South Adams Savings Bank
By Bruce Spitzer
South Adams Savings, a mutual savings bank located in Adams, was founded in 1869 when there was but one town in the Bay State with Adams in its name. Adams was a town with two distinct sections – north and south. Then, in 1878, the northern part of town officially split to become the North Adams we know today. At that time, the southern section of town elected to continue to be known simply as Adams.
South Adams Savings Bank President and CEO Charlie O’Brien says, “Many people come around to this day looking for the town of South Adams.”
As O’Brien tells it, the name is not the only thing that sets his institution apart. “We want to build a relationship with our customers,” he says. “We strive to get our employees to truly listen to the needs of our customers. Our goal is to match our bank products to the specific needs of our customers.”
A new senior management team was brought in during 1997 to help take South Adams Savings to the next level of ensuring its long-term goal of surviving as an independent, diverse community bank. “My initial assignment at South Adams Savings was to shore up operations, modernize technology and expand the product offerings. This included adding software packages for CRM and tracking sales referrals,” says O’Brien.
With the help of a very dedicated staff, this modernization was accomplished ahead of schedule and the bank is now better equipped to understand the needs of its customers.
O’Brien was promoted to CEO in 2002. He arrived in the western part of the state in 1997 after serving at two Southcoast banks, New Bedford Institution for Savings and Bank of Fall River. “My family all made the transition very well from seashore to mountains, and we still keep in touch with our friends in the eastern part of the state,” he says.
With offices in Adams, Cheshire and Williamstown, O’Brien describes the South Adams Savings’ customer base as extremely loyal and diverse. “Understanding their needs and making sure that they get the best possible service from us are what we are trying to accomplish,” he says.
New methods were developed for marketing the banks’ products and its image as a full-service community bank. An important part of the new strategic plan was to create an internal culture that was designed to expand relationships with customers.
“We increased our training budget over the past few years in order to equip our staff with expanded teamwork and listening skills,” says O’Brien. “This is now paying off for us as we see tangible evidence of deepening relationships with our customers. We continually review and refine our incentive benchmarks to ensure that we maximize our chances of meeting our strategic goals.”
Around the region there has been much change as well. The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, the Williams College Museum of Art, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Tanglewood and the critically acclaimed MassMoCA (museum of contemporary art featuring visual, performing and new media arts) are all adding to the region’s reputation as a major cultural destination.
Combine all of this with spectacular mountain vistas, temperate summers, good skiing and indescribable autumn colors, and you have some idea why a resurging number of people are spending time in this northern part of Berkshire County. O’Brien says, “The bank has benefited from this through expanded relationships with business customers who cater to the tourism industry. We have also seen growth in our mortgage portfolio as people from Boston and New York come to the Berkshires to establish an upscale second home.”
O’Brien reports that, “One of the major initiatives in the area is a capital campaign going on right now to insure that, over the long term, North Adams Regional Hospital meets the needs of surrounding towns.” Recently, South Adams Savings made a commitment that is the largest charitable contribution in the history of the institution, a $200,000 grant to the hospital’s capital campaign.
“We frequently exceed our goal of donating 10 percent of net income back to the communities that we serve,” says O’Brien. “For the past three years we have knowingly exceeded our normal contribution budget because we made the two largest donations in the history of the bank. Our trustees were willing to make these donations because they feel so strongly about supporting the communities that have been instrumental to our success since 1869.” In addition to the hospital award, the second large donation was a $100,000 award to help build endowment funds at various public schools.
So what does the future hold?
O’Brien says management and the community will continue to embrace South Adams Savings’ mutual charter. And, as for customers, the bank’s customer base already extends throughout the Berkshires and beyond, and he anticipates expanding the branch franchise over time to ensure that customers continue to be well served.