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Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Liberty Bank Foundation, an extension of Liberty Bank’s commitment to the communities it serves, granted Dress for Success Western Massachusetts (DFSWM) $10,000 in support of its mission to provide professional attire and a network of support to help women thrive in work and life.

The funding will help make possible DFSWM’s continuum of support, which helps underserved women and gender non-binary people in the community find not just any job, but sustainable career paths with upward mobility that will change their lives, the lives of their families for generations, and the community on whole.

“As a community bank for nearly 200 years, Liberty Bank is dedicated to setting up people for success through financial-literacy programs and opportunities such as Foot in the Door, led by Dress for Success Western Massachusetts,” said David Glidden, Liberty Bank president and CEO and Liberty Bank Foundation president.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion is one of our core values,” he added, “and with our growth into Massachusetts, we are dedicated to investing in local programs that uplift women as they navigate through both their personal and professional journeys, put them on the path to financial security, and build up equity within our community. It takes a village to create generational wealth, and supporting women through advocacy and development is one of the best investments we can make.”

The continuum of support includes suiting for professional attire, the Foot in the Door workforce-readiness training, the Margaret Fitzgerald Mentorship Program, the Professional Women’s Group, and digital-literacy training in partnership with another local nonprofit Tech Foundry. In addition to its grant, Liberty Bank also provides financial-literacy programming covering basic budgeting, paths to homeownership, building and rebuilding credit, paying for higher education, and more.

“Liberty Bank has shown that it is not only a funder, but a partner that truly cares about the women we serve,” DFSWM Executive Director Jess Roncarati-Howe said. “From their generous financial support to successful clothing drives to taking time to educate and engage with our participants, Liberty Bank is doing the work hand-in-hand with us and, as David says, establishing the village that will create generational wealth. We are grateful to have their support.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Square One’s school-age childcare program received a $5,000 boost from Liberty Bank this week.

The funds will be used to enhance the experiences of Square One’s children, kindergarten through grade 5, who attend after-school and summer programming. Enhancements will include a partnership with Mass Audubon and educational and recreational field trips.

“Liberty Bank is excited to partner with Square One to deliver childcare and enrichment programs for children while offering the convenience and flexibility working parents need,” said David Glidden, Liberty Bank president and CEO and Liberty Bank Foundation president.

“Exposure to engaged learning opportunities and fun recreational experiences in a community-based setting is key to further advancing our future leaders. The enrichment activities Square One provides are important for enhancing students’ quality of life when school is out and giving them the skills they need to grow into successful adults. This partnership could not align better with our promise to ‘be community kind’ and to invest in local programs.”

Kristine Allard, vice president of Development & Communication for Square One, added that “experiential learning is a key component of our curriculums and our mission to position all children for long-term success. We are so grateful to our friends at Liberty Bank for supporting us in this important work and very excited for the new experiences that our children will enjoy with this wonderful gift.”

Daily News

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — David Glidden, president and CEO of Liberty Bank, and the bank’s board of directors jointly announced that Doug Anderson was unanimously elected chairman of the board at its March meeting.

The election of Anderson comes after the unexpected passing of longtime Chairman Mark Gingras on March 7. Gingras served as Liberty’s board chairman since 2007 and board member since 2001.

Anderson’s role as a Liberty Bank corporator and board member began in April 2018. During that time, he has served on the credit risk, audit, compensation, and governance committees, and most recently as chair of the credit risk committee.

He brings decades of diverse leadership experience in banking, finance, management, and operations to the role of chairman. His extensive background includes senior executive roles as president of the former Savings Bank of Manchester (SBM) until 2004 and chairman, president, and CEO of the former Open Solutions. He spent 14 years at Unisys, an international technology company, and served on the board of directors for the former New Alliance Bancshares Inc.

Beyond Liberty’s boardroom, Anderson, a graduate of the University of Connecticut, has been a dedicated and generous community partner. This includes his philanthropic support and board service for many organizations and causes, such as the Connecticut Science Center, SBM Charitable Foundation, Manchester Community College Foundation, and Connecticut Foodshare. He also served as chairman of the Liberty Bank Foundation.

“Since Doug joined the board six years ago, he has earned high admiration and a stellar reputation as a director and a ‘Be Community Kind’ brand ambassador in the communities we serve,” Glidden said. “Not only does he possess extensive business acumen, but he also brings invaluable banking acumen and a wealth of banking knowledge as a former president and board chair for other community banks. He’s done a terrific job, and we know he will serve us well in setting the course for the bank as he takes on this leadership role.”

