Finding the Perfect Niche

By Evan Sparks

George Hermann is an optimist. In a time of industry consolidation, he sees a chance to work with talented bankers. In a state that faces some economic headwinds, he continues to find business opportunities. And in a time of technological transformation, he sees the benefits to his bank and his customers of adopting new technology.

“This is a great life—being able to go to work, help people every single day and know that the organization you work for makes a difference,” he says.

Hermann is president and CEO of Windsor Federal Savings, a $455 million mutual thrift in Windsor, Conn. A native of the Nutmeg State, Hermann began his career with GE’s credit corporation before moving to a bank service company, and then entered community banking in 1986. Before joining Windsor Federal in 2012, he was president and CEO of the First National Bank of Suffield, also in northern Connecticut.

Not many bankers are as well-qualified as Hermann to understand his local market. Sandwiched between Hartford, Conn., and Springfield, Mass., Windsor Federal has a diverse market area that includes the defense industry, insurance and farming. The bank was founded in 1936 as a community mortgage lender, but the company today has a more diverse portfolio, including serving several small fabricators and machine shops serving Connecticut’s defense aerospace sector, as well as local tobacco growers.

Young and old

George Hermann with his wife, Janine.

Windsor Federal has two branches located in minority-majority high schools that are staffed by students. “We established them initially with the hope that we could increase financial literacy in the schools,” Hermann says. “What has come out of it is that it has become a training ground for potential employees for us and to prepare these young people to go on to good jobs.”

“For a number of students who have come through this program, this is the first time anyone in their family has ever had an opportunity to have a white-collar job,” he adds with pride. “It’s a thing a lot of folks take for granted.”

He recounts the story of one former student teller who now works full-time with Windsor Federal in the credit and accounting departments and who is currently finishing an accounting degree on the dean’s list. Hermann has a strong commitment to his employees’ educational success; Windsor Federal offers a tuition reimbursement program and recently launched a student debt repayment benefit through ABA’s endorsed provider, Gradifi.

While it serves the youth of northern Connecticut, Windsor Federal also serves aging seniors through its offices in two retirement communities. With one-third of Connecticut residents over age 50 and the population declining, focused services for the elderly will become an even more essential role for community banks. Technology helps make these special community-serving branches more cost-effective, Hermann notes. “Any proven tech, we’ve adapted it.”

Silver linings

Consolidation has taken a toll on Connecticut’s bank charter totals, which Hermann has seen in depth as president of the Connecticut Community Bankers Association. The state currently has 42 in-state-based institutions. But he sees the positive of consolidation for Windsor Federal. On the business side, “we fill a niche,” he says. “The size of commercial customer we have is not being reached by larger banks.”

Hermann likes Windsor Federal to remain nimble in this changing environment. “If there’s any type of consolidation in our market, we’re prepared to go in an open up an office really quickly in a community that may suddenly not be properly served,” he says, adding that the bank also looks to hire experienced lenders to help fill needs in the communities it serves.

Windsor Federal employees with Hermann during their annual “Shred Day” event.

Another silver lining to consolidation has been the availability of community banking talent. “From one perspective, it’s a fun time to be in it,” says Hermann. “It’s a good time to attract some quality, experienced people to work for us. We provide a work environment where you can be involved and engaged with the community.”

Hermann says service is a powerful attractor for young and seasoned new hires alike. Hermann leads his employees in giving 4,000 hours of volunteer service to the community each year in keeping with the bank’s motto, “neighbors helping neighbors.” One of his favorite events is an annual shredding event, staffed entirely by Windsor Federal employees, that raises support for the local food bank. Neighbors bring their piles of paper for shredding—plus a canned good donation. This year, Windsor Federal filled four large trucks with 36,000 pounds of shredded material and sent a panel truck full of canned goods to the local food bank.

A triple benefit to customers, neighbors and those in need—“that’s what it’s all about,” Hermann says.

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About Evan Sparks

Evan Sparks
Evan Sparks is editor-in-chief of the ABA Banking Journal and vice president for editorial services at the American Bankers Association.