A Conversation With Robert V. Macklin
Robert V. Macklin is president and CEO (since 1999) of The Milford Bank. His banking career currently spans 36 years. He first joined National Bank of Westchester (now Chase Manhattan Bank) in 1969 as a management trainee, rising through the ranks until he joined Village Bank & Trust Co., located in Ridgefield, in 1974. He was president and CEO of Village Bank from 1990-1999, when the bank was then sold to Webster Bank. He is active in the industry, currently serving as first vice chairman of the CBA and, as such, is on the association’s Executive Committee. He is also affiliated with the American Bankers Association, serving as chairman of the Mutual Institutions Council and is a member of their Membership Council. Macklin is also very involved in the community – he is currently president elect of the Milford Rotary Club and is a corporator of Milford Hospital.
Q: Please tell our readers about your banking career.
A: While I was in college, I worked summers as a teller for the National Bank of Westchester in White Plains, N.Y. After graduation, I went to work for that bank on a full-time basis. For the first 14 months there, I was in the management training program. After that, I joined the commercial loan area as a credit analyst. Over the next four years I worked my way up to the job of regional loan officer.
A friend told me about a de novo bank being formed in Ridgefield. I thought joining a start- up bank would be a great way to really learn the business. I was with The Village Bank & Trust Co. for the next 25 years. The last nine of those years I was president and CEO. In 1999, Village Bank was acquired by Webster Financial. I was extremely lucky to immediately move to The Milford Bank as its president and CEO.
Q: You joined The Milford Bank in the summer of 1999 – what has been your biggest challenge?
A: Milford Bank was a typical mutual savings bank with a long history dating from 1872. As such, its primary business was making residential first mortgages. It was clear from the time I joined the bank that first mortgage loans were becoming commodities offered by practically every real estate office and many independent brokers. We came to realize that the assets of the bank had to be diversified into commercial and consumer loans if we were to survive and prosper. Changing that culture and building a competent and competitive commercial area requires hard work and constant focus. Our commercial loan officers and staff have done that and we are now beginning to benefit from their work.
Q: You have just been elected first vice chairman of the CBA and in approximately one year you will be chairman. What challenges/issues lie ahead for the association? A: I’m excited to be the current first vice chairman of the CBA. I’m sort of in training to be “the big cheese” in a year. Seriously, it is a great honor to be elected to the officer positions of the state association. I’ve gotten to know a large number of my fellow bankers in Connecticut through my many years of involvement with the CBA.
The association faces many challenges. It needs to remain solvent and viable, in spite of the consolidation of our industry in the state. The staff has done an excellent job in finding various sources of needed income through a broadening of educational offerings, seminars, etc. The association fights industry battles for all of us in the state Legislature and in Washington. We need to convince all of the banks in the state that supporting the CBA in these efforts is crucial. I don’t think anyone particularly likes the idea of political action committees. Despite that, PACs are one of the most effective ways for the industry to insure a fair hearing on our issues with the legislators involved in banking issues. Every bank, every director or trustee and every senior officer is directly affected by the laws that are or are not passed regarding banking. To me, then, every one of us should be contributing to the state and federal PACs to give our association the weapons it needs to represent us effectively.
Finally, the banking industry is far and away the greatest source of financial and moral support to our individual communities in Connecticut. We all contribute enormous amounts of money, time and expertise to help our customers, friends and neighbors. I think the association can serve an important role in informing the public of just how important banks are to the quality of life in our state.
Q: Why have you been so involved personally with the banking trade associations?
A: Our various trade associations can do things collectively that individual banks cannot accomplish on their own. The national associations (i.e. ABA and America’s Community Bankers) work for our benefit with the federal regulators and Congress to represent the interests of all of us. Without their work we would all have more regulation and draconian laws than we currently do – as hard as that may be to comprehend. The national groups, and in particular the Connecticut Bankers Association, also offer us education and training in all phases of our business. There is no way a community bank like ours could keep up on each and every new law or regulation without their help. I’ve also greatly enjoyed working with bankers from all over the country and have made a number of great friendships as a result of my work with the associations.
Q: You currently chair the ABA’s Mutual Institutions Council. What is the council’s mission and what are its current priority issues?
A: I’m just finishing a two-year term as chairman of the Mutual Institutions Council of the American Bankers Association. This job has been extremely fascinating. Obviously our job is to represent the mutual banks in the country with the ABA. But over the past two years we’ve also been involved in the new trend of credit unions that choose to convert their charter to a mutual savings bank. These transactions are in the news constantly. It’s been fun to be in the middle of it all.
Q: What is your major focus at the moment? A: We all work every day to keep our institutions profitable and growing. To continue to do well in the future we need to have new generations of customers growing up who will need our various services over the course of their lives. I am very concerned at present about the lack of training our youth receive in personal finances. The great majority of our young people do not know how to handle a checking account, prepare a budget or manage credit cards. We constantly see high school and college graduates with enormous debt from credit cards, student loans, automobiles, etc. They are starting their lives deep in economic holes.
For that reason, I have begun to work with the Milford School System to implement training of kids at various ages. The young ones need to learn the value of money and how to save. The older kids nearing graduation need to know how to handle their finances as they head into the world on their own. The American Bankers Association has a number of resources already prepared to help us in this project.
Q: How is the bank coping with the increased competition spilling over from Fairfield County into lower New Haven County?
A: Milford is a small city of about 52,000 residents. For the past several years our bank has enjoyed a market share of over 25 percent, despite very heavy competition. My understanding is that eight more banking offices will open in our primary trade area in the next six months. Needless to say, competition is fierce.
However, the bank was founded in Milford in 1872. We are involved in our community to a depth that no other bank can match. In the past year we have contributed money to over 130 separate charity and community groups in town. Beyond money, we have a number of people on our staff with expertise in fund raising, finance and event organization who lend their time and passion to help these worthwhile community groups. Our customers are our friends and neighbors. We exist to help them and the community we serve. We think that commitment will allow us to prosper in the years ahead.
Q: What’s the scariest bank-related thing you have ever done?
A: The ABA asked me to testify in front of the board of the Financial Accounting Standards Board a couple of years ago, regarding the accounting treatment of mergers of mutual savings banks with each other. Wow! I’m not sure the board members and I even spoke the same language. Somehow I managed to get through it and after that, I figured I could do just about anything.
Q: What will be the most pressing challenges for The Milford Bank in the next three years?
A: Technology has made our world an amazing place. But one that requires a tremendous amount of work for our banks. We need to keep up with the latest products and possibilities, while protecting the bank and our customers. Today, technology is our third largest expense, after interest and employee salaries/benefits. Managing this in the future will certainly be a challenge. And, of course, competition. With nearly a bank on every corner, we all have to try really hard to attract and hold on to our customers. That takes non-stop focus.
Questions posed by Lindsey R. Pinkham, senior vice president and secretary of the Connecticut Bankers Association.