On the unexpected passing of Gingras, Glidden added, “Mark was a wonderful husband, dad, and doting grandfather. He also cherished his second family, his Liberty teammates. Whether he was in the boardroom, visiting a branch, or in the community, Mark always conveyed kindness, loyalty, and leadership, and demonstrated a steadfast dedication to ensuring Liberty remains a mutual bank. His leadership and friendship cannot be replaced, but his legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of our board members and teammates at Liberty Bank.”

Banking and Financial Services Special Coverage

Moving North

President Dave Glidden

 

Dave Glidden has long referred to it as the “I-91 corridor strategy.”

This is the growth plan for Middletown, Conn.-based Liberty Bank, one that, as the name suggests, focuses on the I-91 corridor, which stretches from New Haven into Southern Vermont.

The bank has followed that strategy, increasing its presence in Southern Conn., and now Western Mass. as well, taking another important step in what could be called its northward advance with the opening last month of its first branch in this region — on Shaker Road in East Longmeadow, just a few miles from the state line.

The facility, a former United Cooperative and then PeoplesUnited branch, was home to a commercial loan-production office that Liberty opened in 2021 and eventually moved to the 23rd floor of Monarch Place in downtown Springfield — after that LPO gave Liberty a foothold of sorts and convinced Glidden, the bank’s president, and other members of his leadership team that it was time to open a full-service branch in the 413.

“We generated a lot of volume and a lot of new customers out of there, and some good deposits,” he said. “When it got to that point, I said, ‘OK … we’ve proven that there’s space and a place for us in this market,’ and that’s when I decided to move the commercial-lending team and their support staff to Monarch Place and tear down the sheetrock and outfit a nice branch on Shaker Road.”

“We are selectively and cautiously considering where to go next. We don’t have to be in a rush, but I can see a total of maybe three to six branches over the next few years — if the right opportunities present themselves.”

With that move, the logical questions — and Glidden was ready for them — is where will the bank go next within the 413, and when?

“We are selectively and cautiously considering where to go next,” he told BusinessWest. “We don’t have to be in a rush, but I can see a total of maybe three to six branches over the next few years — if the right opportunities present themselves.

“I wouldn’t force the issue,” he went on, saying there is no firm timetable and no specific number of locations as a firm goal. “Maybe three to six branches, strategically located, with drive-thrus, with the focus on catering to small to medium-sized business owners. That’s our future plan.”

How this plan shakes out remains to be seen, obviously, and we’ll delve more into where the Liberty name and logo might appear next. For now, the bank wants to continue solidifying its beachhead and take the I-91 corridor strategy to different corners of the 413.

For this issue and its focus on banking and financial services, BusinessWest talked with Glidden about the next possible steps with this strategy and how the drive north will unfold.

 

Points of Interest

Glidden laughed when he noted that, when people tell him they see the bank’s TV commercials — “the ones with the emu and that guy with the mustache” — he no longer makes the effort to correct them and inform them that those are for the insurance giant Liberty Mutual.

“Why bother — what am I fighting it for?” he asked rhetorically, adding quickly that the last four words of each of those frequently, as in frequently, aired spots — ‘Liberty, Liberty, Liberty … Liberty’ — constitute solid name recognition that he doesn’t have to pay for. “Every time I see that commercial, I’m cheering; people come up to me and say, ‘I saw your commercial.’ I just say, ‘thank you; let me open a checking account for you.’”

Bank employees and elected officials

Bank employees and elected officials cut the ceremonial ribbon last month on Liberty Bank’s East Longmeadow branch.

This form of free advertising, if you will, is just one of many things that have gone well for Liberty over the past several years. In fact, Glidden said 2023 may be the bank’s third straight year of record profits, though the final numbers are not yet in.

But even if it’s not a record, the bank is maintaining a strong upward trajectory, which it owes to several factors, but especially its aggressive I-91 corridor strategy and the qualities needed to carry it out and gain market share across that wide area.

Elaborating, Glidden said the bank has several advantages, from a name that resonates and crosses state lines easily to a broad portfolio of products on both the commercial and consumer sides of the ledger; from a commitment to the latest digital technology to an attractive size.

