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Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 139: December 5, 2022

George Interviews Tom Senecal, PeoplesBank President and CEO

Tom Senecal

The economy. Inflation. Interest rates. Quiet quitting. The housing market. The outlook for 2023. These are just a few of the subjects that BusinessWest Editor and PeoplesBank President and CEO Tom Senecal touch on in a wide-ranging installment of BusinessTalk. It’s all must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local 413 and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

 

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Daily News

HOLYOKE — With home heating costs expected to spike as much as 60% this coming winter, many low-income individuals struggling to pay utility bills could face shutoff just as the cold weather sets in. Responding to this need, PeoplesBank has donated $45,000 in total to three local nonprofit organizations.

Although there are several government assistance programs designed to address this need, there is always a gap between the need and the available resources, as well as the ability to receive such funds in a timely manner when shutoff dates are looming. The bank’s Simple Emergency Fuel Assistance program aims to help fill those gaps.

“We understand that some of the most vulnerable residents of the communities we serve are at risk because of spiking fuel costs,” said Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank. “That’s why we partnered with these organizations that could help us create a simple way to get help quickly for those in need.”

In response to this emergency need, PeoplesBank is working with the following organizations to provide fuel assistance to the communities the bank serves:

• Hampden County: Valley Opportunity Council, www.valleyopp.com/energy-assistance/fuel-assistance, (413) 552-1554;

• Hampshire County: Community Action for Pioneer Valley, www.communityaction.us/fuel-assistance, (800) 370-0940; and

• Hartford area: Operation Fuel, operationfuel.org/gethelp, (860) 243-2345.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Representatives from PeoplesBank visited the Gray House to present the agency with a donation to cover the cost of replacement doors and frames that were damaged last May during a robbery.

“We couldn’t be more thankful for the generous support of PeoplesBank,” Gray House Executive Director Kristen McClintock said. “The break-in we experienced in May was devastating. Not only did our agency lose critical supplies — such as food, infant formula, and diapers — that we distribute to our neighbors in need at no cost, but we were left with substantial property damage. After learning of the unexpected expense to replace the damaged doors and frames, PeoplesBank immediately stepped up and offered to cover the associated costs.”

PeoplesBank has supported 331 different nonprofits and charitable organizations and donated $10,736,943 in the past decade. Furthermore, its employees collectively volunteer an average of 10,000 hours per year, illustrating the bank’s commitment to service within the community.

While the robbery was distressing, McClintock chooses to focus on the outpouring of love and support received from clients, volunteers, and community partners like PeoplesBank. “I take great comfort in knowing that we live in a community that truly cares — where neighbors help neighbors, and where ‘corporate responsibility’ is more than just a catchphrase, but rather a genuine way of doing business.”

Daily News

HOLYOKE — More than 25 years ago, Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s, began advocating for better adoption benefits in the workplace. Today, the Dave Thomas Foundation has continued his work through the Adoption-Friendly Workplace program, which recognizes organizations that strive to make adoption a supported option for every working parent.

The foundation recently named PeoplesBank to the Adoption-Friendly Workplace 100 Best 2022 list (54th overall and eighth with 100 to 1,000 employees). As the only bank in Massachusetts and Connecticut to receive the honor, PeoplesBank joins other leading national corporations such as American Express, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Paramount, Yale University, Microsoft Corp., 3M Co., and Johnson & Johnson on the list.

“Employees expect that their job brings purpose to their lives and expect an employer to help them meet this need,” said Amy Roberts, executive vice president and chief Human Resources officer. “To that end, it is critical to have adoption support for our associates and their families as part of our benefit package and corporate purpose.”

Along with a number of measures meant to ensure a family-friendly workplace, PeoplesBank provides a $5,000 grant to employees for each adoption.

“Adopting a child is one of the most wonderful things a family can do,” said Brian Rheaume, vice president of Information Technology at PeoplesBank, who is a parent of an adopted child. “Still, it is a very challenging and long-term commitment. It is simply amazing to work at a family-friendly employer like PeoplesBank, which also offers financial support for families who want to adopt.”

