Portland Press Herald Publisher Lisa DeSisto talks with Andrew Silsby about his career at Kennebec Savings Bank, which he joined in 1993. Silsby discusses why email isn’t the best medium for solving problems, the bank’s move into Freeport, and just how far ahead he likes to be with new technology.  This interview was recorded July 27, 2017 in Augusta.

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Transcript: [music]

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Like A Boss podcast presented by the Portland Press Herald and sponsored by Bernstein Shur, New England Cancer Specialists, liveandworkinmaine.com, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, People’s United Bank, and Vistage. Now here’s your host, Portland Press Herald Publisher and CEO, Lisa DeSisto.

Lisa DeSisto: Welcome to Like A Boss, I’m Lisa DeSisto, your host. And today, I am here with Andrew Silsby, who is the President and CEO of the Kennebec Savings Bank. Kennebec County’s community bank for 147 years and Freeport’s for just a few weeks. So we’ll talk about that in a second. Let’s start by meeting our boss. Welcome, Andrew.

Andrew Silsby: Thank you, Lisa. Looking forward to having our chat today.

LD: And it’s a pleasure to be here. I guess, this is the HQ of the bank here in Augusta?

AS: This is the headquarters of Kennebec Savings Bank for 147 years.

LD: Now, the building itself, though is 200 years old, right? It’s the Tappan-Viles Mansion, is that correct?

AS: That’s correct, it’s on the National Historic Register and was the home of Benjamin Tappan, and later the family, Viles family, owned the building, and it’s now our headquarters.

LD: It’s a beautiful facility and building, beautiful grounds, landscaping outside. You just told me a really funny story about some of your plantings and share that.

AS: Well, the local greenhouse that supplies the flowers that we put around the rotary each spring, they have to order and produce more, about 25% more, because whatever’s blooming out there, people go out to the landscapers and ask them for the same type of plant. So they wanna know in advance what we’re gonna plant next year.

LD: That’s hilarious. So, that’s the power of marketing, right?

AS: That’s right.

LD: Right. When they see it, people wanna have it. So, let’s start by meeting you, Andrew, and tell us where you grew up.

AS: Well, I was born right here in Maine. Brought up in Augusta, Manchester area, so for your listeners, that is roughly 500 yards to 5 miles from where you and I are sitting today.

[chuckle]

LD: Okay. So a lot of traveling then, throughout the state. Now, your family name is a great old New England name, correct?

AS: Yes. We come from Aurora, over near Ellsworth and migrated from there to Bangor and then down to Augusta. In state services, lots of lawyers, and a few doctors, and I ran to banking.

[chuckle]

LD: And here you are today. So, to get to banking, where did you go to college and what did you study?

AS: I went to University of Maine at Orono, and studied Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. Later years, I went to the National School of Banking, which is sort of a graduate level banking down in Fairfield, Connecticut.

LD: And what was your first job, pre-banking? Or maybe you never had a job?

AS: Actually, I did. I started as a lawn mowing business when I was 13 years old. I learned quite a few lessons working for Henry Mertens, he was one of my customers. Henry was a CMP executive, and Henry had a very high standard. I would mow his lawn with a push mower, he had a very big yard. And my friends would be waiting for me to get done, and I would hurry and cut the corners, mowing the lawn. And Henry would call, my mother would track me down, and I would have to go back and mow the lawn. So I learned the value of doing the job the right way, the first time, from Henry Mertens, because he would actually make me do the whole yard over, because he wanted it to look a certain way.

LD: Isn’t that a wonderful lesson from, what did you say…

AS: 13.

LD: Age 13.

AS: Yeah, yeah.

LD: To today. Wow.

AS: So then, I got a job bagging groceries and facing shelves at Cottle’s which later became Shop ‘n Save, and then Hannaford that we know today here in Maine. So there isn’t a Hannaford store I can’t find anything in, because I faced all those shelves and the methodology of how they put food on the shelves is still with me today.

LD: Really? Even toothpicks? Like, “Where are the toothpicks?”

AS: Yeah, I know where they are.

LD: Really? Alright.

[chuckle]

LD: What was your first job in banking? ‘Cause if I have my info right, you started as a teller.

AS: I did. In 1986, I bought a suit at Farrell’s which was a men’s clothing store down on Water Street. I think the tags were still on the suit and I walked down the street, on Water Street. I skipped the first bank. I don’t know why, but I didn’t go into the first bank, I went into the second bank, and I got a job on the spot. I started, I believe, the second day, the next day, and ended up being a float teller and working… That was North Star Bank back in those days, later became Fleet, the following year. A lot of people in New England know that name, it’s part of Bank of America’s banks now, but it was a great job. I worked through summers and through college, vacations and whatnot. Early in my senior year, up to Orono, I ended up getting a job from them through management trainee. And many of my classmates were not very happy with me because I had my job all lined up very early in the school year. And I maybe rubbed that in a little bit too much. And then, so I worked through about an 18-month management trainee program for Fleet. And I started over in Farmington and then I became an assistant branch manager and went to Belfast, and then, ended up as a branch manager over in Dixfield, Maine which is right near Rumford.

