Bank Profile | By Linda Goodspeed
Since 1852, the National Bank of Coxsackie (NBC) has been serving the banking needs of the small, tight-knit towns and hamlets of the Catskills. But that history is about to expand.
As part of a three-year strategic plan, NBC is expanding northward to bring the “hometown banking” it is known for to the greater Albany region. In July 2014, the bank opened its eighth branch office in Glenmont, one of the fastest-growing suburbs in the Capitol region.
“Out of all the areas surrounding Albany, Glenmont has had about a 9 percent population growth over the last 10years,” noted Nicole Nazi, NBC’s marketing communications officer.
The National Bank of Coxsackie is an independent, locally owned, commercial bank with total assets of about $245 million. Like many small community banks, NBC is challenged to find a balance between offering all the banking products and technological perks of a larger bank, keeping up with an ever increasing regulatory burden and maintaining that “hometown” feel.
“We’re a community bank,” said James W. Warren, president and CEO since 1996. “We know our customers.”
“Literally,” added longtime board member Donald Persico, owner of Persico Oil Co. in Ravena. “I don’t think we have a customer that someone in the bank does not know, either socially or business-wise.”
Looking for Growth
NBC offers a wide array of products, ranging from student banking options to IRAs, CDs and Christmas clubs. It handles all personal banking needs, business banking, mortgages, home equities and lines of credit, auto loans, land loans, commercial and other loans. It has online banking, mobile banking and has an app for smartphones and banking via text messages.
Warren said growing the bank’s loan portfolio was behind the Glenmont expansion.
“We have a loan-to-deposit ratio of about 50 percent,” Warren said. “We’re making every effort to increase our loan portfolio. It’s the central element of our strategic plan. Almost all of our peers have loan-to-deposit ratios up around 70 percent. That’s where we want to be.”
Hindering that strategy has been low loan demand and tighter underwriting guidelines.
“The ‘character loan’ is going away,” Warren said. “Lending today is driven by cash flow, collateral. It’s not wrong. But there’s always been an art to lending. The character element to lending has diminished the last five years. Some small businesses are not showing strong financial statements. Those folks are going to be left behind. Regulators are just not receptive to permitting those kinds of loans.”
He said press reports that banks are not lending are “baloney.”
“We’re more than happy to lend,” he said.
He said slow loan growth is more a combination of customers “not qualifying and not asking.”
To date, Persico said the Glenmont branch has exceeded expectations – “there’s a huge amount of building and construction activity in the Albany area. It’s the right location for us.”
Moving In and Moving Up
In November 2012, NBC opened a branch in Middleburgh, a small farming hamlet of about 2,000, after one of the town’s two banks closed and did not come back. NBC bought the shuttered Berkshire Bank branch and moved in.
“It’s a small community, similar to our other branches,” Persico said. “The growth there has been tremendous.”
Prior to Middleburgh, NBC’s last previous expansion was in 2006, when it moved its headquarters from Coxsackie to Cairo, a town of 6,000 about 40 minutes south of Albany. The bank also has branches in Greenville, Ravena and Athens.
“Our growth is coming from our new branches,” Warren said. “Mature branches are not growing. We believe we need to expand our physical footprint. We’re in no rush, but we’re looking around for the right opportunities.”
Beyond competition and regulation, Warren said another challenge facing all banks, particularly smaller ones, is staffing. The bank recently hired a new CFO, and “it took us quite a good time to find someone,” he said.
The bank has 70 employees, all of whom answer their own phones.
“We’ve made a quiet commitment to always answer the telephone,” Warren said. “I don’t like automated answering systems.”
The bank even ran a series of radio ads featuring employees answering the telephone in person. It’s all part of that “hometown” commitment. So is its involvement in its communities.
“NBC has been an incredible supporter of the community and local events over the last number of years,” said Sylvia Hasenkopf, a local historian and vice president of the Cairo Historical Society. She said the bank is even a member of the historical society.
Beyond financial support, NBC also encourages branch managers to join the local Rotary and other service organizations, and its employees to donate time to help out on fundraisers and volunteer activities.
“NBC’s approach to community giving is not based on a yearly cycle. It’s based on great ideas and their desire to support the community,” Hasenkopf said. “It’s neat when you see a large organization like that invested In the community and events and people.”■