Employment Special Coverage

What’s in a Job?

team members at Big Y’s St. James Avenue location in Springfield

From left, Nadia Doyle, Leslie Soto, Anialys Gomes, and Michelle Martin, team members at Big Y’s St. James Avenue location in Springfield.

Michael Galat says Big Y has a story to tell, and its employees do, too. And sharing those stories goes a long way toward building and retaining workers in a job market slanted toward job seekers to an unprecedented degree.

“It has been a challenge. Everyone is fighting for top talent,” said Galat, Big Y’s vice president of Employee Services. “We’ve adapted by leveraging our existing workforce to share stories of why they work for Big Y. We’ve got a lot of long-tenured, dedicated people working here, and they’re our best recruiters. We focus on their testimonies, telling their stories about why they want to work at Big Y.”

The supermarket chain has bolstered its workforce efforts in other ways, to be sure, from streamlining the application process to college internships that expose students to career opportunities to hosting a recent series of on-the-spot hiring events. “That’s been a home run for us. Recruitment is an ongoing effort,” Galat said.

But the stories are important, he added, noting that it’s important to build a culture where people want to work when they have other options.

“We’ve updated our career page and social platforms with people’s testimonials — why they like working for Big Y, what makes us different, the flexibility we provide. All those things go a long way to retain people and attract new talent.”

Amy Roberts, executive vice president and chief Human Resources officer at PeoplesBank, says both the company and its employees have a story to tell, and creating the right cultural fit is key to building a stable workforce.

“We’re trying to be up front with individuals about our core values and who we are and that we’re looking for people who are interested in being a part of that,” she explained. “So the process is focused around asking the candidate to tell us stories, tell us things about themselves. We believe that’s really critical.”

After all, it’s not just about bringing in talent, but creating a team for the long run.

Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts

“I think it’s important not to oversell yourself and make the position or company something they’re not; if you do, ultimately a person is not going to stick around.”

“I think it’s important not to oversell yourself and make the position or company something they’re not; if you do, ultimately a person is not going to stick around,” Roberts said. “We try to be up front about who we are as an organization, what’s important to us, how we view success here, and hope that’s best match for the individual. We spend time in the process talking about that.”

For this issue’s focus on employment, BusinessWest spoke to five area employers — Big Y, PeoplesBank, the Center for Human Development (CHD), Bulkley Richardson, and Health New England (HNE) — to get a feel for how challenging the much-talked-about workforce crunch has been for their organizations, and how they’ve shifted their hiring and retention strategies to deal with it.

Carol Fitzgerald, vice president of Human Resources at CHD, admitted that 2021 was difficult, but “I feel like 2022 has gotten better, though there are still some challenges. In 2021, we were losing a lot of folks; it was not only hard to get folks, but our folks were making the choice to leave the field.

“As a large, human-service, behavioral-health organization, we are essential workers, and we work face to face with folks anywhere from birth to elders,” she explained. “And I think a lot of people were deciding during the pandemic not to do this work anymore. So we lost ground in 2021, but we’re gaining ground again. I feel optimistic; it feels less frenetic than it did last year, and it feels like things are improving. We’ve gained about 100 employees over 2021.”

Many of the current challenges are geographic, especially in rural settings, where CHD has dozens of locations. “It’s a lot of geography to cover, and there are fewer people in more rural places, so we’re having a harder time finding folks to do the work.”

Betsey Quick, executive director at Bulkley Richardson, had one of the most positive stories to tell about her law firm’s workforce situation, but, like at CHD, 2021 saw some turmoil.

“That was an unduly interesting time for us, as COVID made people retire faster,” she told BusinessWest. “People who had worked here 10, 20, even 40 and 50 years re-evaluated their work-life balance and said, ‘I don’t need to work until I’m 70. I want to spend money and travel; life is short.’ So we had a slew of retirements we wouldn’t have had, and that punched up our needs quite a bit.”

