Small-bank values and a five-star rating.
by Rick A. Richards
LaPorte Savings Bank’s roots run deep in LaPorte County and Northwest Indiana. As far as Chairman and CEO Lee Brady can tell, the bank’s roots are deeper than any other bank in the region still doing business under its original name.
Brady, who has been with the bank for 37 years, says the 140-year-old LaPorte Savings Bank “is an organization that embodies the philosophy of the local community bank.”
As a community bank, Brady says LPSB hasn’t strayed far from its roots and has focused intently on providing mortgages and loans to residents and businesses. “We have a loyal and good customer base and they’ve supported us,” says Brady.
President Michele M. Thompson is the first woman to hold the bank’s presidency, and as far as Brady knows, is the first female bank president in the region. It’s a distinction of which Brady and the bank are proud.
“We have a strong relationship with our community. That’s very satisfying to me,” says Thompson.
LaPorte Savings Bank opened its doors in 1871 in a single room of the First National Bank Building in downtown LaPorte. Brady explains that banks during that era were focused more on business clients and wealthy individuals. Consumer banking, as it’s known today, didn’t exist then, and Brady says that’s the niche LaPorte Savings Bank catered to when it opened. Within a decade of its opening, LPSB moved to its own location.
“Back then commercial banks didn’t deal with individuals,” says Brady. “Hours were very unusual and we were open only a couple days a week. Gradually we grew. A lot of savings banks had names like Dime Savings Bank or Nickel Savings Bank because they took deposits that small. Commercial banks didn’t want to do that.”
Thompson says LPSB continues to serve individual customers, but changes in the banking industry in recent years are redefining what a community bank is. “You have to have some economies of scale in order to do it, but today a community bank is bigger than it was 20 years ago. I don’t know if we would be able to be involved in the community like we are if we hadn’t been able to grow and remain successful.”
Brady echoes that. “I see increased consolidation in the coming years and I see regulatory expenses becoming higher. In order to cover those costs, I think you’ll see consolidation. I think ultimately you’ll have to be a $1 billion bank in order to remain independent.”
And independence is something LaPorte Savings Bank cherishes. “Up until a few years ago, we were a mutual savings bank. We didn’t have any public stock, which is why no one tried to acquire us,” says Brady. It wasn’t until 2007 that LaPorte Savings Bank went public in order to complete the only acquisition in the institution’s history.
LaPorte Savings Bank acquired Michigan City Savings and Loan. Thompson says the bank doesn’t plan to make any more acquisitions, but both she and Brady say they’re not going to say never to the idea.
Even so, that’s a far cry from the 400 depositors and a single shared office in 1871 to the more than 26,000 customers LaPorte Savings Bank now serves at eight locations in LaPorte and Porter counties.
But what pleases Brady and Thompson most is the reputation LaPorte Savings Bank has built for being a reliable and well managed bank. For the past 87 quarters in a row, BauerFinancial Inc. has awarded LaPorte Savings Bank a 5-Star Superior Rating.
Brady points out that a 5-Star rating means LaPorte Savings Bank is one of the strongest banks in the nation, and puts it among the top 5 percent of all banks.
Brady brings in interesting perspective to LaPorte Savings Bank. Even though he’s been with the institution for 37 years, he says he never wanted to be a banker.
“I was working for another company in New Jersey and my wife and I had a child. We were working 16 hours a day and had no friends in New Jersey,” says Brady. “I quit my job and came back to LaPorte, which was our home. I had a friend whose father was president of the savings bank so I asked him if he knew of anyone who was hiring. He said he had an opening and I took it.”
Brady says he planned to stay at the bank for a couple of years “until a better job came along,” but he never found a better job.
“It became so challenging that I stayed. I think part of what was going on was the challenge of the business. It just became a way of life,” says Brady. In his climb to chairman, Brady did everything from assistant cashier to payroll to vault manager.
Thompson, on the other hand, wanted to be a banker. “My father was in banking. He was president of LaPorte Bank,” which was the bank down the street from LPSB. She started as a teller and worked her way up.
“I love people and I love talking to customers, but I don’t get to do it on a daily basis anymore,” says Thompson.
Brady says that’s one of the things he misses as well. “You have to work harder to stay in touch. I don’t get a chance to have one-on-one conversations with customers like I used to. Of course you miss that, of course you do. You miss a lot of things as you move up the corporate ladder.”
Brady and Thompson say there is a great deal of satisfaction in knowing the bank has helped a small business get the loan it needs to expand or that it’s helped a family realize a dream of owning a home.
Both miss out on experiencing those joys firsthand, but have learned to celebrate in other ways, like enjoying the growth of staff in learning the business. “We’ve been able to offer really qualified people new opportunities and retain some really good people,” says Brady.
“We have a broader base of employees today,” says Thompson. “More of our management staff is involved in the community, too.”
Brady says the role of a community bank has evolved since LPSB opened 140 years ago. Today, it’s not only providing loans, it’s also providing financial education and it’s out in the community helping organizations.
Thompson says the bank has executives who teach financial education in schools through Junior Achievement. The bank also hosts bank tours for community groups of all ages.
LPSB donates more than 100,000 napkins a year to food vendors at the LaPorte County Fair and other events and it supports the 4-H auction. Bank employees participate in Habitat for Humanity and the institution donates $5,000 each year to the LaPorte Jaycees for the annual July 4 fireworks show.
The list, says Brady and Thompson, is long and includes Relay for Life, the United Way, the Greater LaPorte Economic Development Corp., IU Health LaPorte Hospital and Purdue University North Central among others.
“It’s an expectation for us,” says Brady. But even if it wasn’t an expectation of others, it would be an expectation within the bank, he says. It’s something that ingrained in the fabric of community banks.