A Conversation With Bob Messier
Robert L. Messier Jr. is president and CEO of Valley Bank, Bristol, a position he has held since May 1998. He has over 40 years of banking experience starting his career at United Bank and Trust Co. For the majority of his career, Bob has been a commercial lender. He is very active in community affairs. He is chairman and director of Greater Bristol Health Care Inc. (Bristol Hospital Inc.), a director of the Bristol Hospital Foundation, past president of the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce and past president of the United Way of Bristol.
Q: Tell us about your banking career?
A: In 1961, I started my banking career upon graduation from high school. I wanted an "easy" job so I could go to school nights. I was a teller for the Bristol Bank & Trust Co., which merged with Riverside Trust in 1965 and became United Bank. I worked in every department of the bank with the exception of the Trust Department and became a Branch Manager in 1966. United Bank, Simsbury Bank and New Britain National Bank formed First Connecticut Bancorp, a multi-bank holding company in 1969. In 1972, I went to work at the holding company in the marketing department. We did everything from advertising to sales training; cross selling was just coming into vogue.
In May 1981, I went back to the Bristol area as a Commercial Loan Officer. In May 1985, I went to work for Bristol Savings Bank as a Senior Commercial Lender. In August 1992, I went to work for BankBoston as a Commercial Lender and became the Waterbury Regional Manager for Small Business Lending. In May 1996, I went to work for Eagle Bank as a Regional Commercial Lender and thought that I would be able to end my career there. However, in October 1997 Webster Bank announced its plans to purchase Eagle Bank. At that time, it appeared that a start-up bank could make sense for Bristol as three hometown banks had disappeared over a five year period. I actually worked 30 days for Webster Bank from approximately March 15 to April 15 of 1998. During that period, eight organizers of Valley Bank including myself put up "seed money," which allowed me to leave Webster Bank and begin raising capital to start Valley Bank. One year after applying for a temporary charter, Valley Bank opened for business in a commercial building on the second floor and used an old-fashioned floor safe as a vault. The safe is now on display in our lobby.
Q: You opened the doors to Valley Bank in November 1999. How is it going?
A: We are very pleased with the bank’s results to date. Valley Bank is now a $103 million bank and we have been profitable since November 2001. We actually turned a profit in the bank’s 20th month of operation.
Q: Valley Bank became Bristol’s hometown bank when it opened. What has been the community’s response?
A: The community’s response has been terrific! Valley Bank replaced three hometown banks and we provide consumers and businesses with local decisions, user-friendly products and most importantly, personal service.
Our motto is "Our Customers are People, Not Just Numbers." Apparently, Valley Bank is giving area consumers the kind of banking they expect.
Q: Does the Bank have additional branching in its growth plan?
A: Yes, we opened a branch in Terryville, Conn., in 2002 and had plans to purchase a local branch from another bank this year. However, Webster Bank purchased the entire bank including the local branch. We are now researching locations in Bristol, Southington and surrounding towns. Our objective is to be profitable every year, ideally every quarter, therefore, for a bank our size, branching must be carefully planned so we can meet our profit targets.
Q: Technology is said to be one of the reasons why it is "easier" to open a new bank today versus doing so ten years ago. Where has Valley Bank spent its IT dollars?
A: If IT is making it easier to open a bank, that’s news to me! IT is a necessary evil in our business and very expensive. The rising cost of IT is a burden for all small banks. Valley Bank’s IT dollars are spent on our internal Open Solutions Inc. (OSI) system. If I were to do it again, outsourcing is the way to go. The OSI system is state of the art, but to handle it internally is much more demanding than anyone in our bank ever expected and frankly, more than OSI ever anticipated.
Q: How has the Sarbanes-Oxley Act impacted the bank to date?
A: The Sarbanes-Oxley Act has all banks spending money and energy to meet the standards of the act. We believe that Valley Bank is properly addressing all facets of the act. New regulations most often create additional expenses for banks. Small banks have to find ways to deal with the added burden of new regulations. The act will hopefully meet regulator expectations with respect to intended outcomes.
Q: Consolidation within the financial services industry is said to be the community banks best friend, do you agree?
A: Consolidation of banks can be a very positive force for community banks, provided of course, that they can fill a void for consumers and businesses. Small and medium sized business owners like to meet their loan decision maker on a personal basis and not have decisions made outside the area. Consumers also want decisions made locally and not be controlled from some place beyond their town or city. Community banks have an advantage here.
In addition, because more small banks are able to handle larger loan transactions through participations; we can act like a "big bank" to our customers. Valley Bank fills a niche; we can do it efficiently and offer a full range of services through partnerships, which are transparent to our customers. Customers want local decision-making and a full range of financial products at a fair price. Working together, community banks should be able to deliver. I believe we will see more opportunities for "sharing" among community banks in the future. Information technology, compliance, auditing, marketing and human resources are areas that can be explored in a "sharing of expense" amongst community banks that do not overlap geographically. This should allow us to be competitive in other service areas with our big bank brethren.
Q: What will be the most pressing issues facing Valley Bank over the next three years?
A: For Valley Bank, the most pressing issues likely will be growth, maximizing profits and capital. Valley Bank has had four years of tremendous growth. However, we will need to branch if growth is to continue. We are a very good commercial lender so this is the area we must focus on to build our business and profits.
Like most small banks, other sources of fee income must be explored. In fact, this year, Valley Bank will be introducing brokerage services. Our shareholders also want a return on their investment. Last year, Valley Bank issued a one for 10 stock split. We want to have adequate profits so that we can begin paying a dividend to our shareholders.
Capital is going to be an issue within two or three years if Valley Bank’s growth continues. This past year, Valley Bank completed a secondary offering, which raised nearly $2 million in new capital. We will likely have to raise capital again, possibly within the next 18 months.
Valley Bank has many challenges for the future. Our Valley Bank team has been equal to the task to date and I expect we will continue to meet the future with the same degree of success. We are having fun!
Questions posed by Lindsey R. Pinkham, senior vice president and secretary of the Connecticut Bankers Association.