Carol Fitzgerald

Carol Fitzgerald

“I think a lot of people were deciding during the pandemic not to do this work anymore. So we lost ground in 2021, but we’re gaining ground again. I feel optimistic; it feels less frenetic than it did last year, and it feels like things are improving.”

When the firm started ramping up hiring last year, “all the news in every sector was stating how employees were being poached and salaries were way up; it was an employees’ market. I was fully prepared to have a difficult time because we needed attorneys, we needed staff, we needed management,” she went on. “And for maybe the first three months, I saw the tightness in the market. We weren’t getting responses. We considered going out to recruiters, which we never had to do here. But after about three months, résumés started flooding in.”

 

Passion for Purpose

Sarah Morgan, director of Human Resources and Organizational Development at Health New England, noted that the Great Resignation has affected all employers, but it has also been an opportunity to recruit talented people who are looking for new opportunities or are rejoining the workforce. And many are looking for greater purpose in their jobs.

“This is a competitive recruiting environment we face today; however, Health New England employees know they are helping our members to live more healthful lives and improving the health and well-being of the communities we serve,” she said. “Ultimately, people connect to our role as a hometown not-for-profit health plan and are excited about the possibility of joining that cause.”

At the same time, the pandemic showed all companies how much employees — both current and prospective — value flexibility, and Health New England was no exception.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, we recognized that our employees have different needs, such as around childcare, eldercare, transportation, and the like,” Morgan said. “We respect the individual needs of our staff members and offer flexibility when possible, including the opportunity to work primarily remotely when the business needs allow.”

Betsy Quick

Betsy Quick

“You don’t have to work 6 in the morning to 12 at night and drive people into the ground. People want something different.”

Galat agreed. “We’re highly focused on retention, so we provide flexible work schedules and work-life balance, which is very important in this day and age. People have busy lives; we understand and that try to provide that flexibility for childcare, eldercare, school activities, sports … those things are important, and having that ability to balance their personal life with work is more important than ever.”

At CHD, Fitzgerald added, “we definitely know flexibility is really something people are looking for. While we’ve always tried to be flexible, our jobs are face to face with people for the most part, so we need to be in certain settings. However, during the pandemic, we went to telehealth, and we are trying to maintain a small bit of flexibility for telehealth. Going forward, especially in remote settings, that might work best for us. For example, a clinic in Orange is posting for a position that can be primarily remote. Up there, our managers are willing to talk about any and every way to get somebody to come into work, whether that’s remote or a flex schedule where they can; they’re trying to be creative on an individual basis.”

She added that competition has changed over the past couple years as well. “A lot of service industries are paying a lot more, really crazy rates. So we had to get creative. We offer a lot of hiring incentives and bonuses to come in, and when our employees refer folks. We’re trying to be creative from a compensation standpoint as well.”

Galat says Big Y hosts employee roundtables and focus groups and conducts surveys to get feedback on how the work environment can improve and what employees are looking for, and that information is used as a retention tool. The company also implemented a wage increase in July that impacted 75% of the hourly workforce.

All these efforts are critical because, despite some success stories with hiring, the Great Resignation and a generation of young workers who feel they know their value and want to assert it have created a smaller pool of talent to draw from.

“The highly technical or skilled positions have gotten even harder to recruit for,” Roberts said, “because there’s probably a handful of people who have a certain skill you’re looking for, and they’re either going somewhere else or already have a job and are perfectly happy where they are. Trying to figure out recruiting for those positions has been tricky.

“We’ve engaged recruiting partners and firms to broaden our scope,” she went on. “We’ve had people express interest in 100% remote, and we don’t operate that way, but at the same time, managers who said for years, ‘I want them here on site’ are now open to a more flexible work arrangement, seeing how difficult it is to get people to fill positions.”

