Teams to the Rescue
Connecticut bank mobilizes hands-on teams to boost branches
By Ed Avis, Independent Banker
Sometimes face-to-face interaction is simply the best way for employees, work teams and business units to get things done. Union Savings Bank, a $2.3 billion-asset Connecticut community bank in Danbury, has demonstrated the power of regular personal contact through its Solutions Team management concept, which has increased the profitability of three of the wealth management bank’s 26 branches since 2014.
The teams are multidisciplinary groups—each includes a commercial lender, a cash management specialist, a wealth management specialist and a mortgage originator—that work directly inside underperforming branches. The frontline, hands-on teams bring local autonomy to performance and profitability efforts, purposely designed to avoid management from a distant or disconnected central office, says Cynthia Merkle, president and CEO of Union Savings Bank.
“The first team was in our Monroe branch, which had only been around for a couple of years and was having difficulty growing deposit and transaction volume,” Cynthia Merkle explains. “We had built that branch with the idea, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ but it didn’t happen.”
The Monroe branch was located on the outskirts of Union Savings’ market area, and potential customers were unfamiliar with the bank, Merkle says. Normally the bank’s branches do not have lenders or cash and wealth management specialists working within them, but Union Savings’ leadership decided that having those people work in the branch itself might help stimulate business.
The bank recruited experienced employees in each of those areas and assigned them to work permanently in the Monroe branch.
“We felt they could penetrate the market as a team,” Merkle says, adding that having the experienced bankers in the branch also fostered camaraderie. “It really became like a family.”
To back up the new team, Union Savings put up a billboard with the members’ photos on nearby Interstate 95 and advertised on the local cable TV station. The team members attended local events to meet prospects face-to-face. Merkle herself threw out the first pitch at a game of the local minor league baseball team.
The results of the on-site intervention were impressive. The Union wealth management team at the bank in Fairfield County brought a remarkable rise in Union bank loans. In the first year, the branch booked six new cash management clients, $12 million in commercial loans and $2.4 million in mortgages, all substantial increases over the previous year.
“We’ve seen the results turn around dramatically, and we feel it is because they are working like a team.”
Union Savings Bank
The Solutions Team concept worked so well that Union Savings adopted the same model for its Southbury branch, which also is on the fringe of its retail branch footprint. At first, because of a tight office space, two of the team members did not physically relocate to the branch of the Connecticut community bank.
“We found that their initial success was not what Monroe’s was, so we reconfigured some of the offices in Southbury so that the business banker is now there permanently,” Merkle says. “We’ve seen the results turn around dramatically, and we feel it is because they are working like a team.”
The Southbury branch saw an 80 percent increase in mortgages, commercial loans and small business loans in that first year, Merkle says. A third Solutions Team, in the bank’s Ridgefield branch, which is also on the edge of the bank’s market, was formed at the beginning of 2016. Merkle anticipates establishing teams in two or three more outlying branches in the coming years.
There is a lot of competition in our markets from other Connecticut community banks and large competitors. Cynthia Merkle said that means USB’s teams “have their work cut out for them, but I think it really comes down to being visible and working as a team.”
Courtesy of Independent Banker