Daily News

Florence Bank President and CEO John Heaps Jr. Announces Retirement

FLORENCE — Florence Bank announced that President and CEO John Heaps Jr. will retire on May 1, 25 years to the day after he took the top job, making him the bank’s longest-serving CEO.

Heaps has grown the bank in terms of staff, the number of branches, the geographic regions it serves, and capital and assets. Florence Bank is a top-performing bank in the industry in the state, with record results over the past five years, according to both the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Depositors Insurance Fund.

“We’ve kept our focus on the customers, the community, and the employees,” Heaps said. “We are committed to our status as an independent, mutual bank, which allows us to keep that focus. That gives us strength.”

Heaps will be succeeded from within as president and CEO by Kevin Day, Florence Bank’s executive vice president. Day joined the bank 11 years ago as its chief financial officer.

Since Heaps came on board as president and CEO on May 1, 1995, dozens of mutual banks in the Pioneer Valley have been bought out by or merged with larger banks. “There are only a few mutual banks left,” he said. “In light of the economic downturns we’ve seen in the past few decades, that is significant. We are able to continue to focus on what’s right for the community and remaining mutual.”

During Heaps’ tenure, Florence Bank’s capital has grown from $24 million to $161 million, and assets have grown from $283 million to $1.4 billion. The bank grew from four branches in 1995 to 11 now — and soon to be 12. The staff has doubled from 112 full-time employees to 221 now.

“It was very methodical growth,” said Robert Borawski, a 30-year member of the bank’s board of directors and its current chair. He explained that Heaps intentionally targeted commercial lending as a growth opportunity and built the lending team from one person in 1995 to nine now.

Heaps also invested in marketing to raise awareness about Florence Bank, and his strategy for expanding into Hampden County promoted growth as well. “John had deep, local roots,” said Borawski, president of Borawski Insurance in Northampton. “He has great commercial connections and is well-respected, full of energy, very engaging.”

Heaps is proud of Florence Bank’s community giving, which totals nearly $600,000 annually. One component of the bank’s giving that Heaps is particularly proud of is the Customers’ Choice Community Grants program. He recalled the year that his late wife, Jane, suggested the concept for the program, through which bank customers can vote for one nonprofit they would like the bank to support with a grant. “It was such a unique idea,” he said.

Since 2002, the program has provided over $1.1 million to hundreds of Valley nonprofits. This year, the bank will be giving another $100,000 through the program to more than 50 nonprofits.

Heaps grew up in Springfield and began his banking career in 1971 in marketing at Valley Bank, later Bay Bank, in Springfield. In 1987, he was first named a bank president for Bank of Boston, also in Springfield. He was 37 at the time, and the Springfield Union-News reported he was the youngest bank CEO in Western Mass.

At 71, Heaps said the time is right for him to retire. “We have a strategic plan in place that will guide the continued growth of our bank in Western Mass. The marketplace is wide open for us. We have an exceptional senior management team, a dedicated board of directors, and committed employees.”

In addition to serving on many nonprofit boards, Heaps has also sat on many boards in the banking industry, including the Connecticut On-Line Computer Center Inc. (COCC), which provides core data processing to banks, including Florence Bank. “COCC allows Florence Bank and other community banks to compete with the largest banks in America,” he said.