Meanwhile, Roberts said, “I think our benefit programs are some of the best around, and we’re always looking at that and asking what else we can be doing. How do we help our people learn and build a career with us? How can we bring in more educational opportunities and help them build their career paths and help them see they have a future here? That goes a long way toward retention, but also from a recruiting standpoint, people want to know they have growth potential with your company. Identifying that process definitely has been key for us.”

 

Culture Counts

As Bulkley Richardson has sought to grow, Quick said, it was clear that “we have a really strong older workforce and a really strong middle, and we didn’t have such a strong younger workforce. So part of our succession plan is to keep that younger personnel coming up behind the bigs so they garner all that knowledge.”

One strategy to bring in young lawyers has been a summer associate program that was revived a few years back. After on-campus interviews and an in-depth review process, three to five candidates are selected every summer, and at the end of the summer, if the fit is right, offers are extended. Of eight offers so far, seven are coming back, and the other one took a clerkship and plans to be back at Bulkley when it’s over.

“We feel like this is a desirable place to work,” Quick said. “There’s been a lot of effort from our executive committee to punch up our vibe so it’s about the humans that work for us, not just about billable hours like a lot of big law firms in big cities. You’ve got to have that component, but you don’t have to work 6 in the morning to 12 at night and drive people into the ground. People want something different.

“COVID has taught us that Bulkley Richardson has always had a super strong family vibe,” she added. “We appreciate your personal time, what happens to you in your life. We really feel that’s paying off. We’re good lawyers and good people, and I feel like this is a positive hiring time for us.”

Galat agreed that culture is key.

“We have employees ranging from 16 to 85. Our people make the difference. We look for individuals that enjoy working with people. This is a people business. We want individuals that want to learn and grow and want to develop others, want to provide exceptional customer service and support our inclusive and belonging culture. Through our employee resource groups, employees share ideas and have a voice in business initiatives and each other.”

At Health New England, Morgan said, “we have been more focused than ever on recruiting people with diverse identities and experiences. More than ever, people want to work for companies that value them for who they are and empower them to bring their full, true selves to their work. We see strength in that and want employees from all backgrounds so we can better serve customers from all backgrounds.”

To that end, Health New England aims to deepen its relationships within the community through participation in local cultural events, job fairs, leadership programs, sponsorships, and more, she noted.

Getting back to the idea of the right cultural fit, Fitzgerald said CHD isn’t looking to hire just anyone, even in a tighter-than-usual market.

“We want the soft skills, the people skills. the relationship skills. That’s important not only for the work we do, but for being able to work with folks who appreciate each other and appreciate differences and have great communication skills and can manage different conversations. These are the kinds of things we’re looking for aside from just technical skills. It’s got to be the right fit.”

After all, she added, the company can train employees on certain tasks, but soft skills and a cultural connection are more organic.

“To have the right mindset about work and fit into that culture, I think those are things that are really important to our people. They care about who they’re working with, who they’re working for, and that translates to how we treat clients and quality of care. It really matters.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

HOLYOKE — A record $1.3 million in contributions in 2021 marks a new level of charitable support for PeoplesBank, earning recognition from the Boston Business Journal and its Corporate Citizenship Awards for the 15th year in a row.

With a focus on food insecurity, housing, and literacy, PeoplesBank announced record donations reaching $1,315,000 in 2021, with a total of close to $11 million donated since 2011.

This marks a new level of contributions, making PeoplesBank the leading community bank for charitable donations in Western and Central Mass. The bank has doubled its donations in the last five years.

Headquartered in Holyoke, PeoplesBank increased its donations across its whole market of Massachusetts and Connecticut to assist the customers and communities it serves. Meanwhile, PeoplesBank’s associates donate 10,000 volunteer hours per year, and 74 of them have served on 54 nonprofit boards.

“As a mutual bank, giving back is part of our culture,” said Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank. “The human social responsibility is woven into the fabric of PeoplesBank, and we are committed to the communities that we serve.”