LD: Oh, okay, right.

AS: That was my eight years through college and post-college at basically, Fleet. And then, I had the opportunity to come to Kennebec Savings Bank.

LD: So what was your first position here? And then, tell us about your path to become president and CEO.

AS: I was hired to be a loan officer. I showed up here in 1993, late ’93. And there were 25 mortgage files sitting on the desk. The prior person had left, and the files didn’t have anything done to them in three weeks, and it was trial by fire. I understood how to do lending from my days at Fleet, but not exactly how to lend the culture here at Kennebec Savings Bank, so it was a quick study.

LD: Yeah.

AS: I remember writing lists of questions working late at night, and lists of questions for my boss, who would come in at 8:00 in the morning and he’d spend about 15 or 20 minutes with me every morning, would go through my list of 25 questions, and then he’d go on his way and I would finish up the rest of the day to get the strategic direction that I needed to go. So it was a great experience. I really got lending in the blood and started to really take to banking. And so, I became, later years, the senior loan officer here at the bank, and then had the opportunity to become the treasurer of the bank, which back in those days was the CFO role. We kind of use the CFO role today a little more prevalently, but in the history of banking it’s really a treasurer, was the title that took care of that.

LD: I never knew that.

AS: Then I took over for head of operations, and then chief operating officer, and then I became president, and then I became a president and CEO. So that’s 24 years, and then eight years before that with Fleet, roughly 31 and a half years in banking.

LD: Oh, wow. That’s quite a path, and I love that I can just picture you sitting at the desk with this mound of files. So give us an update on the bank’s strategy. It seems like expansion is something that you’re focused on with the recent opening of your new location in Freeport. So now, you’ve expanded from Kennebec County into Cumberland County, as well.

AS: Yes.

LD: So what’s going on with that?

AS: Okay. Well, as a mutual organization, we don’t have stockholders. So I think that’s important to point out, we’ve been in existence since 1870, operating right here, headquartered in Maine, in Augusta, Maine for 147 years, and doing business under the same name for all those years. So our charter that was signed by Joshua Chamberlain in 1870 that put us into existence, was really for the common person to save money and buy a home, and we’ve never lost sight of those roots. It’s imperative that you grow. Any business knows that they can’t stay still, so it’s important to try to grow. We have a one-third market share here in Kennebec County, which is a big number.

LD: Yeah.

AS: Given all the different players, both traditional banks and credit unions, and then non banks, financial companies. So to have a one-third market share is a big number. But to grow, you really need to step out a little bit further, and so Freeport is our first endeavor, in 147 years of doing business, outside of Kennebec County. We did a lot of research looking at different communities and wanting to do, find a location that was not too far from a brand extension standpoint. We found that we did in fact have quite a few customers already down in the Freeport area that some of the central Maine folks had migrated down there. We’ve been open only a week.

LD: Oh, Okay.

AS: Actually just opened just last Monday.

LD: Yeah, just a week.

AS: And if any indication of the first week holds true, this will be a very successful office for us. So we had lots of walk-ins last week, hard to believe when we just cut the ribbon.

LD: Yeah. Did you have anything free, though? Did you have… Were people coming in ’cause you have free balloons or anything, or no?

AS: We were definitely doing some giveaways, but we actually ended up generating quite a bit of loan business.

LD: Wow. Where specifically is it in Freeport? What’s the address?

AS: It’s 181 Lower Main street, so it’s just next to Gritty’s.

LD: Oh, okay. Yeah, great. Okay. I love that Gritty’s, that’s a fun place, ’cause they have that nice outdoor space there. Alright, so Maine seems to have an abundance of law firms, restaurants, craft beer, and also community banks, so what separates Kennebec Savings Bank, and how do you communicate that to your customers and prospects?

AS: Well, it is true, Maine is blessed to have an abundance of community banks, I actually think that’s a wonderful thing. Maybe more so than some other states. So mutual banks were created back in the mid 1800s, the late 1800s. And those mutual banks are very prevalent in the north east, you don’t find them in other parts of the country. And so, without any stockholders is a little more flexibility in how you operate. And so, again, I look at it as a positive, that we’ve got all these community banks, because I really feel like Maine is better served under the community bank structure.

AS: For us, how do we separate ourselves from that pack? Really, back in the day, we all of the community bank stayed in their own backyard, and those backyards have gotten a little blurred as each of us are trying to get a little more growth, and there is, as with every industry, there’s a lot of consolidation that’s going on. How do we differentiate ourselves or separate from the pack, it’s really service, commitment to excellence in service, and a commitment to the community and giving back to the community.

