CEO Values Marketing and Culture

By Walt Albro

In less than a year, business at Bangor Savings Bank, Maine, increased by nearly 6 percent.

What is remarkable about this statistic is that this growth was organic at the same time that the state’s economy was advancing at a much lower rate.

How has Bangor Savings (assets: $3.1 billion) managed to perform so well? President and CEO Bob Montgomery-Rice attributes it to a number of factors, including innovative marketing and branding.

Senior executives need to be deeply involved in marketing and branding, Montgomery-Rice said at a recent forum at Husson University’s College of Business in Bangor. “One of the biggest parts of a CEO’s job is to promote the business,” he observed. Montgomery-Rice estimated that he meets at least weekly—and sometimes twice weekly—with his marketing team. It would be a mistake for a CEO not to spend at least that much time in connection with these two issues. “It is very, very important,” he said. “If you are not talking constantly about marketing and branding, then you are going to end up hurting the business.”

Customer focused

Bangor Savings’ brand is expressed in the tag line: “You Matter More.” The phrase conveys the idea that the bank is highly customer-focused. The tag line is also about the bank’s strong internal culture, in which each of the bank’s more than 700 employees are encouraged to develop trusted relationships both with customers and the community.

“We believe that it’s about commitment. It’s about how we treat our employees, our dedication to our customers and our investment in the communities we serve,” he said.

A typical example of how this works is the small-business owner who enquires about a loan. At most banks, the banker is going to quickly launch into a sales pitch, extolling the bank’s services. But, at Bangor Savings, the bankers are trained to actually listen to what the small-business owner is saying about what is needed to grow, expand or solve a problem. In this way, the banker can provide trusted advice, even if it doesn’t necessarily generate all the business that the small-business owner expected.

By acting as an adviser, the banker has a better opportunity of creating long-term business, which is Bangor Savings’ ultimate goal. “If the small-business owners feel that you are an adviser, someone whom they can trust, they are going to come back to you over and over again,” Montgomery-Rice said. “And, in the end, the bank is going to be profitable.”

Montgomery-Rice went on to explain that the bank doesn’t strictly approach and measure success based on profitability—even though the institution has posted positive earnings for the last 15 fiscal years, including during the economic downturn. “Our philosophy is that employees who are valued and engaged will provide exceptional service to our customers.  They will become personally invested in the bank, as an organization, and in the communities where they live and work. Their positive engagement will, in turn, create advocates within the community—in the form of our employees, our customers and the organizations we support.  Happy employees lead to happy customers and strong community advocates. That is what drives success.”

Career development program

Montgomery-Rice discussed the bank’s newly initiated Commercial Credit Development Program, a leadership training and career development program that will put participants through a rigorous two-year hands-on banking education. With a curriculum that touches on all aspects of banking—from a rotation on the teller line to active engagement with executive leadership mentors—the expectation is that participants will leave the program with an in-depth knowledge of banking and will be ready to fill the much needed role of commercial banker. (The industry is currently suffering from a shortage of qualified candidates for the role of commercial banker.)

Bangor Savings is one of the first banks in New England to create such a career development program. “We expect the program will accelerate professional development by roughly three to five years,” he explained.

The bank’s culture spills over into its consistent support of the communities it serves. Through its Bangor Savings Bank Foundation, the bank donates more than $1 million annually to nonprofits across Maine. Additionally, employees are encouraged to become active community participants and the bank regularly supports causes chosen by those who work there.

Living wage initiative

Another way that the bank supports its employees is through its Living Wage Initiative. All employees, whether they are interns or part-time workers, are paid a minimum of $12 an hour—with a target of $14 an hour by 2018. “We believe our employees are more productive and provide better customer service when they aren’t worried about how they’re going to pay their bills,” Montgomery-Rice stated. With the topic central to discussions around the country and throughout Maine’s largely rural communities, Bangor Savings Bank is the only Maine-based bank to adopt such an initiative.

Bangor Savings is attempting to position itself for the future—a future in which the banking industry is facing major changes. Montgomery-Rice said that the industry will be dealing with more challenges in the next five to 10 years than it has since the implementation of the interstate commerce rule on banking back in the 1980s.

One development is that customers are no longer visiting the branch as often as they did in the past. Almost every transition that formerly required a teller line can now be done online or over the telephone, Montgomery-Rice observed.

He believes that Bangor Savings has developed the right formula to adjust to this transition. He said: “If the customers want trusted advice, they are to come in and talk with someone. The staff needs to be there to have a robust dialog with the customer and to figure out their needs. In other words, the staff will serve as trusted advisers.”

View a 48-minute video of Bob Montgomery-Rice’s comments at the forum.

Walt Albro is the content editor for ABA Bank Marketing. Email: Walbro@aba.com.

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