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The Westchester Bank: Banking Made Personal … & Staying Personal During COVID-19

Published 11/20/2020
by Bess Besen, The Inside Press
thumbnail image for The Westchester Bank: Banking Made Personal … & Staying Personal During COVID-19

What does ‘Banking Made Personal’ mean? For The Westchester Bank’s (TWB) President and CEO John Tolomer, it’s more than a catchy tagline; it’s the essence of his bank’s 12-year history of community-focused, hands-on business. Moreover, and in Tolomer’s estimation, “the pandemic has certainly taken TWB’s Banking Made Personal to another level.”

Tolomer, a proud Chappaqua family-man and resident for 30 years, has seen many changes to our town over time. But what hasn’t changed is the shared community need we all feel to connect with one another. It’s what drives so many to choose a small Westchester town in the first place, and what then drives many locals, and local and not-for-profit businesses, to turn to The Westchester Bank for their needs. Says Tolomer, “we live up to Banking Made Personal everyday with every customer.”

Tolomer highlights the importance and security of feeling connected, noting that with TWB, customers enjoy ongoing and often long-term relationships. They equally appreciate avoiding the frustrations associated with bigger banks… impersonal 800 numbers and inevitable long outgoing message and automated menu; instead they can call their TWB branch and speak directly with a manager.

westchester bank thornwood branchRecognizing that a phone call provides an invaluable way to connect, calls were among TWB’s first response to reassuring customers that all was secure when COVID-19 first became known. Tolomer notes, “we had the opportunity to call each and every one of our customers to see how we could be in a position to help them ride through the economic uncertainty.” He further shares that he and his team have always routinely run contingency plans, including the prescient “what if” of a pandemic.

With their last planning session completed in January 2020, TWB was fortunately well-prepared to put their latest contingency plan into effect as soon as the unprecedented news of global pandemic topped headlines in late February/early March. The upshot for all is not only reassurance, but gratitude. And gratitude that seems to cut both ways. “Being able to be a community bank and call your customers is very powerful,” says Tolomer, who then goes on to underscore that the feedback from customers has been very gratifying as well.

“Customers are grateful that we’re calling to personally ask how we can assist them, as opposed to badger them for payments and the like, and we’re grateful to have the ability to continue to serve and enrich our community.”

While both borrowing and depository customers really embraced the personal touch a phone call provided, true relief came from knowing that TWB had secured their bottom line. With help from the government’s Payroll Protection Plan of April 6th, Tolomer estimates TWB was able to facilitate in excess of $85 million in PPP loans, a sum that translated to saving over seven thousand jobs. Further, he and TWB continue to support a wide range of local not-for-profits–as has always been a hallmark of their mission–with ongoing no-fee products, services and employee volunteerism. Tolomer cites one such example, Feeding Westchester, as even more important right now, “as affluent as this community is, there are those in need of food, who are food-insecure, especially in these unprecedented times.”

Happily, the bank is continuing to operate at full strength. But, naturally, there are changes in the day-to-day way things run at present. Many officers are working remotely, and many customers are banking remotely. Of course, online banking isn’t new, but Tolomer says it has increased significantly including an uptick in mobile app use and scanning deposits. For those who are newer to online and mobile banking, TWB provides plenty of tech support.

Certainly, and as noted, a large part of the charm of local banking was coming in to “mingle” and see familiar faces. Many look forward to a return to those days, even as safety and caution–the buzzwords of the moment–lead both employees and customers to recognize that distance banking is in everyone’s best interests right now. That said, when necessity does require an in-person visit to one of TWB’s seven full-service local branches, rest assured that the bank has taken full social distancing and sanitation measures and that bank personnel are fully masked-up–and the expectation is that customers will do like-wise.

Banking Made Personal® is a registered trademark of The Westchester Bank

Beth Besen is a local freelance writer, editor and essay coach.