AS: So now, let me spend a few minutes on both of those ’cause that sounds like the same that everybody says. And I think I wear my consumer hat when I leave the bank, and I don’t always find great customer service in other places, and I don’t mean that as criticism but everybody talks about giving good customer service. But it isn’t all that often that you really find that superior customer service, and so for us around here it’s like a religion.

AS: We hire people who are genuinely nice and helpful people. It’s sort of what’s attracted to the industry but we try to find folks that really excel at that. Here at Kennebec Savings Bank, customers really get their own personal banker. A lot of financial firms will say, “We have private banking,” and that’s for the wealthy where they get a personal banker. But here at Kennebec Savings Bank, every customer gets personal bankers. And so, you build a relationship with the person that you’re working with, and those folks can help you where you wanna go. Another differentiator for us in that service realm is, we don’t sell any mortgages on the secondary market; that’s not common. Most banks sell, at least their fixed rate loans. They either originate them to be sold or they wanna make sure they maintain the option to sell that loan. And here at Kennebec Savings Bank, we’ve never sold a mortgage in 147 years. So, every single loan stays on the books.

AS: Why I spend a minute talking about that is, it’s really important to understand that the people that you talk to, if you go in and see one of our loan officers actually does make the loan decision.

LD: Got it.

AS: So, they’re talking to the decision maker. A lot of institutions will kind of skirt around that a little bit and talk about the fact that it’s local decisions but you’re not actually talking to the person, most banks have centralized underwriting specialist, who understands all the rules in mortgage lending. Because we don’t sell on secondary market, we don’t have to do as many things that are required in that secondary market, and that really allows us to be able to have our decision makers out in the field, talking to the customer, and able to tell somebody on the spot, yes we can do this loan, and it makes a really big difference. So when folks experience that, they go, “Wow, there is a difference.” Mortgage lending is a commodity, okay? People say, “Why should I care, they’re just gonna sell it anyway.” And our response to that is, “You should care, and at Kennebec Savings Bank it really is different.” We’ve successfully differentiated ourselves from the marketplace. And we’re feeling very optimistic that taking that strategy to Freeport will do well for us.

LD: That’s quite a record of 147 years of never selling a mortgage.

AS: Yeah, it’s a big deal.

LD: Yeah, it is a big deal. And then, separating yourself with service. I know you have a pretty intensive management training program, and service has to be a big focus of that. You’ve got a lot of local college students that are hired, and then spend many years here, so how do you get them to stay? How do you make them the best in their game? Talk about that.

AS: So we are running our own little program of keeping youth in Maine.

LD: Okay, great.

AS: Okay.

LD: Great, we need that.

AS: I know that that’s a hot button issue in the economic development world. The funny thing is, summer in Maine is absolutely beautiful, July and August. And our staff want to take vacation in July and August, and we figured out about 20 years ago that, lo and behold, college students wanna work in the summertime, and they wanna make money. And so, why not hire college students during the summer months to back fill, so that our staff can take vacation time when they want to. We hire about 10% of our work force in the summer, it’s generally 10 to 12 employees, college kids, during the summer months. It costs about $3,500 a college student, so it’s about $35,000 for the organization in all-in expenses, and I think that is a small dollar to be able to allow our employees to be able to take vacation, generally when they want. That’s hard because July and August just is so beautiful here.

AS: Well, the added benefit to that program is, we sort of get to try before you buy. We get to see these college students for two, three, sometimes four years, and many of them are just incredible at how hard working they are, their work ethic, you really get a flavor for somebody over four or so summers. We’ve started a program, and then, some of them, we can’t hire and keep them all. But honestly, it really sort of works out. You’ve got somebody who might be an English major who wants to go into some other field. And so, we get them for a couple of years and then they wanna go to their particular field. We do have some finance folks who wanna work in the banking industry, and it tends to work out pretty well. And then, we have a management trainee program where we hire some of those folks to stay with us.

AS: And let me give you a good example, a couple of years ago, we had a gentleman who worked through his college years with us in the summer program. And in his last senior year, summer, he ran a program for us where we needed to scan some documents. And we were gonna hire an outside company to do that. We hired some additional college students that summer. And he and the team scanned 175,000 documents and indexed them all for us in two and a half months.

LD: Wow.

AS: And we ended up hiring this gentleman. He went through our management trainee program. And now, he’s overseeing our digital services here at the bank. Our chief operating officer started in the mail room. Our controller started on the teller line and went through up. So we’ve got a whole host of folks over the last 20 years that have really come up through the ranks from that program. So I think it’s critical as employers that we show young people a path, a career. We’ve had a lot of folks that say, “Well, I’m going to New York City after I’m done.” “I’m gonna go to New York City next year,” and, “I’m gonna go the next year,” and next year. And then they’re buying a house and they’ve settled down and they’re here.

LD: Yeah. And then, they can go for the weekend.

AS: Yeah, right. So we try to show them a path.

