The Savings Bank of Walpole
“We continue to see consolidation in the banking industry locally and nationally due to banks or credit unions not having enough scale, or as a cost-cutting measure,” says Dominic Perkins, vice president, retail administration at Savings Bank of Walpole (SBW).
Examples in the region include the closing of TD Bank’s Court and Main Street locations, as well as the acquisition of Cheshire County Credit Union by GFA Credit Union.
“Even our affiliation with New Hampshire Mutual Bancorp (NHMB) was a move to preserve SBW as we know it. While we were able to compete independently, we recognized that the cost of compliance and technology might one day overwhelm us like it has so many other institutions,” Perkins notes.
The unique affiliation allows each bank under the NHMB umbrella to remain independent, retain existing talent, management and boards, and continue the branding and products with which locals are familiar.
“As mutual banks, we appreciate that the alliance provides mutual benefits to us and the communities we serve,” Perkins says.
Some of those recent benefits include a new online mortgage application solution that launched in 2019, an online consumer loan solution that will be available soon, and a joint project to choose the next internet banking platform for all three banks.
Going into the new year, SBW is undertaking a major software upgrade that has already been successfully implemented by its affiliate banks. Although the system will require significant learning and testing at the start of 2020, it comes with several advances, namely fluid integration capabilities.
“Our staff will appreciate having all their tools feed into one place and customers should benefit through quicker interactions. We’ll also focus on debit card controls through an app or internet banking, along with additional enhancements to online banking,” Perkins says.
While online banking is, of course, a priority, SBW continues to find strong value in pairing digital and in-person services.
“Our physical locations allow our customers to talk face-to-face with our staff, which often saves our customer time and energy,” Perkins says.
The need for this highly responsive structure has resulted in staff training and building renovations to align with a universal banker model. The approach allows for anyone in a branch to assist with services ranging from simple transactions to complex banking support.
“We also pride ourselves in knowing our community and customers and being able to make decisions quickly since all our decisions are made locally. It’s a difference you can feel,” Perkins says.
He says he is “incredibly grateful” for the community’s support and patience as SBW underwent renovations at its West Street location earlier this year. Though the busy branch ended up having to close for two weeks, many customers took advantage of the Court Street location that opened in 2017.
Perkins says, “Today, we see that many people appreciate the new open concept design of the West Street branch, and many more people now visit our Court Street location than ever before.”
Further renovations are planned for the Marlboro Street branch in 2021.
The Savings Bank of Walpole isn’t the only local bank focused on leveraging location. NBT Bank took a step in this direction in 2019, moving its operations to the newly-renovated Colony Mill complex on West Street.
“Our customers love the new, convenient location at Colony Mill Marketplace,” says Branch Manager Eliza Berry. “They have told us they are enjoying the easier access to our office, the ample parking and the new ATM technology.”
Berry says the bank recognized an excellent opportunity to provide more and better access to its physical location, in addition to mobile and online banking offerings.
“We continue to hear that our physical branches are still highly valued by our customers, though they are used in a different way,” she notes.
More digital, self-service technology available both inside and out of the branch allows customers to quickly and easily handle transactions while also creating opportunities for branch staff to focus on supporting more complex financial needs.
“We’re focused on relationships — so we’re always evaluating the needs of the customers and communities we serve,” Berry says.
In addition to the new branch, NBT Bank continues to commit further resources to the southwestern New Hampshire marketplace. In 2018 the bank hired two experienced commercial bankers — Senior Vice President of Commercial Banking Benjamin Wheeler and Commercial Banking Relationship Manager Brian Perkins — both well-connected in the Monadnock Region.
“This has been the driving force of our strong growth out of our Keene office,” Berry explains.
In Greater New Hampshire, NBT also brought on Connor Theroux as vice president and commercial banking relationship manager to focus on the Greater Concord market and hired Vice President and Senior Commercial Banking Relationship Manager Doug Place for the Manchester office. One of Place’s primary focuses is NBT’s recently introduced small aircraft financing, a valuable addition to the organization’s lineup of specialty lending products.
Brattleboro Savings & Loan
Also entering into a new arena of specialized banking, Brattleboro Savings & Loan (BS&L) has been cautiously exploring a new market: the marijuana business. Recreational marijuana use is now legal in Vermont, and the industry is expected to grow exponentially over the next several years.
Looking ahead, Dan Yates, president and CEO of BS&L, examined the bank’s ability to host business accounts and loans for the marijuana industry, calling on experts in other states where cannabis products are also legal.
“Someone has to be willing to take the first step here,” Yates said in an article published by VTDigger last April.
But the biggest hurdle to taking this step has been getting the “OK” at the federal level. BS&L is chartered by the state but insured by the federal government, so it wasn’t until the U.S. Department of Justice recently outlined guidelines for banks to move forward that BS&L could get serious about the undertaking.
With those guidelines in place, BS&L has now created a set of policies for this new territory. Having established itself as a leader in this type of banking for the state of Vermont, it will be interesting to see how BS&L’s approach unfolds in the coming year.
BS&L will soon be celebrating its first anniversary as a B-Corp, a small group of organizations around the world that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. At the time of certification, BS&L became the second bank in New England and the ninth in the nation to reach B-Corp status.
In a press release issued by BS&L, Yates said, “With this certification, Brattleboro Savings & Loan reaffirms one of our core values: that the choices we make as consumers have an impact on the world around us, and banking is no exception.”