Indeed, with more than $7 billion in assets and 56 locations in Connecticut and two in the Bay State, Liberty, the oldest mutual bank in the country, can “out-local the national banks and out-national the local banks,” said Glidden, a native of Holyoke who is well-known in this region and has long considered Western Mass. the next logical area of expansion for the bank.

“We can deliver a balance sheet that’s going to be large enough for 99.9% of the companies up there to grow to whatever they want to be,” he said, adding that this size, coupled with lenders who know and hail from Western Mass., has enabled Liberty to make solid inroads in the local market and presents opportunities to gain market share in this region.

And many changes to the banking landscape, but especially the advent and continued evolution of digital platforms and mobile apps, make it easier to cross state lines, he went on.

“The habits of consumers and small businesses, what they’re looking for from a bank, are not the same as they were 15 years ago.”

“The habits of consumers and small businesses, what they’re looking for from a bank, are not the same as they were 15 years ago,” Glidden explained. “Do they want to know that their bank has a branch so that, if there’s an issue, they can go in and sit with someone and get advice? Yes. But, across the board, transactions and visitations to branches continue to decline, and that decline is not projected to slow down any time soon.

“And that kind of changes the playing field in the sense of being able to go over the line with maybe a toe in the market,” he continued. “If this was 10 to 15 years ago, and I made the decision that I wanted Liberty to go into Western Massachusetts and compete, I probably would have looked to do it through an acquisition strategy. That doesn’t mean that acquisition strategies are off the table, but you don’t have to do that now with digital and mobile apps.”

 

By All Accounts

As for the growth strategy in the 413, Glidden said that, as with the initial thrust into the region in East Longmeadow, the focus — the ‘macro strategy for this market,” as he called it — is an emphasis on small business and commercial lending, realms that build customers, relationships, deposits, and more, and cement the need for additional branches.

This was the strategy followed in New Haven, where the bank established an LPO, and again in Hartford. And it is the same strategy being deployed north of the border in Greater Springfield.

As he scans the Western Mass. landscape — and, again, he knows it well from his years as regional president at TD Bank — Glidden acknowledged that Western Mass., is, by and large, a no-growth area. And most of its communities — and East Longmeadow is squarely in this category — are considered overbanked.

But there are opportunities, he noted, adding that his team is looking at maps and crunching numbers as they consider where to go next.

There are what would be considered obvious landing spots, he said, mentioning larger population and commercial centers such as West Springfield, Holyoke, Chicopee, and Westfield, and these may well be the next push pins on the wall map.

“The analytics you use on this stuff gets so complicated … sometimes you need to just take a step back and say, ‘where are all the people, and where are all the businesses?’” he said. “And just put them there.”

‘There’ probably doesn’t mean Hampshire County, at least not at this time, he went on, adding quickly that he certainly wouldn’t rule out putting a branch in a community like South Hadley, which borders Holyoke, Chicopee, and Amherst, and is another of those ‘overbanked’ communities in Western Mass.

“Right now, we’ve had success on the commercial and small-business side; let’s look at Greater Springfield and the surrounding communities,” he told BusinessWest. “If Springfield is the hub, then look at the spokes around there and find the right places to sprinkle a few more branches to service our growing customer base there.”

As he looks ahead, Glidden isn’t expecting another record year when it comes to profitability for Liberty Bank.

Indeed, while 2023 was a very strong year, the pace of growth started to slow during the third and fourth quarters, and this trend will, in all likelihood, continue in the year ahead.

But what will also continue is implementation of the bank’s I-91 corridor strategy, one that has seen Liberty makes its first moves in the Western Mass. market and establish a foothold.

The goal for 2024 and the years to follow will be to strengthen that hold and take the brand to different communities across the region. Just where, when, and how the next steps will take place remain to be seen, but one thing is clear: Liberty’s march north is just getting started.

Daily News

EAST LONGMEADOW — Joined by customers, area business leaders, community representatives, and state and local elected officials, Liberty Bank cut the ribbon on Tuesday to its first bank branch in Massachusetts, located at 94 Shaker Road in East Longmeadow, marking its official opening.

Teammates from Liberty Bank, which is headquartered in Middletown, Conn., also presented two grants totaling $10,000 to representatives from the East Longmeadow Food Pantry and Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity. In addition, state Rep. Brian Ashe and Jennifer Pickering, district director for state Sen. Jacob Oliveira, each presented official citations recognizing the opening of the branch. East Longmeadow Town Manager Tom Christensen also attended the event.

