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Florence, Greenfield banks staking claims in each other’s territories

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Florence Savings Bank ATM at Main and Bank Row
  • Recorder/File Photo<br/>Florence Savings Bank ATM at Main Street and Bank Row.

It looks like a bit of a bank row at the corner of Bank Row — albeit a quiet one, or maybe just some friendly competition.

There, across from where Greenfield Savings Bank dominates one corner of downtown’s main intersection, is a newly planted Florence Savings Bank ATM.

And as if that weren’t enough of an indignity on the gentle Greenfield giant’s home turf, prominent signs on the brick building, just above those for Greenfield Coffee, stake the southeast corner as the new, automated domain of Florence Savings Bank ATM.

That may be something new for Greenfield to have another community bank conspicuously set up shop in Franklin County, but if you think there’s more such turf skirmishes ahead, well, you can probably bank on it.

First of all, Florence Savings Bank, which has had a loan office in Greenfield since 2009 — first at 377 Main St., then at the plaza on the Mohawk Trail and most recently at 116 Federal St. — recently purchased the property at 235 Federal St. for a “possible future expansion,” in the words of its marketing director.

And Greenfield Savings’ own bank of teller windows has a banner announcing — along with “free checking!” — the bold announcement, “Now in Northampton!”

The new bank has a prominent location at the front of the King Street plaza being redeveloped just south of the Damon Road intersection, although GSB President Rebecca Caplice says it appears from the road bigger than it is, because of the way it’s sited to make room for a drive-through area, with parking in front.

“The building is long and narrow, and presents itself like a big thing,” said Caplice, noting that the bank, which opened last December, includes space for a community room.

Greenfield’s Northampton branch is its second in Hampshire County, following 10 years after the opening of an Amherst branch on University Drive. That branch built onto the demand for its trust department, which Caplice said is a bit unusual for a community bank to have.

“That’s a strength, and we were getting referrals from that area,” she said, from people who wanted to set up trusts for their children and grandchildren, from people who had inherited money or from older customers who needed help managing their money. “We thought, maybe we need to have a real physical presence here.”

Flash-forward a decade, and GSB began looking at continued flat population growth in Franklin County, contrasted with more growth potential in Hampshire County — particularly across the river in Amherst, where more than 12 percent of its loans were based.

“We’d reached our (market) penetration here, and we found we were getting business from that area,” said Caplice, explaining GSB’s decision to capitalize on the fact that western Hampshire County represented 12 percent of the bank’s loans but only 4 percent of its deposits.

“We don’t have to be right there for those loans, but to get the deposits to go with it, we need a presence. That’s what made sense to us,” she said. “People tend to bank along the route they take every day in life. UMass is still a huge employer for people in Franklin County, so there’s a lot of traffic back and forth.”

Another appeal in Hampshire County is the transience that comes from having UMass and the four colleges, with a stream of newcomers to the area that provide an opportunity to have potential customers “in play,” Caplice says. “When you’re coming into the area, we have as much of a shot as anyone else for the new person.”

With more of a stable population in Franklin County and more of a loyal customer base, historically, says Caplice, “Your bank tends to be your bank, and unless they irritate the heck out of you, you tend to stay there.”

The 143-year-old Greenfield bank, which has seen its assets grow from $385 million in 2002 to roughly $650 million today — “the lower edge of big” — has largely been able to seize upon its local roots in attracting business away from competition that’s much bigger and based far away.

“We don’t have the (population) growth to grab, so we usually have to wrestle it away from someone else,” Caplice explains. “But fortunately, we can usually count on Bank of America to do at least one thing annually to irritate people, so some of it just falls out from larger banks. They’re attractive in one way, because they have sophisticated services, but then there’s the anonymity that comes with that, and they give us a little bit of their business every year. And that helps.”

Florence

And if GSB has been tapping into the Hampshire County market to the south, Florence is beginning to do the same here, first with its mortgage office, then with the ATM that set up in May. In June, it purchased the former Midas Muffler property on the corner of Beacon Street.

“We have no definitive plans at the moment,” said Monica Curhan, FBS’s senior vice president-marketing director. “It may be a possible location for future expansion. Our loan office is doing very well.”

With about 7,000 accounts representing about 3,000 Franklin County households, Curhan said, a branch is seen as a way to better serve those existing customers — and hypothetically, a way to attract other customers who may have moved to Greenfield from Hampshire County or who work there.

FSB, which has more than $1 billion in total assets and built branches in Belchertown in 2004 and Granby in 2007, surprised Caplice with its Greenfield ATM, even though she was aware that building owner Jordi Herold was courting a bank to install a machine there.

“I was surprised by it being sited the way it was,” rather than more hidden in the building’s foyer. “It hadn’t really dawned on me that it would be positioned that way,” says Caplice, who added that she’s been aware for a couple of years that FSB was seeking a site for a Greenfield branch.

After years of community banks being limited under state banking laws to grow only within their own counties, lines have become blurred, with the only caveat being that they grow to better serve their declared market area. Caplice said that after recently renovating branches in Turners Falls and South Deerfield, reconfiguring its Greenfield drive-up banking area, building the Northampton branch and working on refurbishing the Shelburne Falls branch, there are no plans for further expansions into Hampshire County or elsewhere.

GSB also has a branch in Conway.

It’s quite possible there will be more banks branching out, particularly if a new player enters South Deerfield to replace Bank of America, which plans to close its branch there in August.

“But it’s the law of diminishing returns,” Caplice says. “There isn’t enough business to warrant” a lot of expansion. “They’re going to have to take it away from somebody else. If you’re in an area where the population’s growing 3 or 4 percent a year, maybe you can justify adding more banking outlets.”

You can reach Richie Davis at
rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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