Daily News

HOLYOKE — PeoplesBank’s record-setting charitable contributions in 2021 earned recognition from the Boston Business Journal, as the bank secured a spot on the region’s Top Corporate Charitable Contributors list for the 15th year in a row.

In 2021, while focusing on food insecurity, housing, and literacy, PeoplesBank announced record donations reaching $1,315,000, with a total of close to $11 million donated since 2011. The bank has doubled its donations in the last five years.

“It is a big part of who we are as an organization, our employees, and how they volunteer in the community,” said Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank. “I see 2022 as a tremendous opportunity for us to give back and be committed to the communities that we serve.”

PeoplesBank’s associates donate 10,000 volunteer hours per year, and 74 of them have served on 54 nonprofit boards.

The region’s top charitable companies will be honored at the Boston Business Journal’s Corporate Citizenship Awards on the Sept. 8 at Revere Hotel in Boston.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest, in partnership with Living Local, has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 116: June 13, 2022

George talks with Amy Roberts, executive vice president and chief Human Resources officer at PeoplesBank

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien talks with Amy Roberts, executive vice president and chief Human Resources officer at PeoplesBank. The two discuss the ongoing workforce crisis and the adjustments area business owners and managers should make if they want stand out in this marketplace and effectively attract and retain talented individuals. Her best advice?  “Meet people where they are.” It’s all must listening, so join us for BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

 

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Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — PeoplesBank and Health New England have partnered to donate $20,000 to Gardening the Community (GTC) of Springfield. The money will support the non-profit’s urban garden, farm store, youth leadership program, and other programs.

The companies’ collaborative donation came about as representatives from each were discussing needs in the Springfield community and the non-profit organizations each supports. Both support GTC and, knowing that more than 15% percent of children in Hampden County are food insecure, the two companies agreed to help.

“We believe that this donation from two of our most valued corporate partners is an investment in our organization, economically and spiritually.  It is especially appreciated during this time of rising food costs, as we work to bring forth a just food system that works for all,” said Liz O’Gilvie of GTC. “We will use the funds to support our efforts to grow food that’s affordable while we help our young people to understand the inequities in our food. system.”

“PeoplesBank and Health New England are like-minded in our belief that companies have a responsibility to improve the communities in which they do business,” said Matthew Bannister, senior vice president of marketing and corporate responsibility for PeoplesBank. “In working with Health New England as our health plan, we found that we both supported several of the same area non-profits, including Gardening the Community. We decided to demonstrate our partnership with this combined donation.”

“Both Health New England and PeoplesBank know that our companies are part of a larger ecosystem – our community – and when it thrives, we thrive,” said Keith Ledoux, Vice President Commercial Line of Business and Business Development for Health New England. “Together, our support of Gardening the Community will not only fight hunger and promote good health but will bring opportunity to the Mason Square neighborhood.”

Gardening the Community (GTC) grows organic food on formerly empty lots increasing access to healthy food in food-insecure areas. They emphasize youth leadership development, racial justice, and intergenerational relationship building in all their work. GTC serves Springfield’s Mason Square neighborhood, a low income, predominantly Black and Latinx community as well as residents from across the city.

 

Daily News

Fresh off its successful launch in the center of West Hartford and the renovation of its Suffield Banking Center, PeoplesBank has announced that it will add to its Connecticut footprint by building a new 2,000-square-foot banking center at 50 Cedar Ave. in South Windsor. 

The banking center is expected to be the anchor for other adjacent development that may include a restaurant, coffee and retail shops, and a medical office building.  

Designed by Tecton Architects of Hartford, the banking center will feature many of the innovative technologies that PeoplesBank has rolled out at its other new and renovated locations, including two VideoBankerITMs and two EV charging stations. The new banking center will also utilize the bank’s Universal Banker approach, which allows its associates to provide a wide range of banking services to customers. 