As part of Liberty’s growth strategy to build its presence along the I-91 corridor from New Haven to Hartford and now into Greater Springfield, it established a commercial loan production office in East Longmeadow in 2021. The relationship managers and support teams based in this market have been successful in maintaining and building new relationships within East Longmeadow and Greater Springfield, attracting new customers to the bank, networking with prospects, and building a strong community presence.

“Due to our rapid pace of growth in securing lending and deposit customers in this part of the state, we identified the need and made it a top priority to open a branch to better support our customers and communities, expand our branch network, and drive future growth in Massachusetts,” said David Glidden, president and CEO, who is originally from Holyoke. “So we went out and hired some of the best of the best in community banking from Western Mass. who embrace our mission in the work they do every day: to improve the lives of our customers, teammates, and communities for generations to come.”

This nearly 3,000-square-foot, full-service branch includes a drive-up banking lane, ATM, and night drop. The branch team, led by Teresa Parker, have been entrenched in the Western Mass. and Greater Springfield communities for many years, working, volunteering, and residing in the area.

“What’s so exciting about our East Longmeadow branch is that it is staffed with teammates who know the community, have resided here, and have customers they’ve been serving for many years,” Parker said. “I want our customers, community, and others looking for a new bank to serve all of their banking needs to know that our branch is open and ready to deliver an extraordinary banking experience.”

The opening of the East Longmeadow branch comes only two months after the launch of Liberty’s commercial loan production office (LPO) at One Monarch Place in downtown Springfield. The branch at 94 Shaker Road was previously the Massachusetts LPO.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Throughout the month of November, Liberty Bank will host a clothing drive to support Suit Up Springfield and Dress for Success Western Massachusetts.

Donations of business attire may be dropped off at the Monarch Place security station on the first floor, Palazzo, Nosh, the Springfield Business Improvement District, or Tower Square. Boxes to collect clothing have been generously donated by AM Lithography Corp.

Suit Up Springfield accepts suits, shirts, ties, shoes, and outside coats. Dress for Success accepts dresses, suits, skirts, pants, shoes, outerwear, and jewelry. Donations will be accepted Nov. 1-30, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Liberty Bank, headquartered in Middletown, Conn., will cut the ribbon to its new loan production office (LPO) on the 22nd floor of One Monarch Place in downtown Springfield this afternoon.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno will join Liberty Bank President and CEO David Glidden, Western Mass. Market President Tony Liberopoulos, and Liberty Bank teammates, customers, and community stakeholders in officially opening the new office. The event is slated for 5 to 7 p.m., with the ribbon cutting around 5:45 p.m.

The Western Mass. banking team originally opened an LPO at 94 Shaker Road in East Longmeadow in 2021. However, they wanted further penetration and exposure in the Western Mass. market, which precipitated the move to downtown Springfield.

Among the amenities of the new Springfield LPO includes a reception area that leads to 15 offices, eight workstations, and hoteling workspace. The new office also includes a large conference room with additional team collaboration areas and a complete kitchen. Liberty’s ‘Be Community Kind’ brand and colors are displayed throughout the space.

Underscoring its commitment to the Western Mass. community, the Liberty Bank Foundation will grant donations totaling $20,000 to three area nonprofits at the ribbon cutting: Boys & Girls Club of West Springfield, Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts, and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

“Expanding our presence in Western Mass. and moving the team to downtown Springfield is a natural extension of building our market footprint along the I-91 corridor that starts in New Haven and ends in Springfield’s financial district,” Glidden said. “In just a short period of time, we witnessed significant growth in this market. This team is not only well-known among their customers, prospects, and partners in this community, but together they impressively have nearly 200 years of banking experience in this region. That’s why I’m so optimistic about the future of Liberty Bank in Western Mass.”

Liberopoulos added that “opening a loan production office right here in Springfield’s financial district says a lot about our dedication to the strength of the city, our commitment to building new customer relationships, and positioning Liberty as a strong downtown partner. The bank might be new to downtown Springfield, but our team of bankers is not new to this area. We have one of the most experienced teams who have the size and scale to make commercial and business loans of all sizes and complexities while delivering swift, local decision making on the spot.”

Liberty has also identified a strong demand to establish a branch to support customers’ needs and the bank’s continued growth in Western Mass. Therefore, Liberty will be opening a full-service banking branch at 94 Shaker Road in East Longmeadow later this fall.

