Strata Bank Hits Its Stride
By Larry Collins
In 1999, after 128 years as Medway Savings Bank, bank management decided that expansion goals would best be served if the venerable institution adopted a name change. So what etymological pathways led to the name Strata? What symbolism and linguistic roots were tapped? Strategy? Stratosphere? Stradivarius?
“Actually, there’s no real story behind the name,” laughs Pamela J. Montpelier, Strata’s president and CEO. “We hired a consultant and we probably had a hundred names to choose from. We wanted something very simple, a name that no other bank had.”
Still, say the word “Strata” and the word “strategy” seems to hang in the air, which is fitting when one surveys the results of the bank’s four-pronged strategy, a marketing blueprint that targets the region’s demographics from school kids to retirees, and small businesses as well.
During Montpelier’s four-year tenure as Strata Bank’s president and CEO, assets have increased more than 40 percent, total loans 105 percent, deposits 30 percent, capital 85 percent, and annual net income nearly 100 percent. Meanwhile, the OTC stock price of the bank’s holding company, Service Bancorp Inc., has steadily climbed from around $6 in 2000 to its current level of just over $26 per share.
Strata now has eight full-service offices in Bellingham, Franklin (two), Hopkinton, Medfield, Medway, Milford, and Millis, and a specialized branch serving the Forge Hill Senior Living Community in Franklin. The Bellingham branch, incidentally, is even open on Sundays.
The strategy that generated the bank’s impressive gains is rooted in Montpelier’s dedication to a concept that while not unique in the financial services industry is shaped by her absolute belief in its validity.
“It’s all about community, as hokey as it sounds,” she says flatly. “We really want to be part of the community. The way we do business is by establishing strong relationships with our customers.”
Strata Bank has adopted some downright neighborly approaches that take it well beyond the lip service mode.
Try this on for size: The bank’s Strata Club, which provides senior customers a monthly menu of activities ranging from free financial seminars, to Neil Simon plays, visits to the Boston Pops, tours of Cape Ann, a three-day excursion to Cape May, and coming this August – get this – a week-long Alaska cruise to mark the 10th anniversary of the Strata Club.
“How many times do you get to thank your customers personally? We do it every month with these activities. And through these events we can look at our customers and know who they are,” says Montpelier.
Strata Club isn’t just an outlet for entertainment and travel, although it does come with its own brand of passport. Strata Club membership (free with a $25,000 savings account balance or with a $20 monthly membership fee) also provides a string of banking benefits as well, including no-fee, interest-bearing checking accounts, special rates on Certificates of Deposit, free AARP membership, and no annual fees for retirement plans. And the Strata Club passport? It gets stamped each time a Strata Club member attends an event, and with 10 stamps, the next event is free.
Sounds like fun, but what’s it do for the bank’s numbers? Plenty, as it turns out.
“We have 1,000 members in the senior Strata Club,” says Montpelier. “They represent 30 percent of our deposit base.”
Currently, Strata Bank has deposits of $230.5 million. Do the math.
At Strata, kids count, too.
In fact, Kids Count is the name of a new Strata club designed to promote savings among youngsters. Members of the Kids Count Savings Club receive a membership prize stamp card along with their very own savings account passbook. With every $10 deposit the prize card gets a stamp. With every 10 stamps comes the opportunity to spin a Kids Count Prize Wheel stationed at each branch office. At selected branches, Strata also provides change converters where the contents of piggy banks can be transformed into currency.
The Kids Count Savings Club is part of a broader financial literacy campaign for youngsters carried out in conjunction with the Hockomock–area YMCA in Franklin.
The mother of two children herself, Montpelier says that banks have a responsibility to see that youngsters have an understanding of financial basics, particularly the importance of developing a habit of steady saving.
“Here their mother is a president of a bank and my own children sometimes aren’t as focused on savings as they should be,” she says. “And, remember, kids are the customers of the future.”
Recently, Strata Bank hosted a family night that attracted 600 people, still another means of covering the full demographic spectrum – the seniors, the kids, and, in between, their parents.
And what about businesses?
“We’ve got them covered, too,” says Montpelier, noting that out of a total loan portfolio of $225 million, more than $84 million of that is in commercial real estate lending and construction and commercial loans.
There’s no club for the business borrowers, but Montpelier’s personal touch is still very much in evidence. Hired in 1992 by the then Medway Savings Bank, she says, “I still deal with people who opened business accounts that long ago. Establishing long-term relationships, that’s the way we do business.”