deposits, and the goods and services we purchase from SC or NC based companies. The Bank has strong community and volunteer involvement, donating over 1,000 volunteer hours of service annually as well as donating approximately 1% of its net income to charity every year.

Rick and his wife Tiffany are passionate about the value of family and are committed to helping children who aren't fortunate to have a father and mother. To back up their commitment they adopted two beautiful daughters from China; Reagan who is 18 years old and Ryleigh who is 12. They have been instrumental in starting Reagan's Promise, a philanthropic program which advocates for adoption and provides educational resources and an established fund for those interested in public adoption. Tiffany served the State's children as a previous board member of the Foster Care Review board which determines the redirection for foster care where she learned first-hand the number of children who need a forever home to grow up in and guide them.

State and Community Contributions

Mr. Saunders was appointed by previous Governor Mark Sanford to the South Carolina State Board of Financial Institutions where he served an eight year term with an additional four years until an incumbent was found for his position. While on the Board he worked for years to change the Nations perception of South Carolina Banks. He is passionate in believing that a State with a high performing banking system would be the foundation for attracting more investment in the industry and more banks head-quartered in our State. He believes that high performing banks are the bed rock for a high performing economy. On the board, he led efforts to restructure the responsibilities of the State Banking Commissioner and worked closely with legislature to amend compensation ranges to attract a quality candidate. He also directly participated in the search and recruitment of our existing banking commissioner.

Mr. Saunders has always committed his personal time to the service of the State and others. Over the years he has served as a member of the McLeod Foundation Board of Trustees which leads fundraising for medical programs in the community. Prior to that he served as a Director for the Advisory Board for the McLeod Foundation, the Florence Chamber of Commerce Board, the SC Chamber of Commerce Board, the South Carolina Bankers Association Board, the SC Bankers Association Legislative Committee, the Independent Banks of South Carolina Board and he is a past member of the South Carolina State Board of Financial Institutions. He has also served as a Board member for the local chapter of Young Life Ministries, the South Carolina Bankers Association Community Bankers Council, the Advisory Board for the Business Education Program for Florence School District One, the Advisory Board for the Florence Easter Seals, the United Way of Florence Board, Pee Dee State Bank and Pee Dee Bancshares, and the Home Builders Association of the Greater Pee Dee Area Board. He is also a member of the South Carolina Business Development Corporation Board, a member of the College of Charleston, School of Business, Board of Governors, a board member of the Florence County Sheriff's Office Foundation, a member of the Board of Directors for First Reliance Bank and First Reliance BancShares, the Florence Rotary Club and the Florence Baptist Temple.


Mr. Saunders graduated from the South Carolina Bankers School, a cooperative program with the College of Business Administration of the University of South Carolina in 1986. Two years later, he graduated from the Southeastern School of Agriculture Lending, a cooperative program with the College of Agricultural Science of Clemson University.

Memberships & Awards

He has been awarded an Order of the Palmetto (2019) by the Governor of South Carolina for his contributions to the state and communities. He was recognized with an Entrepreneur Award for his contributions to the prosperity of the Pee Dee Region by the Florence-Darlington Technical College's Educational Foundation (2016), named Business Man of the Year (2007, Florence Chamber of Commerce), the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year (2007), and the Beta Gamma Sigma honoree from Francis Marion University School of Business (2004-2005).

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