First Financial Bank isn’t the biggest financial institution in the area, and that’s just fine with Greg Ionna, president and CEO of the CM Paula Co. in Mason.

“They’re not the biggest bank in town, but they’re of a size that matches up really well for a company our size that’s growing,” says Ionna, whose company has used First Financial Bank’s services for more than a year. “And they’re with us all the way,”

That smaller size means a more personable relationship with bank officials, Ionna says. “They go out of their way to get to know you and your business and have an understanding of it, and they become a real partner in that regard,” says Ionna.

He also likes that First Financial Bank is headquartered in downtown Cincinnati at 255 E. Fifth St. Ionna says, “We don’t have a bank where the headquarters are in other big cities where a lot of times [loan] decisions aren’t made right away. Here you get the decision made pronto. It’s immediate,” says Ionna.

That’s exactly the type of personal service of which First Financial Bank is most proud.

Paul Silva, president of First Financial Bank’s Greater Cincinnati and Kentucky region, says business owners are always able to meet the bank’s decision makers. “I have loan authority, so between myself and maybe our credit person and a loan officer, we can go out and sit in front of a client and talk through the request with them and give them an approval there on the spot,” says Silva.

“They really like that they’re talking to the people that will make a decision,” he adds.

Getting to know officials at the bank is important to business owners. Even though the economy is doing better right now, business owners are always aware that the business climate could change, says Silva.

“They really want to know the people making the decision on their loans if there is a downturn,” says Silva. “When times are tough, that’s when they really need that good banker and that relationship.”

Although First Financial Bank is small compared to the larger banks in the area, with $7.4 billion in assets, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t offer the same services or products.

“We have all the products and services the larger banks have, and we have sophisticated employees who have great experience,” Silva says. “But we don’t have as much red tape because we’re not as big.

“What we’ve seen is that sometimes business owners get frustrated with their bank. But they think all banks are the same, and then when we meet them they go, ‘Oh, gosh, I wish we had known about you sooner because this is a really good fit for us as a small business.’”

First Financial, founded in 1863, is a full-service bank. It has three basic lines of business—retail banking, wealth management and commercial banking. The company has about 1,400 employees and operates 106 banking centers in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.