Success Stories: Banking On It

 

The sub-prime-mortgage-fueled financial collapse of 2008 left many consumers understandably distrustful of the banking industry; recent developments such as Bank of America’s (failed) bid to charge a fee for debit-card use haven’t helped restore that trust. But some Connecticut banks have turned the adverse climate to their advantage, capitalizing on their reputations as customer-friendly community resources to build their business even as other state banks have failed.

Rockville Bank is among those that have managed to change the dynamic. With more than 21 branches in Tolland, Hartford and New London counties, the Vernon-based bank places customer service at the top of its mission statement, even promising, among other things, that phone calls will be answered by the third ring and that all calls will be returned the same business day.

But answering the phone isn’t enough to keep a bank in business. Founded in 1858, Rockville moved from being mutually held to partially public in 2005 and a year ago (February 2011) became part of the fully public Rockville Financial Inc. The company, which declined to take any of the TARP money banks were offered in 2008 as part of the federal government’s effort to rescue the economy, raised $171 million in capital through stock sales last spring. Its quarterly shareholder dividends have consistently grown, even as the bank has kept its focus on providing personal attention to each of its customers.

That insistence on individualized service is a longstanding Rockville tradition that flourished under the 31-year leadership of William “Bill” McGurk, says “the new Bill,”  William Crawford, who succeeded the well-regarded McGurk as Rockville’s president and  CEO after McGurk retired in April 2011.

“People and businesses want a relationship with a person who knows them, knows their business,” Crawford says. “They want to be treated well.”

Gerald Noonan, president of the Connecticut Banking Association, says Rockville is an excellent example of a community bank that’s made good in this troubled economy. But he says it’s too early to tell whether substantial numbers of customers have moved their business from big banks such as the Bank of America to smaller banks.

Noonan likes Rockville’s business model even if he’s not sure the public always distinguishes one kind of bank from another. “The word ‘bank’ got so abused in this last collapse on Wall Street,” he says. “But it wasn’t banks like Rockville” that caused that crisis, “it was Goldman Sachs. Traditional banks didn’t get involved in any of the mortgage-backed securities” that created the mess we’re in now, Noonan says, but “the public has a lot of confusion” over which kinds of banks are to blame.

Still, Rockville’s efforts to provide a full line of products and services with a personal touch apparently are paying off. “Our new-customer acquisition is very strong,” Crawford says. “It’s a regular occurrence for us to have people closing accounts at big banks and coming to Rockville.

“They eventually reach a frustration point dealing with big banks,” Crawford adds. “Changing your banking relationship isn’t something you want to do unless you have a good reason. Big banks are giving people plenty of reasons.”
 

Success Stories: Banking On It

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