Barry R. Loucks was the president and chief executive officer of The Simsbury Bank & Trust Co. until his retirement Oct. 4. He had served in that capacity since 1994. The Simsbury Bank is a community-oriented commercial bank with $195 million in assets.
Mr. Loucks has spent more than 37 years in the banking industry, 26 of those years as CEO of community banks in Hartford County. He spent 11 years, starting in 1965, with the Connecticut Bank & Trust Co. in various staff and line positions in the Operation Division and two years in the Branch Administration Division. He joined Windsor Bank & Trust Co. in 1977, a community bank with assets of $14 million; as its CEO he managed its growth to $220 million in assets with eight branch locations. He also negotiated the merger of the New England Bank & Trust Co., a community bank in Enfield, taking their name for the combined entity, serving as its chairman, president and CEO. He joined The Simsbury Bank & Trust Co. in 1994, completed the required capital-raising effort and received regulatory approval to open the bank, and opened its doors to the public on April 17, 1995. He has since increased assets to $195 million in three branch locations.
Q: Tell us about your banking career.
A: I started in banking in 1965 with The Connecticut Bank & Trust in their management training program. During and after that program I worked in various operations departments for eight years in both line and staff positions as well as three years in branch/lending positions. I joined Windsor Bank & Trust Co. in 1977, a three-year-old community bank with assets of $14 million. As its CEO I managed its growth from $14 million to $220 million in assets with eight branch locations in north central Connecticut. During this time, I negotiated the merger with the New England Bank & Trust Co., a community bank in Enfield. The combined institution took the NEB name and I served as its chairman, president and CEO. In 1994, I joined The Simsbury Bank & Trust Co., a de novo institution, as president and CEO and completed the required capital-raising effort, hired the initial team of officers and employees and created the policies and procedures. The Simsbury Bank obtained approval to open for business in March of 1995. Since then, we have increased assets to nearly $200 million, added many technologies including Internet banking and check imaging and have three branch locations serving the Farmington Valley.
Q: Every banker knows that there are numerous challenges in starting a de novo bank. What were the top three challenges starting up Simsbury Bank & Trust 11 years ago?
A: The three main challenges in starting up The Simsbury Bank were to raise capital, raise capital and raise capital! Seriously, the economy was just coming out of its recession as we finished the capital-raising process so it happened to be especially difficult timing. The other two main challenges were to hire the right management and staff and to create the appropriate policies and procedures from scratch. The senior management team and I hired staff that we had worked with in our previous banks, people who were comfortable in taking on new and, because of our extremely limited size, expanded roles from what they were used to. We also put a premium on only choosing people who had a strong customer focus – one of the main aims in creating the bank was to fill the perceived need in the area for a highly personalized banking service structure and we feel we did that with the right team of people from the beginning.
Q: The Farmington River valley real estate marketplace has been extremely strong as of late. Is there a housing bubble on the horizon?
A: I don’t see that the housing market in the Farmington Valley is in a bubble state. Other markets, such as those around Boston and Los Angeles, probably are in a bubble state. But, I believe that the Farmington Valley consistently remains a highly desirable area due to its many solid attributes such as excellent schools and other steady attractions. The historically low mortgage rates and the possibility of higher inflation will continue to make the housing market in the Farmington Valley a good investment.
Q: You have a reputation for being an excellent manager of people. Care to comment?
A: I always try to put myself in other people’s shoes and ask myself what I would want my manager to say or do. I also try to stay calm during a storm – I think it’s imperative to maintain a steady hand at the helm so that employees remain feeling confident about management. Also, when I envision the organizational chart, instead of the traditional pyramid, I see it more as an upside-down triangle where the CEO supports, with the right strategies and policies, the employees who have direct operational and customer duties. And, I have found that “management by walking around” is a very good way to stay on top of things and talk with employees in an informal way. I enjoy, and I think employees enjoy, the rapport that develops this way – they feel comfortable with the informality and they open up to me about their problems, concerns and suggested solutions as we seek to serve the customer better.
Q: How has the Sarbanes-Oxley Act impacted the bank to date?
A: Because we are a public company with over 1,000 shareholders we must comply with all of the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. This has required that we write more complete control policies and procedures as well as our testing and auditing procedures – things we were doing anyway, but that are now more formalized. To that end, we have hired a compliance officer who also directs our training program. Further, we created a new Corporate Governance Board committee and have appointed a financial expert on our Audit Committee. The CBA has been very helpful in providing the director training that the regulators look for on key topics. The full impact on a community bank is significant given the cost and time required to comply with the act’s many facets.
Q: As chairman of the CBA in the 1992-1993 time-frame, you were instrumental in structuring the merger of the CBA and BAC (Banks Association of Connecticut). Twelve years later, what do you think?
A: The merger of the two organizations was necessary and the timing was good. The result is a very strong, well-run, effective organization that is supportive to banks. Prior to the merger of the two groups, the industry had experienced consolidation due to failures and mergers and, with de-regulation, the various types of banking institutions were becoming more similar in their powers and it made sense for the trade associations to consolidate resources in a strategically appropriate move. Down the road, I envision a regional trade association as banks continue to increase business across state lines and further the consolidation. Banks that are serving customers in Connecticut also have customers and obligations in several other states and in the future it probably will be necessary for the CBA to address those realities with a more regional trade organization.
Q: One more reflective question if I may. With your successor now in place, care to share your plans regarding a well-deserved retirement?
A: I plan to stay on to effect a smooth transition and will remain on The Simsbury Bank’s Board of Directors. During the first two or three months of retirement I will try to make a dent in the extensive “Honey-Do List” that my wife has been compiling over the years. I hope to improve my golf game, travel and spend more time with my family, especially my five grandchildren. I will continue to be involved with community organizations as I have tried to be my entire life – I feel it is important to give back to the community through groups whose missions reflect my values. And, at some point, I might seek a new adventure.
Questions posed by Lindsey R. Pinkham, senior vice president and secretary of the Connecticut Bankers Association.