“My administration is excited to welcome Liberty Bank to our city as they continue to expand into Western Massachusetts,” Sarno said. “This new loan production office right here in the heart of our downtown Springfield will help to connect our Springfield-area businesses of all sizes with the key services and products Liberty Bank has to offer.”

Daily News

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — David Glidden, president and CEO of Liberty Bank and president of the Liberty Bank Foundation, announced that the foundation recently awarded five nonprofits with $5,000 each in recognition of the bank’s 198th birthday.

As part of Liberty’s birthday celebration on May 4, the team came up with a creative idea to provide ‘birthday gifts’ in the aggregate amount of $25,000 to five community organizations on behalf of the Liberty Bank Foundation.

Liberty teammates had the opportunity to vote on their favorite charity from a list of three nonprofits in each of the regions the bank serves: Central North, Central South, Eastern, Western, and Massachusetts.

Based on the final vote count, the following five nonprofits received a $5,000 donation from the Liberty Bank Foundation: House of Heroes (Hamden, Conn.), the Boys and Girls Club of Lower Naugatuck Valley, Middlesex Habitat for Humanity, New London Community Meal Center, and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

“At 198 years old, Liberty is the largest and oldest independent mutual bank in the country. So when we have a birthday celebration like we did on May 4, we always want to include our customers and communities to celebrate with us,” Glidden said. “What better rewarding and engaging way than asking our teammates to vote on the five deserving nonprofits? It made our 198th birthday a special one inside the bank and out in our communities.”

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Liberty Bank recently selected Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity (GSHFH) to receive one of its community grants. The foundation aims to help low- and moderate-income families improve their economic situation and quality of life.

“We are very grateful to have been selected to receive this grant. It will help us to continue to provide home-ownership and home-repair services in Hampden County,” GSHFH Executive Director Aimee Giroux said.

Tony Liberopoulos, Liberty Bank’s market president for Massachusetts, added that “the work that Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity does fits so well with Liberty Bank’s philosophy of ‘be commmunity kind.’ We look forward to continuing our relationship and seeing the grant dollars help out in our community.”

Through Liberty Bank Foundation, Liberty Bank supports nonprofit organizations that its neighbors depend on to build strong families and communities. Grant making is focused on organizations that serve people within Liberty Bank’s market area.

GSHFH is a housing ministry dedicated to strengthening communities by empowering low-income families to change their lives and the lives of future generations through home-ownership and home-repair opportunities. This is accomplished by working in partnership with diverse people, from all walks of life, to build and repair simple, decent, affordable housing.

Banking and Financial Services Special Coverage

Stating Its Case

Tony Liberopoulos

Tony Liberopoulos says Liberty Bank might be new to Western Mass., but its lenders are anything but.

Dave Glidden is no stranger to the Western Mass. banking community, and neither is the lending team he’s assembled to grow Liberty Bank — the Connecticut-based institution he currently serves as president and CEO — within this region. Liberty’s leaders believe those community ties — some of the Western Mass. team’s lenders have worked in this market for three decades — will prove fruitful at a time when customers are looking for experience and stability.

Liberty Bank is the oldest currently operating bank in Connecticut. But Dave Glidden prefers not to think in terms of state lines.

“We’ve been in Connecticut a long time, and very recently we’ve crossed the border into Western Mass.,” said Glidden, the bank’s president and CEO and a familiar figure to the Pioneer Valley’s banking community from his years as regional president at TD Bank.

The reasons for the northward push, he said, seemed obvious.

“When I looked at this opportunity and took the job, one of the things I talked about with the board and my teammates was that, when you think about it, there are so many similarities between Connecticut and the Greater Springfield market, economically and culturally; people work back and forth across the border.

“So, really, if you stop looking at state boundaries for a second, we really lend in that I-91 corridor, New Haven on up through Middletown, through Hartford, and now into Greater Springfield,” he went on. “There are many similarities in industries and types of businesses, and we know a lot of the borrowers, the centers of influence, the CPA firms, the legal firms … and we know many of the businesses.”

“Liberty Bank is new to Western Mass., but our team is not new to Western Mass.”

That’s because Glidden and Liberty’s Western Mass. team — Chief Credit Officer Dan Flynn; lenders Tony Liberopoulos, Jeff Sattler, Rick Rabideau, and Gene Rondeau; and Sue Fearn, who specializes in cash management — have roughly 160 years of combined experience working in banking in Western Mass.

