Southward expansion: Florence Bank continues push into Hampden County

  • Monica Curhan, senior vice president and marketing director, and John Heaps, president and chief executive officer of Florence Bank, at the bank’s headquarters in Florence. sUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Florence Bank President and Chief Executive Officer John Heaps. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • The interior of Florence Bank's 1444 Allen Street Branch in Springfield. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • The exterior of Florence Bank’s branch at 1444 Allen St. in Springfield. The bank is expanding south from its base in Northampton to fill a void left when a number of Hampden County banks were absorbed into larger national banks. sUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/20/2019 10:22:51 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Florence Bank has had the same headquarters since it was founded in 1873. But the institution isn’t standing still, and it’s serious about its expansion into Hampden County.

The bank is already active in the county, having opened a branch at 1010 Union St. in West Springfield three years ago and another at 1444 Allen Street in Springfield last December. Before that, a loan production office was established in West Springfield 12 years ago. About eight years ago, it also put an ATM in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Now the bank is moving forward with opening a branch in part of the redeveloped Hu Ke Lau property on Memorial Drive in Chicopee, although President and Chief Executive Officer John Heaps is careful to point out that, “We’re not taking the whole Hu Ke Lau.”

The branch will open sometime next year. Heaps said that the location would employ about five or six people, the same as the West Springfield branch. As for whether there will be any tribute to the Hu Ke Lau at the Chicopee branch, Heaps expressed a good-humored openness to the possibility.

Heaps said Florence Bank decided to expand south following the absorption of a number of local Hampden County banks into larger entities over the last decade.

“There’s no local banks,” Heaps said.

A mutual bank, Florence Bank has no stockholders and no owners. Instead, its mission is to serve its customers, and it is run by 60 corporators, who elect their successors.

“We can make decisions for the long term,” said Monica Curhan, senior vice president and marketing director at Florence Bank, in noting that the bank doesn’t have to appease shareholders.

Heaps said that Florence Bank could go public, as a number of mutual banks have, but, “We’re not doing that.”

As for expanding to other parts of the commonwealth, or to different states, Heaps indicated that there were “not really” any plans to do so.

“Most of our growth comes because our customers are looking for us,” he said.

He also said that the bank is looking to expand further in Hampden County as well.

Even with the expansion, most of the bank’s customers are still in Hampshire County. Currently, the bank has about 4,000 customers in Hampden County and about 35,000 in Hampshire County.

“Our focus is Hampshire County,” Heaps said.

Curhan said that Florence Bank has 25 percent of all bank deposits that the FDIC reports in Hampshire County.

“When you get to that point, it’s hard to move the needle,” said Heaps.

On why physical branches are still being opened in an increasingly digital world, Heaps said what people are doing in them is different now.

“The transactions at the branch have changed,” he said, noting that teller transactions have gone down.

Opening accounts, getting mortgages and dealing with problems are activities he said people are doing at branches, even as the number of people getting cash or making deposits has gone down. And Curhan said that interactions at the branches are now more consultative and less transactional.

Heaps also said that in the newer branches, employees do both teller work and customer service.

“You name it, they can do it,” he said.

Additionally, Heaps said there’s a connection between having a physical presence and digital success for businesses and that, “bricks equal clicks.”

“The physical presence is also important for brand awareness as well,” Curhan said.

“People need to drive by stores and see the signage,” she continued. “They may never come in. But if they know that they can, there’s a level of reassurance.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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