LD: That’s fantastic. Let’s talk about your leadership style. If you had to describe it in three words, what would they be?

AS: Three words is hard.

LD: Well, that’s it.

AS: Okay.

[chuckle]

AS: Decisive, competitive and direct. If I could add an adjective, I would say very direct. So my staff all know, you have to tell it like it is with me. I want it straight up. Let’s not sugarcoat anything. And I’ve never met a problem we can’t solve as a team. And so, I’m very direct. If there’s an elephant in the room, I’m the person who’s gonna label it. We’re gonna talk about it. And then, we’re gonna solve the problem. And so, I tend to be pretty driven. But I never ask anybody to do something that I wouldn’t do myself, and I think that’s imperative.

LD: What’s your competitive style look like? Does the bank have a softball team? Where does that manifest itself? [chuckle]

AS: Well, beating the competition in terms of banking and improving upon last year’s results, from that standpoint. Competitive as in opening a location, so we talked a little bit about the Freeport location. Back in the day, I was in charge of opening a branch office. And we made a decision to open the office. We renovated the space… We rented the space, renovated the space, hired staff, installed ATMs in 53 days, and got regulatory approval in that time frame. And for non-bankers, that’s really fast. So we did the Freeport office. And our chief operating officer, Craig Garofalo, who works for us, he got the Freeport office done in 44 days. So that’s how the competitive nature…

LD: Okay. [chuckle] Well, everyone wins there, right, Andrew?

AS: Exactly.

LD: Everyone wins on that.

AS: The last piece, Lisa, before you go on, is you have to laugh at yourself. So from a leadership standpoint, you gotta be able to laugh at yourself. And I have just a quick story that goes back a few years. I was at a dedication of a home that was a HUD home that had been renovated, and the new family were there. And all these HUD officials are there, and the mayor is there. It’s a beautiful spring sunny day. And I’m standing next to the mayor of Augusta. And beautiful sunshine, and I look down and I’ve got one black shoe on and one brown shoe on. And I could have withered away but instead, I poked the mayor and pointed at my shoes. And we were like little school kids laughing over this. We couldn’t stop laughing over the fact that I had two different color shoes on. So you could appreciate that, probably.

LD: Yeah, I can totally appreciate that. I have this correct pair of shoes on right now but I would definitely do something like that. I think that’s unexpected for a banker. Not to stereotype but, yeah. I think [chuckle] having some fun is important in your gig. That’s hilarious. So, let’s talk about your team and building… You’re surrounding yourself with a strong leadership team. Have you acquired the team? Did you inherit people when you became president and CEO? Did you build your team? What’s the team look like?

AS: I have eight folks who report to me that are what we call the leadership team here. And some of the folks were working and were on the management team. I hired some outside folks. I think it’s imperative to have people who understand the history of the bank and the culture of the bank but I also think it’s positive to bring in people from outside, with a little slightly different perspective. So in many respects I grew up at the bank, working here for, at that time, 21 years. And so, I had a really good sense of what we’re doing well and what we needed to improve upon. So reaching out to try to find some folks that could give us just a slightly different outside perspective. So it’s about half and half, which I think was intentional, it was also half and half male and female in terms of that team. I think it’s important that we are a cross section of society and our customer base. I like to hire smart people. I like to make sure that people are gonna tell me like it is.

LD: Yeah, be as direct with you as you are with them.

AS: You got it.

LD: Yeah.

AS: That’s a little scary for some folks ’cause I do tend to label stuff. And at the end of the day, we want passionate people who are willing to work hard. And I know banking has this reputation of being sort of stodgy and maybe boring.

LD: Well, I think serious.

AS: Yeah. Yeah, but it…

LD: It is serious.

AS: Well, it is serious business what we’re doing.

LD: Right. Right.

AS: And I get a little reflective about the importance of the role that we play. And we’ll probably get to that a little bit later but it is a serious business, but you gotta have some fun.

LD: Yeah, yeah.

AS: And so, I think that’s important.

LD: Now, let’s talk about communication. So what’s your communication style? How do you communicate strategies to your customers, to your employees? Are you walking around? Are you getting to all the branches? Talk about that.

AS: Well, first and foremost, if I hadn’t mentioned it, I’m direct.

LD: Oh, you did mention it. Yep.

[chuckle]

AS: So, I’m a very open and transparent. And obviously, if there is some secretive initiative that we have to keep confidential that’s one thing, but 99% of what we’re doing is out and open, and we try to talk about that on a regular basis with staff. I don’t know, Lisa, that you can ever get an A in communication.

LD: You can get an A minus.

AS: I think you can get A minus. You can strive for…

LD: And if you work with Nancy Marshall you might be able to get an A plus.

AS: There you go. I think you could get… You can strive for an A but I don’t know if you can ever communicate enough. So that’s a little bit of a challenge. I tend to be the person that wants to pull the group together and have a meeting about something. I tend to be the person who will pick up the phone or go talk with someone. I see enormous inefficiency in email. Email works really well for mass communication, so that everybody receives the information at the same time. Great. It is not the place to solve a problem.

