Interviews with Harry Comm, President & CEO and Catherine Ferrari, Executive VP & COO, Hancock County Savings Bank
April 05, 2011
Q: What is the importance of community service to Hancock County Savings Bank?
Comm: The community is our customers and our employees. We are here to serve them. We gather up their local deposits, and then we lend these dollars to local persons who need it. That is how we serve our community. It is more than just benefiting the bottom line; it is a way of marketing to our potential customers. The people get to know our employees, our board members and our management. They get to know the type of people we are and that we are here to help.
Ferrari: Community involvement and volunteerism are a way of life for our employees. The bank encourages these activities at the highest level, from the Board of Directors down through management. It is our civic obligation.
Q: What should be the focus of community banks?
Comm: The purpose should be to present a fair loan product with good deposit offerings. We have certain delineated lending areas, and we lend only to these areas and take deposits only from these areas.
Ferrari: Homeownership. Our goal should be to help people purchase their family home. We need to ensure that our customers are given every opportunity to choose the mortgage lending product that best meets their needs.
Q: Your bank has a community foundation. Could you tell me a little bit about what it does and its history?
Comm: Several years ago the bank realized a sizable return on an investment, and we converted a million dollars of that to a foundation. Since then the foundation has donated $400,000.00 to our local area organizations, which have been experiencing difficult times recently because of the depressed economy. The yearly total of the grants that we give to these organizations within our service area is usually between $28,000 to $60,000.
Ferrari: Yes, we give to non-profits and schools, but not just through our community foundation. The bank has a yearly line item in our budget for our donations to the community, which are made throughout the year.
Q: What are the best opportunities for growth of community banks?
Comm: Stay focused on the community, your products, and what you know. I like to tell people that it is about adapting to change. "You have to stay on the balls of your feet at all times." One such change that we see coming is in technology. Technology is generally very expensive, and our bank has traditionally been very conservative in nature, fiscally and otherwise. We want to ensure that the technology we provide to our customers is safe and does not jeopardize any of their personal information. We see that the cost of some technology is going down; but as I said, we will stay on the balls of our feet and be there to answer the needs of our customers.
Ferrari: A community bank should be focused on the community and remain a "people's" bank. Your tellers should listen to the needs of the customers and that communication moves on up to management and the Board of Directors. Listen to what the community is saying and adapt for that. Our bank just established a new technology department because we do see that as a growing need for our customers. Our board is cautious and uses good judgment, and we will find the best way to serve our customers. The next logical step is in mobile banking, and that is where I expect our bank to go. There remain some security issues, but those are being addressed.
Q: What do you believe the community banking industry will be like in 10 years?
Comm: They will remain community focused. There may be some differences in the means of providing services to our customers, like the interaction one has with tellers; but one thing is clear, Hancock County Savings Bank will be there to serve our customers.
Q: As a whole, what do you think community banks are doing right? Where are they falling short?
Comm: Years ago when I got the job as president, a friend of mine that was a Wall Street banker, asked me when was I going to get the black heart to go with the job. It struck me that this is not Hancock County Savings Bank. We are a community bank, and we don't have black hearts here. We take deposits from members of our community and loan money back out to the people; no black hearts needed.
Ferrari: The banks are falling short by failing to differentiate themselves from the failed banks. Hancock County Savings Bank is strong, as are many community banks. We are not offering these flashy products. We don't sell our loans. All community banks need to do a better job of stating how we are different and that we love and are invested in our communities.
Q: How has the recession affected your lending?
Comm: There has been no effect. We are stable, and we are lending money. As a matter of fact, West Virginia banks have been lauded for being so safe and secure in this downturn.
About Hancock County Savings Bank
Hancock County Savings Bank consists of four branches in and around Chester and Weirton, West Virginia. The Bank was formed in 1899 and granted its first mortgage in 1900. The Bank had deposits at the end of 2010 in the amount of $247,118,728.08.