A Conversation With Dennis T. Cardello
Dennis T. Cardello is president and CEO of Collinsville Savings Society headquartered in Canton. He has more than 30 years of banking/business experience. He joined Collinsville Savings Society in March 2002 with a vast and diversified banking background. He is active in the industry, currently serving on the Connecticut Bankers Association’s executive and legislative committees, and is a past president of the Connecticut Community Bankers Association. Cardello is very active in the community, currently president of the Canton Chamber of Commerce, a past board member and current corporator of the American School for the Deaf, on the board of directors at the Max Shepard Memorial Arts Foundation, treasurer of the Collinsville Arts Initiative and a eucharistic minister at St. Patrick Church, Collinsville.
Q: Please tell our readers about your banking career.
A: I began my banking career working summers at the old CBT while attending Central Connecticut State University. I spent time at CBT in the management training program, branch management and commercial lending, ending up in Fairfield County as the head of retail banking and corporate cash management.
From there I did a stint at ADP as the national sales manager for cash management services. Upon my return to banking, I eventually worked for Northeast Savings, Savings Bank of Rockville and Connecticut Bank of Commerce before becoming president and CEO of First Bank of West Hartford.
Q: You joined the bank in 2002. What has been your biggest challenge?
A: When I joined the bank four years ago, they were a very successful, old-line savings institution. I believed that, for us to survive the next decade of banking, we had to diversify and become more commercially oriented. In order to do that, we more than doubled our product offerings, added a true commercial lending area and a vigorous cross-selling program. These efforts have more than paid off for the bank, as we have almost doubled in size while maintaining our net interest margins and profitability.
Q: Collinsville Savings Society has served the town of Canton and the surrounding communities since 1853. Care to comment on the over 150 years of continuous community banking under the same name and with the same dedication to customer service?
A: Frankly, my biggest concern and challenge was to maintain all that was good about the bank and its past service to the community, while making it more competitive in an ever-changing financial services marketplace. I did not want to alter the character of the bank or lose sight of its strong community orientation. Nor did I want to scare away the many dedicated employees, some of whom have been here for more than 30 years, with the forthcoming changes. Overall, I believe we have been quite successful in making that adjustment while adopting a relational banking philosophy resulting in a greater commitment to our customers.
Q: You built a beautiful new main office in 2005. Is the facility working out as planned?
A: I am pleased to say that the move to our beautiful new headquarters/branch facility has been even more rewarding than anticipated. The new office was an indication of our long-term commitment to independence, the community and to mutuality. And the community has embraced the move, as demonstrated by our growth of more than 20 percent since moving into the new facility. The building certainly gives us a commanding presence on the Route 44 corridor.
Q: CSS fosters an attitude of strong community involvement amongst it employees. Care to comment?
A: This is something that I cannot take credit for, as it existed long before my arrival on the scene. Our board of directors, officers and employees all take great pride in community involvement and volunteerism. There is not a philanthropic organization or town event that does not have one or more of us involved in some way. The bank is also a generous contributor financially to virtually every nonprofit, school organization, or the like. We believe that our success comes from the community, and so we welcome every opportunity to give back to the community.
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 think that the Farmington Valley has become very pricey in some select areas; however, I don’t see much of a housing bubble developing. Unlike the ’70s and ’80s, there is very little speculative construction in either the residential or commercial arenas. Sales and rentals have slowed somewhat, but we think it is an indication of moderating prices and a more normal sales cycle.
Q: Internet banking has changed how banks deliver products and services to consumers. What is the bank’s Internet strategy?
A: Our philosophy is to give our customers the tools and services they need to manage their money and finance their purchases. The Internet is nothing more than another channel for them to do that. That said, our Internet product has been extremely successful, surpassing industry standards in every measure. Interestingly though, even with high Internet usage, our customer lobby traffic is not down perceptibly. Of course, that could be the free coffee and popcorn or our free coin-counting machine, which the kids especially enjoy.
Q: What will be the most pressing challenges for Collinsville Savings Society in the next three years?
A: Can you say “net interest margin” three times quickly? Seriously, the flat yield curve is a concern, along with the potential for even more regulation coming out of Washington. I think that the CBA, ACB and ABA are doing a good job so far stifling more of the “feel good” legislation, but I detected on our last D.C. visit a sense that we are viewed as fat-cat bankers who deserve what is happening to our industry. Don’t even get me started on the credit union issue and CURIA. Maybe that could be our next interview?
Questions posed by Lindsey R. Pinkham, senior vice president and secretary of the Connecticut Bankers Association.