AS: So if you get 10 people in an email chain, and everybody is trying to solve a problem, it starts to bog down. And we have some of our staff members that can be in meetings a good part of the day, including myself, not I particularly like that but sometimes it’s sort of necessary. And you can be 10, 20 emails behind that conversation, and so it’s hard to catch back up and chime back in. And so, I tend to wanna just meet or pick up the phone. Again, I think email has its place but really in society, we’ve kinda let it take over our lives a little bit.

LD: Yeah, yeah.

AS: And so, I tend to be pretty verbal from that standpoint.

LD: I think that’s a really interesting point, that email is not a place to solve a problem. I think that, yeah. I like that.

AS: I’m on more than a few boards and many of those boards have this mini culture of reply all. And so your email, your inbox just fills up. And it’s a little harder in the not-for-profit or the agency kind of world to get everybody together than it is here at the financial institutions.

LD: Right.

AS: It’s a lot easier to do that.

LD: Yeah. Okay, so as a community bank engaging with the community has to be a part of your daily DNA, right? So how do you make deep connections in the community? And then also, how do you engage your employees in that as well?

AS: So very clearly by example. I cannot tell you how many organizations I’m involved with, it’s double digits. Anyway, I personally feel that that is the responsibility of a bank president today, is to just straight up be involved in the community. Yes, we get some business from that. We’re out and about and interacting with people. But here in Augusta, for example, I’m on a couple of different committees and we saw a problem with the development of the downtown and needed to create a loan program that would help economic development in the downtown. And so, it was pretty easy to be able to try to craft something that would work to help that.

AS: I tend to encourage employees to get involved to make a difference. I had a new employee orientation the other day, in this room yesterday, actually, and encouraging employees to get involved. It’s important to make a difference. And I don’t really care whether it’s coaching tee-ball or softball or chairing the United Way campaign, everybody… You need to do what you love. I was at a leadership course once here at the Kennebec Leadership Institute that Steve Pecukonis teaches for the chamber, and it really stuck with me. Do what you love, don’t do it… You get flattered when you get asked to be on a particular board but make sure that you’re vested in the mission of that organization, because it’s not work, it’s not hard. It’s hard if you’re joining an organization just because they asked you.

AS: The other components to that, Lisa, are making sure that we give employees the flexibility to be able to volunteer. Now, that’s hard in some jobs. Let’s take our receptionist, who answers the phone. We have got two receptionists that work for us, that’s a little harder for that job to be able to have flexible hours. But my level at my job, I can set my own schedule and some of the lending staff can set their own schedule pretty well. So it’s easier depending on what the job function is but we need to make sure. We have 122 employees, last year we gave 6,000 hours of volunteer time back to the community.

LD: Wow.

AS: If you do the quick math, it’s about six and a half business days a year. Per employee, per year.

LD: Per person. Yeah. Wow.

AS: So, I think that number’s actually a little understated ’cause I’m not sure we’re capturing as many hours as are really going on. So that’s one of my efforts next year is to try to get our arms around that. And I think lastly, on that particular point, is just be proud. Our staff are very proud of what we do. We try to give back in terms of dollars but we also try to give back in terms of time, so it is in our DNA. I said this earlier on another subject but it’s part of the religion here. Banking is, we wanna be part of everything that’s cool, that’s going on either in dollars and in volunteer time. We want people to say Kennebec Savings Bank’s everywhere.

LD: Sure, and that’s 122 people that are ambassadors for the bank, right?

AS: Correct.

LD: Out there in all different aspects of the community. So yeah, that certainly makes sense. Now, let’s talk about your employees for a second, from an engagement perspective. What do you do here, I guess, to deepen employee engagement? Is it driven top down or some of the thing’s organic and just bubble up from the staff?

AS: It’s probably both, but definitely from the top. Happy employees make for happy customers. So the smile on their face, the smile in their voice is genuine if you take good care of people. So it means benefit programs, it means obviously some of that stuff has to change. The deductible on health insurance has to change but we try to insulate that from folks. I really feel strongly if you take good care of employees, your business will soar, the rest will take care of itself. And so, if you value employees, both input, and you take good care of them, if you work hard to make sure that they have good retirement programs. I love retirements. It’s a celebration for me. We had two employees who retired last year at 55 years old.

LD: Oh, wow.

AS: We’ve had folks who have worked for us for 42 years. And so, the fact that we have a strong retirement program, and people can be able to do that. One of our employees retired from banking with a great career and is headed to Florida to live with her sister to do her second career at Disney.

LD: Oh, awesome.

AS: So, here’s somebody who is a compliance officer and just got to be able to change life, and so I think that’s really important.

LD: That is really cool.

AS: So for us, we’ve got 122 employees, this engagement piece is a little easier for us. If you’ve got 2,000 employees, that’s a slightly different game.

