GARDINER – John Everets and Willard Soper have traversed much of Maine in the past three weeks, taking stock of their latest venture.

The two longtime financiers are the new senior managers at Gardiner-based Savings Bank of Maine.

Everets, the chairman and chief executive officer; and Soper, the president and chief operating officer, took over at the 32-branch thrift in late May after leading an investment group that injected $60 million into the struggling institution.

The pair sat down with the Kennebec Journal last week to discuss how they’ll move the bank forward and the bank’s role in Maine’s economy.

Among the plans for the bank, the pair revealed a pending investment of more than $1 million to upgrade the bank’s technology infrastructure.

Here’s a transcript of the interview, edited for length. 

Q: How has business been in the three weeks since you’ve taken over?

John Everets: The reception from both depositors and borrowers, really the community, has just been exceptional. The fact that the bank has been recapitalized, and now is one of the most well-capitalized banks in the Northeast, has a little bit to do with that.

Willard Soper: We’ve been able to communicate a vision and a mission for the organization which focuses on the community, which focuses on pleasing the customer, which focuses on doing the right thing the first time for your customer, and focuses on active listening.

Everets: As a community bank, the things that we’re able to do for the community — whether that’s a contribution to the local Little League or the waterfront in Gardiner — being healthy, being prosperous and having the ability to continue to do the kinds of things that community banks do in their communities that’s a part of being a responsible community resource and asset to the towns that we’re in. 

Q: Is it safe to assume that the community commitment won’t change?

Everets: It may take different forms, but the commitment to the communities is very real and will continue.

It’s interesting the place that a bank occupies. If the economy is a wheel, then we’re the hub. If we supply the capital, then somebody can buy a house, somebody can sell a house. Somebody can go to the hardware store and buy some of the things they need for the house. They can go buy the paint to paint the walls, buy the furniture. And this thing just goes around. It’s just very important for the economy. 

Q: What are some of the highlights of your business plan?

Soper: One is to upgrade the technology that we have. We have some good systems which have more capacity or products, or applications, than the company was using. That’ll allow us to deliver products and services, as well as better manage the business, more effectively and more efficiently.

Everets: We are going to spend seven figures. That’ll be a million dollars coming into this economy, for the suppliers. For the most part, some software may not come from here, but the hardware will come from here, and some software will come from here. Probably furniture, fixtures and equipment.

It’s an important part of the economy to do this. Upgrading is not only beneficial to us, but it helps the people that are customers of ours, because ultimately that’s where we would look to. 

Q: You’ve mentioned, perhaps, more of a focus on mortgage lending.

Everets: We have been good at originating mortgages, and they have a very good history with mortgages. And we intend to do more of that, which will be good for the state. 

Q: The bank’s nonaccrual line — which lists the value of nonperforming loans — doubled from 2009 ($39.2 million on March 31) to 2010 ($77.6 million on March 31). How do you start addressing that?

Everets: We have some of the top people working with these borrowers to help them come current with their loans. Whether that’s through them borrowing at a different rate, maybe that’s what fixes up the loan. For some people, it may be time. We’ve been experiencing some very positive results in that area.

Soper: It is absolutely imperative that we bring that number down. We hope that we can do that through a number of methods. One, working with the borrowers. Two, there are cases where we’ve had to take a charge-off, or a writedown. Three, as the economy comes back, we fully believe that some of these borrowers’ businesses will come back and the loans will become performing.

Everets: The good news on our portfolio is that we believe we’re adequately reserved. We’ve taken our pain, and that’s behind us. 

Q: I’ve been curious how this deal really came about.

Everets: We were looking at another bank and that wasn’t going to work out, so we left that. I had found out about the problems that this bank was having, so I contacted them and then came up and we began to visit with them, and we began to look at them.

We have a unique set of resources, both human resources and capital. In doing this, we sought to apply the talents that we collectively had as well as our board of directors, which is a very strong and very experienced board of directors, especially for a bank this size.

We knew that we had the ability to bring that talent to a situation. The question was to find a place where we could apply it where we knew we could be successful. And having looked at many of these things, this one actually was the one that stood out as the greatest potential.

It had a lot of short-term issues, very difficult issues that we had to deal with, quite frankly. It was not a situation that was easy to understand. It was something that took a great deal of work on our part to take apart, to begin to really and truly understand what the future might look like. 

Q: What will Savings Bank of Maine look like down the road? Any new market areas?

Everets: Nothing that we’ve got targeted, but I’m sure opportunities will present themselves. The good thing is, we’ve got a lot of capital, so we can do many things. We’ve got flexibility, and we’ve got a very strong board, so we can make good decisions in an expeditious manner. So, we’re ready to go.