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PeoplesBank Expands Its Footprint — and Moves Up the Donors’ List
Doug Bowen, left, president and CEO of PeoplesBank, congratulates Henry Thomas III,

Doug Bowen, left, president and CEO of PeoplesBank, congratulates Henry Thomas III, president and CEO of the Urban League of Springfield Inc., on his organization’s selection as a donation recipient.

PeoplesBank President Doug Bowen has several different numbers to be proud of these days.

For starters, there’s $1.41 billion. That’s the total-assets figure for the Holyoke-based institution, making it the largest community bank in Western Mass. There’s also $912,262,000 (total deposits), and 15, the number of locations the bank now has in the Pioneer Valley.

There are a few more figures of note: one that Bowen certainly knew about, $412,376 (the amount donated by the bank to area-based nonprofit groups in 2007), and one he didn’t, until recently, anyway. That would be 52.

That’s where the bank ranked in the Boston Business Journal’s third annual “largest charitable contributors list,” which is based on donations to Massachusetts nonprofits. That’s just one slot below giant Friendly Ice Cream Corp., ($421,031), in roughly the same neighborhood as KPMG, Arbella Insurance, and even Microsoft Corp., all corporations with a large presence in the Bay State, and comfortably ahead of Dunkin Brands ($218,020) and Reebok International ($138,345).

These numbers for assets, branches, and donations are all intertwined, of course, said Bowen, who noted that, as PeoplesBank expands its footprint in Western Mass. — including its two most recent branch openings, both in Springfield — the levels of deposits and assets naturally increase. But so too does the amount of giving within the community, he noted, adding that the bank’s presence within a given community extends well beyond bricks and mortar.

The opening of the institution’s newest branch, on Sumner Avenue in the Forest Park section of Springfield, for example, was accompanied by some checks signed by PeoplesBank and made out to American International College ($50,000); Rachel’s Table ($15,000); the Springfield Falcons ($11,200); ReStore Home Improvement Center ($10,000); Springfield Public Forum ($4,000); Springfield Symphony ($8,000), and the Urban League of Springfield ($15,000).

That’s a total of more than $113,000, which will help the bank keep a strong presence on the Journal’s largest-charitable contributors list, an honor that Bowen relishes because it exemplifies the bank’s mission to make a difference in the communities it serves through contributions to such groups, and not merely compile assets, deposits, and mailing addresses.

“This ranking speaks to our commitment to the region … we’re proud of our track record for giving,” said Bowen, noting that he’s not sure what the final tally for donations will be for ’08, but it will be well north of $500,000. That should move the bank up the list, but Bowen is focused more on what these and other types of donations will mean within the community.

“A lot of people talk about commitment,” he explained. “We do it through our financial resources, but just as important, we encourage people here to donate their time, energy, and leadership skills — and they have.”

Branches of Service

Upon crunching the numbers from the Journal’s contributor list for 2007, one finds that PeoplesBank is exponentially (two zeroes, actually) behind frontrunner State Street Corp., which doled out a whopping $33 million in ’07. That’s roughly double the amount contributed by runner-up Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts ($16.6 million). Meanwhile, Bank of America ($14 million), Liberty Mutual Group ($11.9 million), and Partners Healthcare ($11.54 million) round out the top five. MassMutual? It was 14th at $4.6 million, one slot ahead of the Red Sox, $4.4 million.

But the Holyoke institution wound up as the 10th-highest bank on the list. It is the fourth-largest outside Worcester, and the largest based in the Pioneer Valley.

Bowen says this standing is one of the anticipated, and more pleasurable, byproducts of an ambitious expansion strategy that the bank set in place a few years ago. Then-president Joe Lobello described it as a somewhat unusual game plan given the over-banked nature of many area communities (or the perception of same within the industry and outside it) and planned or anticipated expansion by other institutions, especially ones that had recently gone public.

But Lobello thought then, and Bowen believes now, that the strategy is sound. It calls for giving PeoplesBank, which has historically been focused on Holyoke and surrounding towns, a presence in more communities, including Springfield (where it has only had ATMs until recently) and, eventually, Northampton, West Spring-field, and other cities and towns.

These bridgeheads, if one can call them that, will properly position for the bank for expected future consolidation, mergers, and acquisitions that will leave fewer locally owned and managed banks, said Bowen, noting that Springfield has become the first phase of the plan’s execution.

And while some might put Springfield in the ‘over-banked’ category, PeoplesBank saw what it considered to be room for another, in this case, locally based institution.

“We saw space for a local bank with local control,” said Bowen, noting that most all the banks doing business in the City of Homes are headquartered out of the region or even out of the country. “And we went ahead to fill that space.”

The first foray into Springfield was in Sixteen Acres, with a branch that opened in late 2006, he said, noting that the Sumner Avenue facility was already in the planning stages when that facility opened. Likewise, the next step — a branch in East Springfield, near the Springfield Plaza — is set to move off the drawing board.

As the bank has expanded into Springfield, it has written checks to benefit groups and facilities based in that city or that do business there, said Bowen, noting that, with the opening of the Sixteen Acres branch, the bank donated $75,000 to the Greenleaf Senior Center, among other donations to groups that serve that area.

These gifts no doubt helped push PeoplesBank onto the Boston Business Journal’s list, and the donations that have accompanied the Sumner Avenue branch opening may propel it higher, said Bowen, adding quickly that the chosen beneficiaries are as important as the dollar amounts.

“There are organizations — the symphony, the Public Forum, and the Springfield Falcons are all examples — that clearly enrich our lives,” said Bowen. “And then there are others that reach out and support the most vulnerable members of the community, and Rachel’s Table and the Urban League are good examples of that. These are the kinds of groups we want to support because they improve quality of life within a community.”

The bank has an individual with the title “community manager,” Bowen continued, who takes requests from nonprofits, weighs the merits of applications, and makes recommendations to company leaders. “We consider these applications based on the scope and the impact in the community, and our giving is focused on putting dollars where they can impact the most people and have the greatest impact.”

The Bottom Line

Bowen said the bank has a number of possible options as it mulls the next steps in its broad expansion plan.

Creating a presence in Northampton, the largest community in Hampshire County, is certainly at or near the top of the list, while a West Springfield location is also a likely eventuality.

And as the bank expands, it will continue to support those communities where the name goes, said Bowen, hinting broadly that while he’s certainly proud of that number 52, this is one of those rare incidences when an bank executive would like to see a smaller figure next year.

— George O’Brien

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