Financial services companies are constantly evolving, right along with our customers’ personal and business banking needs. Yet, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed. As our team at Union Savings Bank celebrates 150 years of mutuality in 2016, I’m most proud of the fact that our customer, community and employee philosophy has remained the same through a century and half of drastic transformation.
Since 1866, our answer to “What shall we become?” has always been grounded in the belief established by our founders – it’s our community and neighbors that matters most, regardless of outside influences such as politics, state economics or today’s mountain of regulations. Our community is both internal and external. It starts with our dedicated employees and extends outward to include our individual and business small business banking customer family. That’s an approach that continues to serve us very well, whether it’s lending a hand to support our communities or lending capital to grow local businesses.
Over the course of my 26-year career in the public and mutual banking sectors, I’ve seen some putting customer service on cruise control. While every financial services company in the nation now allocates an incredible amount of human and capital resources to regulatory issues, and while mobile and online banking continues to redefine how we deliver products and services, I don’t believe that’s a good reason to reduce our focus on people and the communities they live and work in. These realities simply mean it’s more important than ever to stand firm and remember your roots.
Obviously much has changed in Connecticut over 150 years. Industries that once were the backbone of our state are long gone and entirely new types of service and product businesses have been created. Back when we were founded, Danbury was the Hat City – a wonderful period of time that we recently celebrated with the creation of an original sculpture, dedicated on our June 20th anniversary date. While hat manufacturing is now just a chapter in Connecticut’s rich history, we continue to reach deep into our communities to help individuals with a vision to succeed, both in business and with personal financial needs. We see our bank’s role not just as a business capital provider, but as the best bank to bank with: a community resource that helps business owners and neighbors grow their vision and, when necessary, transform. It’s a philosophy that has yielded numerous success stories – several of which we’re continuing to feature on our website.
To continuously drive innovation and transformation, we’ve taken numerous steps – always with a people-first mindset and with both eyes towards customer’s future needs. Like many of our business customers, we’re investing in training. Bringing more young talent into our industry is essential, and retaining that talent within our state is equally critical. Some of our steps include the development of a strong management training program that we will implement next year as well as sending employees to top graduate banking programs to establish stronger career paths. This is an especially important investment as Millennials perceive our profession as a proverbial road to nowhere – and it’s certainly a must-do in a state that’s experiencing significant “talent drain” as a result of economic challenges. Having an experienced, engaged and caring financial services professional to support you will never go out of fashion. We’re actively working to make sure we continue to build that expertise for our customers’ benefit.
Another step has been to recognize that today’s business owners simply don’t have time to work their way through traditional bank silos. We’ve made a big commitment to breaking down those walls with small business banking initiatives such as our new Solutions Teams. The concept is simple: give business customers a team of professionals that can assist with any need, from lending to personal services. It’s all about saving them time by helping them navigate seamlessly through today’s financial offerings.
One of the key differentiators of mutual banks is of course the very structure. Our customers and employees, along with the communities that they live and work in, are in effect our shareholders. Profitability for us means more funds to deploy within our communities. I believe it’s one of the most important small business banking services we provide.
This year will be the first full fiscal year for our new community relations group, a full-time team exclusively dedicated to ensuring that Union Savings Bank delivers each and every day on our community service commitment. Walking the talk starts at the top, so our executive team devotes many hours to non-profit boards and volunteer opportunities. I bet you know USB employees in your neighborhood. They are truly the backbone of our business as well as their communities. Last year alone, our team gave over 20,000 hours of time to local nonprofit organizations. We also donated hyperlocal funds through our Community Share program that lets every branch decide where best to deploy their giving budget.
Our annual grants program, administered through our own USB Foundation, gives everyone in our home state the opportunity to apply for funding that supports initiatives within their communities. This year we worked to create a stronger link between our various community programs by focusing on one primary category for giving: education. Not only will we be awarding over $500,000 in grants and donations to organizations that improve learning opportunities for all, but our entire team is supporting this goal. For example, bank officers recently donated school office supplies at one of our regular meetings and currently our branches are collecting new books for elementary school-aged children.
What role will banks play tomorrow? While I can’t predict how technology will continue to revolutionize how everyone conducts business, one thing I do know for sure: at Union Savings Bank we’ll continue to put customers, community and employees first.
Written by Cindy Merkle
President & CEO, Union Savings Bank