LD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.

AS: So it’s a lot easier. Were kind of a family here. I don’t want that to sound creepy like The Firm, John Grisham’s The Firm. But we do a lot of events for employees and families. We have a slumber party and movie night for our little kids, come in the lobby. We have a popcorn machine, we put out all the sleeping bags and bean bag chairs. We fill them with popcorn and candy and then expect them to watch a movie. Which doesn’t always work but ultimately, I think it’s…

LD: Yeah, but super fun.

AS: Yeah. And then Lobster Bakes.

LD: You have Lobster Bakes?

AS: We do.

LD: Are customers invited?

AS: No, this is just employees and spouses.

LD: Okay, just checking.

AS: Go down to Cabbage Island and take over the boat down there. That stuff matters. We have an employee appreciation day. An evening where we do a whole bunch of festivities and ends with an evening of dinner, and an appreciation for all that they do. Running the organization that you’re running that you have to take care of your employees, they have to keep… Be appreciated because they make your business.

LD: That’s right, yeah. It’s certainly what differentiates you from the competition, no doubt. Let’s switch subjects and talk about technology. So, so much of banking, like so many industries has been disrupted by technology. I guess, gosh from, the… I’m so old, I remember life before ATMs, and now today, online banking. So how do you personally keep up with the latest advances? And is it best to be on the leading edge of it or to kinda let it get tested a little bit before adoption?

AS: We don’t wanna be on the bleeding edge, we wanna be on the cutting edge. So there is a difference between the two of those. And so, I think that’s important. Personally, I love change. I get very excited for new technology. I have to be very honest, I ended up staying up until 3:00 AM to buy the first Apple watch. And so, for me personally, I like that stuff, I dive into it. So from the bank standpoint, that’s a little bit different, we have got our responsibility to make sure that we maintain people’s balances, and payments, and all of that stuff. There needs to be a certain level of stability there. And so we sort of run a dual track here at Kennebec Savings Bank where it’s high touch high tech.

AS: So I view technology investments as a way to free up our staff to be able to help customers when they need help. So this is really an interesting phenomenon that’s going on and I equate it to gas pumps, where back in the day you used to pull into a gas station and an attendant would pump you gas, and we’ve moved to self-service. We moved to self-service ’cause the gas companies wanted us to, or did we not wanna have to talk with the attendant, and the gas was cheaper if you didn’t have an attendant. It’s a funny line, and we’re really emerging in this in the banking industry where in some cases customers are starting to feel bad that they’re coming into the teller line and bothering a teller to give a deposit when they know they can do it themselves.

AS: So it’s starting to really shift into the self-service. And so, it’s important for us to invest in technology so that folks can deposit money through their phone, through the ATM. Last year, we had a customer who sold their business, received a $1 Million check, and deposited it at midnight at one of our ATMs. So that’s where technology has changed, and so they feel more comfortable that the bank has it than putting it in their purse, or their wallet or under their mattress. And that’s where the technology has caught up from that standpoint. So things have really, really changed. Our customers have… The number of customers here at Kennebec Savings Bank in five years have gone up 20%. The number of people coming into our branches has gone down by 20%.

LD: Oh, that’s interesting.

AS: So technology… I don’t look at technology as being able to cut staff, I look at technology as freeing up our staff. So if you wanted to build a home, or a camp, or a cottage, or something of that, you know, a big life, a changing event, you don’t really wanna do that over email, you don’t wanna really wanna do that over the internet. You wanna come in and talk to somebody ’cause there’s a million questions that go along with that. But to deposit a check or to pick up some cash, that’s a transaction that you can do on your own in many cases. And so, it is really a dual track and I think a lot of banks struggle with that. We’ve really been focusing on that for a long period of time, and so it’s easy. Again, we try to be on the cutting edge but not the bleeding edge.

LD: So what’s the future role of a teller in your world?

AS: I don’t think tellers will go away, I really don’t. There’s a social part of that. As customers age, it becomes more important. Elderly folks get a little more lonely, and there’s a component there, so we’re all gonna…

LD: Yeah, of the kinda human touch.

AS: Yeah, and we’re all gonna get older, so everybody is worried that the millennials…

LD: We have since this interview started.

AS: Yeah, exactly. We’re shifting, and I think when you get older you get a little more conservative. People are investing in the stock market but as they age, they start to move back towards cash.

LD: That’s interesting.

AS: I’m not one that really thinks that we’re fundamentally going to change, that the earlier generation is just gonna change banking forever because I think we’re underestimating that conservative piece. And I don’t mean politically conservative but I just mean fiscally conservative. As you age, you get a little more protective of those assets, and they tend to move back to the cash savings accounts, those kinda things.

