When The Westchester Bank set up shop in a pair of double-wide trailers in Yonkers in 2008, Collins Brothers, a moving and storage company, was one of its first customers.
“We had always been with large banks,” said Frank Webers, CEO of Collins. “We felt that Westchester offered a more personal relationship. When you’re an entrepreneur and put every single thing you have in your business, you take it very personally. Westchester takes a lot of time to understand your business, what makes it tick, and be there with suggestions and solutions. I always felt that no matter what our challenges or needs, they were always there to support us. It’s the best banking relationship we’ve ever had.”
Webers is not the only business owner in Westchester County who feels that way. Since opening in June 2008, The Westchester Bank has become one of the fastest growing community banks in the country. From an initial capital raise of
$22.8 million, total assets now surpass $500 million. Considering Lehman Brothers crashed four months after the bank opened, touching off the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Westchester’s success is all the more impressive.
“My philosophy is you can either focus on the problem or on the solution,” said John M. Tolomer, president and CEO. ”It became very clear what the solution was. We had no control over the economy, but we did have control over our message and could deliver world-class banking services in Westchester County. We focused on what we could do and could control. Ultimately, the strategy paid off.”
The Westchester Bank is a New York State-chartered, full-service and FDIC-insured commercial bank offering state-of-the- art technology with a comprehensive line of banking products to businesses and consumers including business and personal checking, business lending, commercial mortgages, savings accounts, CDs, money market accounts, interest on lawyer accounts, attorney escrow accounts and tenant security accounts.
The bank, profitable since its second year, has outpaced its most aggressive projections. It helped that there were very few community banks in Westchester County (and Westchester will soon become the only community bank in the county). As larger banks became more internally focused on legacy bad loans during the recession, community banks rushed to fill the void. Technology also helped even the playing field.
“A small bank could offer all the services and technology the largest financial institutions offered,” Tolomer said. “A lot of businesses were taking the brunt of the downturn and looking for financing. We were able to really focus on building new relationships and convincing those small and medium size business owners that we had all the products and capabilities as the largest financial institutions, but could deliver them like a community bank in a highly personalized manner.”
Tolomer’s own knowledge and relationships in Westchester County were also instrumental to the bank’s success. Born and bred in Westchester County, Tolomer spent part of his banking career there at the Bank of New York before eventually becoming president of Commerce Bank in Florida. He was recruited to join Westchester in November 2008.
“I have to admit I had a few laughs, thinking about being president of Commerce Bank and then working in a couple of double-wide trailers,” Tolomer said.
But the trailers were short-lived. The bank soon moved its corporate headquarters to 2001 Central Park Ave. in Yonkers, and in February 2015 expanded its corporate offices again to White Plains, its second office there. Other locations include Yonkers (now a branch), Thornwood and Mount Kisco. The bank has 45 employees.
Tolomer said The Westchester Bank’s success rests on a three-pronged model: products, technology and people.
“It’s a combination of having the greatest products and services and being able to leverage the technology to emphasize personal service between the bank and customer,” he said.
As long as it sticks to that model, Tolomer said the bank will continue to outpace projections in all categories. Currently, the bank has a total loan portfolio in excess of $410 million. C&I loans make up about 53 percent, and commercial real estate and multifamily housing the other 47 percent. Deposits exceed $440 million.
Tolomer said the bank is open to growing through mergers, and also expanding outside Westchester County. “We will always be opportunistic,” he said.
Looking ahead, he said the biggest challenges facing the bank are people and technology.
“It’s always a challenge to recruit people who can buy into our culture and execute our model, both on the front and back ends,” he said. “We’re always in the process of interviewing people to find the best fit.”
Keeping up with technology is another challenge. “You always want to make sure you have the greatest technology, security and cybersecurity.”
Finally, Tolomer said a third challenge will be to “stick to our knitting” and the bank’s motto of “Business Banking Made Personal.”