“Liberty Bank is new to Western Mass., but our team is not new to Western Mass.,” Liberopoulos said. “We’ve got one of the most experienced teams in Western Mass., even though we’re the rookie bank in this area.”

With the ability to assemble a team with that depth of experience in the market, Glidden said, expansion into this region — lending activity began last year, and a commercial loan-production office is opening this month in East Longmeadow — just made sense.

“Obviously, this commercial loan production under Tony’s leadership is the first foray over the border,” Glidden said, “and we’re continually evaluating and looking at retail branch sites and how we’ll build out the franchise over the course of the next couple of years in support of the commercial-lending activities that really started about a year or so ago.”

With more than $7 billion in assets but strong ties to its local communities, Glidden said Liberty is the kind of stable institution that appeals to customers in Western Mass., especially at a time when mergers and acquisitions (M&A) continue to shake up the landscape.

“With everything that’s going on in all the banking markets, there’s a lot of disruption with M&A, and it’s projected there will be a lot more M&A industry-wide,” he noted. “So, as a bank with our size and history, and the teams we have, we’re in a unique position where we can kind of out-local national banks and out-national local banks and be that entity in the middle that can deliver services and make decisions in a very local fashion, but has the scale and the size to grow with borrowers, usually past where a lot of the other community banks are restricted due to their size.”

Dave Glidden with a map of Liberty’s locations

Dave Glidden with a map of Liberty’s locations, most of which are concentrated along, or not far from, the I-91 corridor.

While commercial lending is the main focus right now, Glidden said, he sees Liberty eventually expanding its presence to offer that type of appeal to retail customers as well. “When a bank gets acquired, customers often say, ‘my bank’s changing, my banking relationship is changing — maybe now is the time I should have the conversation with someone else.”

It’s a sense that was only supercharged by the pandemic, a time when online retailers thrived and changed people’s expectations about service delivery.

“We have to continue to deliver the right type of distribution system for our customers if we expect to gain market share and capture those who get disrupted due to M&A activity, or whatever other market event might happen,” Glidden told BusinessWest.

“There are great banks in Western Mass., super people, experienced bankers, but there’s going to continue to be disruption — everywhere, not just in Western Mass.,” he went on. “And we think, with our balance sheet and existing franchise and the investments we’ve been making, which have been significant over the past few years, to really up our digital offerings across the board, we’re in a great position to enter a great market that means a lot to the executive leadership here at Liberty Bank.”

 

Lending Support

Since launching activity in Greater Springfield, Liberopoulos and the rest of the lending team have assembled a broad variety of clients. “It’s across the board,” he said. “We’ll do loans up to $50 million for the right client, or even higher than that. We’re primarily looking at small to medium-sized businesses. We’ll look at investment real-estate deals, and we’ll look at any privately held business, if it’s the right size for us.”

Like the Greater Hartford market in which Liberty has recently expanded its presence, Glidden doesn’t see loans in a vacuum, but rather takes a big-picture look at how each loan-funded project or expansion impacts economic development in an entire region.

“It’s important, when you’re a community bank and you go into a market, that you have a strategy to align with and understand what’s going on in those markets. Who are the key economic-development companies, the drivers? Who are the key not-for-profits that we can align ourselves with and support? Because when we invest in the communities we do business in, it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s smart business.”

As it eyes growth across its footprint, including expansion of retail, investment, and other services in Western Mass., Liberty is making another kind of investment, Glidden said: in its digital channels.

“Banking customers’ habits are changing rapidly. They were changing rapidly before the pandemic,” he said. “But, obviously, the pandemic forced people to adopt online channels that, before, they wouldn’t have felt comfortable with, or didn’t think they needed — but it became a need during the pandemic.”

Part of the bank’s strategy for this region includes what shape the physical footprint will take to support the services Liberty wants to provide, he noted — but that strategy must roll out in tandem with the digital one.

Tony Liberopoulos (left) and Dave Glidden

Tony Liberopoulos (left) and Dave Glidden say there’s a space in Western Mass. for a bank of Liberty’s size and local focus.

“Branches are changing, and customers’ habits are changing — they’re using them less, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still important,” Glidden said, noting that part of what he called his “aspirational three-year plan” has involved bolstering digital assets, so customers can choose how to interact with the bank.