AS: So I really don’t think the teller… I mean, there are branch models today where there are pods and your universal bankers where they can do it all. And though that is true, we want people cross-trained, so that they can do a lot of different activities there. I do think branch activity will continue to decline. So right here in the state of Maine, last year we had 500 branches. We, in the industry call them stores, across all banks. So the banking industry in Maine has 9,000 employees.

LD: Wow, okay.

AS: It’s a pretty good-sized industry, 500 stores. Those stores are down to 488 this year.

LD: Oh, wow.

AS: And so we’re starting to decline in the number of branches, so I think that will continue but I don’t think the role of the teller will change appreciably.

LD: Won’t change much. So what’s your outlook for Central Maine’s economy? What do you think the biggest challenges are here in Central Maine?

AS: Well, I am very bullish on Central Maine. Of course, I’m a little biased.

AS: I spent my entire life here.

LD: Many generations here, yep.

AS: We’ve seen, at least in my career, I’ve seen a lot of economic booms. I look at it like a tide. So it comes up from Boston, it moves into Portland, we get over the Richmond town line, and we get up to Central Maine. And then something changes in the national economy and then the water starts to recede back. And so, many times, we don’t feel the highs or the lows in Central Maine. We’re a little bit insulated with Maine General Health being a very large employer, the State of Maine is the largest employer in Central Maine, there’s a stability with both of those organizations that helps us. But I do feel like this particular economic cycle, the water is actually reaching Central Maine.

LD: Oh great.

AS: And so, I’m pretty bullish all of the downtowns in Central Maine are doing very well. They’re very different, each of the downtowns, they all have initiatives. Over the last 20, 25 years, we have spent way too much time trying to get businesses to reinvest in downtowns. And the conventional collective wisdom, at least in Central Maine has changed and that is, we need to get people downtown, we need to get residential units in the upper floors of the downtown areas. And then, once the people are there, the business will come.

LD: Then the business will come. Yeah.

AS: And it’s sort of a sea change for us, I think, at least for me, personally. And so, we’ve got several developers I think in the last year and a half, the Augusta Water Street, It’s got 43 new residential units on Water Street; that’s a lot, that’s a big change. And so, now you’re starting to see restaurants start to pop up. We are not the old port in Central Maine, I think in many respects, the old port is the envy of a lot of parts of the State. And I know it has its challenges too but at the end of the day, I think downtowns are really a important part of our our society.

LD: Yeah, it’s nice to see a lot of the development happening in Waterville too, right?

AS: Yeah, Waterville, same thing, Colby.

LD: Yeah, Colby’s Investments.

AS: Colby’s Investments, encouraging investment. A lot of what they’re doing is not necessarily their own dollars, they’re encouraging other investment. But they’re putting a residential unit right on… Filling one of the old holes to the main street there, and so again, it’s bringing people to the downtown, and then the rest of the economic activity will change, so it’s good.

LD: Great. Alright. So, let’s wrap up with some classic Like a Boss questions. What is a typical day in the life of a bank president?

[chuckle]

AS: Well, no two days are ever the same. I start my day a little after 5:00, I get on the treadmill and run, sometimes walk. I watch Channel 6 news. And then, at the same time, I read the Wall Street Journal on my iPad. My wife says I’m not a multitasker, but I am actually in that instant multitasking.

LD: You’re doing three things at one time?

AS: I’m doing three things.

LD: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

AS: Thank you for noticing that. I’m known to text fairly late into the evening and early in the morning, my staff members and email. It’s all consuming, I don’t know that the business ever really shuts off. We really run a 24/7 business, probably very similar to you.

LD: Well, yeah, we certainly do.

AS: In many respects, so from that stand point. After I’m done working out, I walk down to the end of my driveway and I pick up my paper, my Kennebec Journal.

LD: Excellent.

AS: And read it front to cover.

LD: Unprompted, by the way. Unprompted.

AS: Yes, yes.

LD: Yep.

AS: ‘Cause I still love the ritual of the paper.

LD: You and thousands of others.

AS: Yes.

LD: Thank you.

AS: And then, usually in the office by 7:30 or so in the morning, sometimes a little earlier than that. But I’ve already sent a fair number…

LD: You’ve done quite a bit.

AS: A fair number of emails from then. And then, from there, the rest of the day is quite unpredictable. It may be community service or meetings, and problem solving, and challenges of every day. We have 45,000 accounts, 27,000 individuals and businesses that count on us every day. Those people and organizations process millions of transactions everyday. We are not perfect. We try really hard and we have a very high tolerance, in terms of making sure that we deliver goods and services to folks. But at the end of the day, people count on us, and it’s imperative that we make sure that we keep their money safe, and process their transactions accurately. And so, yeah, no two days are ever the same.

LD: So what makes you excited to go to work everyday?