“It’s not up to us to choose how customers do business with us. It’s for them to choose, and it’s incumbent on us to make sure we have all those channels there. Branches are one of them, as are online, digital, and live chat.”

As he noted earlier, Amazon and other online entities, particularly during the pandemic, have altered people’s expectations when it comes to retail, and banks are, indeed, a retail business — so a bank’s digital channels need to live up to those heightened expectations.

The pandemic impacted Liberty’s Western Mass. plans in another way, Liberopoulos said: by giving it an opportunity to stay aggressive when not every bank did.

“It was an interesting time. We came to work every day, took our precautions, properly distanced, wore our masks,” he said, noting that clients still wanted to meet, some in person, some by phone or Zoom, whatever made them most comfortable. And those meetings were often productive.

“We were firm believers that COVID was going to end, so we’d look at their financial performance prior to COVID,” Liberopoulos said. “We knew 2020 and 2021 were going to be difficult, but if they were strong in ’17, ’18, and ’19 — and if their interim results look good in ’21 now that we’re getting past vaccinations — we were very eager to win that business.

“When some other banks were uncomfortable lending because of the numbers they saw for 2020, we were not,” he went on. “We understood it’s about the owners of the business, the history of the business, and we were all convinced, here at Liberty Bank, that we could see the light at the end of the tunnel and we would find the right clients to work with.”

Glidden said he was “never prouder to be a banker” than he was in 2020.

“I never want to go through it again, of course, but what the banking industry did with the Paycheck Protection Program and the SBA lending as part of the CARES Act, that was a huge challenge for the banking industry.”

He praised not only his own team, but his colleagues at other banks for working non-stop in those chaotic early days of PPP last spring, and kept working to get customers the help they needed.

“I could see it was a very unique, maybe the most unique, time in my career,” he said. “I really felt an obligation as a banker, that we’re the only way this money is getting out there in this once-in-a-lifetime — knock on wood — pandemic.”

 

Community Ties

Getting back to the consolidation landscape, Liberopoulos said acquisitions can often distance a bank’s philanthropic arm from the communities in which is does business, but Liberty continues to be focused on those activities.

“The bank is very sensitive to the fact that we’re seeing consolidations, so we’re seeing less money being given to non-for-profits in the community, and one of our chief slogans now is ‘be community kind.’ We want to give back to the community where we work, where we lend, and where we live. And we’ve done that already,” he said, citing donations to Ronald McDonald House, and the Boys & Girls Club as recent examples.

“It’s certainly been part of Liberty Bank’s DNA and corporate culture,” Glidden agreed, noting that the bank’s foundation, which he also serves as president and CEO, gives away around $1.5 million per year, and the bank itself contributes in the seven-figure range as well.

“And our commitments are growing,” he added. “As a community bank, you have a responsibility and obligation to give back; all of us truly believe that. That’s why we’re here. We walk the talk. We give back to our communities. It’s what community banks should do. We’re mutual, we’re private, we’re owned by our customers, so you have to give back to those communities.”

Which is even more important in an era of M&A activity.

“I just think, given the disruption and consolidation in the market, that we’re a bank that’s still local and makes decisions locally. We give back to our communities; we put our money where our mouth is.”

As one of the largest PPP lenders in Connecticut, Liberty also felt a responsibility to support community members who weren’t customers, which is why it serviced PPP loans for such individuals. In some cases, that opened the door to a new relationship opportunity.

In the end, Liberty grew during the pandemic — by about $1.2 billion during 2020, in fact. Some of that was PPP activity, Glidden noted, but about two-thirds sprung from new market share and new customers.

“We continue to feel optimistic — 196 years is pretty old, but I feel more optimistic about the next 196 years than I was pre-pandemic, and I was pretty optimistic pre-pandemic.”

Liberopoulos is optimistic, too. “We’re new to the market, but we’re not new to banking. We’ve got an experienced, well-known team, and we make local decisions with quick turnaround time. We’ll make loan decisions on the spot, in front of a client, when we meet with them. That’s the kind of bank I’m happy to say I work for.”

And it’s the sort of bank that shouldn’t be constrained by state lines, Glidden added.

“Liberty Bank is coming to Western Mass. to be a business partner with the community. We’re not coming there just to make loans and take deposits. This is the first stake in the ground, so to speak, but I think everyone will see and feel our commitment to Western Mass. as we build out our franchise there.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]