[chuckle]

AS: The pride in Kennebec Savings Bank. I’m really, really driven to make this organization better than we received it, so to pass it over to the next generation in better condition than we received it. We have a wonderful history. There’s a responsibility with that history to make sure that this institution lives on and continues for another 150 years. Again, without having stock holders, there isn’t a “For sale” sign. Nobody can buy us. We get to choose our own destiny at the bank. And so taking that responsibility… You said, “Bankers are serious,” that’s probably pretty serious answer, but at the end of the day that’s really what motivates me.

LD: Now, so you talked about the history of the bank, have you ever been tempted to use the tag line, “Joshua Chamberlain’s Bank”?

AS: No. [chuckle] Definitely not.

LD: Okay, ’cause you should.

AS: Well, Angus King’s kinda got a… He’s got a corner on the Joshua Chamberlain thing, doesn’t he? [chuckle]

LD: Oh, yeah, I guess so. I guess he does a little bit, but yeah. I think it’s pretty cool that you traced the founding of the bank back to him, a true Maine hero. Okay. So, now, what’s the thing you like least about your job?

AS: When we don’t give a costumer the service that they deserve. It’s hard. As I said earlier, you process millions of transactions, we sometimes make a mistake. We don’t encode something correctly, and there are ramifications to that mistake. So our tellers work really hard, and they process transactions 99.8% of the time, 99.8% of the time, accurately. I don’t know if there’s any other industry that can say that. So that’s an important activity, so we need people who are focused on doing… They need to be social and they need to talk with the customers, but at the same time they have to process a transaction correctly. So what I like least is when we make a mistake. My feeling is, we have to own up to that mistake, we have to apologize, and we have to make it right. And it’s not that you’re ever gonna be error free, it’s how you deal with it. And it’s how quickly you deal with it, it’s how competently you deal with it, and that you admit your mistakes.

LD: Well, I think that’s probably your directness comes in, right?

AS: It’s possible.

LD: Right, right. Okay, so what keeps you up at night?

AS: I sleep very good. So not a lot.

LD: That’s great.

AS: I really do.

LD: Do you go to bed at 10:00? Do you go to bed at 10:00 like Chuck Hayes does?

AS: Yes, I didn’t know Chuck Hayes…

LD: You guys get up at the same time.

AS: I didn’t know Chuck Hayes got up…

LD: Yeah, yeah. Same schedule.

AS: What keeps me up at night? Maintaining what is special about Kennebec Savings Bank. And really adding to that success and being able to turn this treasure of an institution over to the next generation. It’s an enormous responsibility and I worked hard to get to where I am, I’m not sure I understood that level of responsibility moving up the ranks. I get it today.

LD: Yeah. When you joined the bank in 1993, right?

AS: Yes.

LD: Did you say, “One day, I’m gonna be CEO of this bank?”

AS: It wasn’t in ’93, ’cause I was buried in mortgage loans, but I… It was not that long after. I really started to take to it and the leadership group that were here when I started, gave me a lot of opportunity to special projects. And I had an insatiable appetite to take on whatever project it was. And so, we didn’t have a lot of staff, there were 44 employees, we had five officers. We have 37 officers today, we’re a 122 employees, it’s been a lot of growth. So it was a very different environment and a lot easier to wear a lot of different hats.

LD: So describe your Maine.

AS: You can take the boy out of Maine, but you can’t take Maine out of the boy. So I am a good old Maine boy, I have not really gone very far. I love all things that Maine outdoors has to offer, whether that’s camping, fishing, boating, hiking, you name it, skiing. I love it all. And so, from my standpoint, I wear a suit everyday, coat and tie, and when I don’t wear one, people don’t necessarily recognize me. But I am most comfortable in a pair of Carhartts, in a T-shirt, in a baseball hat, and on my tractor.

[laughter]

AS: That’s my de-stressor. Everybody has what works for them, but any day that I can spend on my tractor is a good day in Maine.

LD: Wow. That’s awesome. [laughter] Well, thank you, Andrew so much for your time, and wish you continued success here at Kennebec Savings. And any final thoughts from you?

AS: Yeah, sure. I’m really proud of all that Kennebec Savings Bank has to offer. All that we’ve done, I’m proud of our staff for the hard work that they put in day after day. As I mentioned earlier, the weight of the responsibility of 27,000 individuals and businesses, it’s important here. And so, our staff go above and beyond the call of duty everyday, and I’m so proud of everything that they do. So in final, I’m a big advocate of Kennebec Savings Bank and I would just encourage your listeners, if they’re not customers of Kennebec Savings Bank to give us a try, and you’ll experience how we make banking really easy.

LD: Well, we thank you. And remember, it’s Joshua Chamberlain’s bank, even though you won’t use it.

AS: That’s right.

LD: I’m telling you, you should. Well, thank you for spending time with us today.

S1: Thanks for joining us and thanks to our sponsors: Bernstein Shur, New England Cancer Specialists, liveandworkinmaine.com, Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, People’s United Bank, and Vistage. For more information on the sponsors, the Like a Boss podcast and Like a Boss live events, visit likeaboss.pressherald.com.

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