“With all the recent merger activity, it’s clear that there is a need for more community banking,” said Tom Senecal, president & CEO of PeoplesBank. “As a mutual bank, we cannot be bought or sold. Our profits are not diverted to stockholders but, instead, are reinvested into services to our customers and support for the communities where they live. Our new South Windsor banking center will also be a catalyst for other nearby services, all of which will benefit the community.” 

PeoplesBank set an institutional record in 2021 by donating $1.3 million to charitable organizations that focus on food insecurity, housing, and literacy in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Further, PeoplesBank’s associates volunteer thousands of hours per year, and 74 of them have served on 54 nonprofit boards. 

The new South Windsor Banking Center is expected to be open in early December, 2022. 

Daily News


HOLYOKE — The arrival of spring means sunshine, warmer weather and … the annual Earth Day (today) tomato plants and garden seeds giveaways hosted by PeoplesBank at four of their banking centers. This year, each banking center will also be giving away kids gardening kits. All giveaways are while supplies last. 

Gardening enthusiasts can also register to win gift certificates to Dickinson Farms, Rooted Flowers, and Arethusa Farm Café. 

PeoplesBank will give away tomato plants, garden seed packets, and kids gardening kits starting at 10 a.m. at the following locations: 

 

Massachusetts Locations 

1866 Northampton St., Holyoke 

56 Amity St., Amherst 

 

Connecticut Locations 

102 LaSalle Road, West Hartford 

30 Bridge St., Suffield 

The events are open to the public. Seed and plant quantities are limited, will be distributed only while supplies last and only at the designated PeoplesBank offices. 

For more information on getting your garden growing, please visit the bank’s Gardening Tipspage. 

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest, in partnership with Living Local, has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Episode 98: January 31, 2022

George Interviews Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien has a lively, wide-ranging discussion with Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank. The two talk about everything from the regional economy and the forces that will determine its direction in 2022, to the pandemic and how it has inspired banks, and especially his institution to ratchet up their philanthropic efforts across the region. It’s all must listening, so join us on BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local.

 

Also Available On

Daily News

HOLYOKE — With a focus on food insecurity, housing, and literacy, PeoplesBank announced a record level of charitable contributions, with donations reaching $1,315,000 over the past year with a total of close to $11 million donated since 2011. The bank has doubled its donations in the last five years.

“It is a big part of who we are as an organization, our employees, and how they volunteer in the community,” said Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank. “I see 2022 as a tremendous opportunity for us to give back and be committed to the communities that we serve.”

PeoplesBank’s associates donate 10,000 volunteer hours per year, and 74 of them have served on 54 nonprofit boards.

“I can’t really point to anything that Square One does that doesn’t have PeoplesBank’s stamp on it,” said Kristine Allard, vice president of Development and Communication at SquareOne. “They are amazing experts in the field of banking, so they offer their expertise to us in terms of our operational needs. But when it comes to the philanthropic side of things, there’s very little that happens at Square One that isn’t somehow impacted by PeoplesBank.”

Chris Conway, executive director of the West Hartford (Conn.) Chamber of Commerce, noted that “businesses look for two things with the Chamber of Commerce: what can I get out of the relationship as far as exposure and networking opportunities. PeoplesBank is interested in that, of course, but they also want to know how they can be helpful and contribute. They have certainly done that. I know they’ve worked with a number of nonprofits, and they’ve worked within their neighborhood and beyond.”

Colleen Shanley-Loveless, president and CEO of Revitalize Community Development Corp., added that “they get great turnout and participation — from the president of PeoplesBank, Tom Senecal, to all the departments and all of the branches. We could not do the work we do without the help of PeoplesBank.”

Suzanne Parker, executive director of Girls Inc. of the Valley, added that “I can’t think of a way that PeoplesBank has not been there for us. We actually had a field trip to the PeoplesBank headquarters, and I’ll never forget the picture of our girls sitting around that big boardroom table. That was a meaningful, special experience for them that exposed the girls to the world of banking.”

More information on PeoplesBank’s corporate responsibility and how to apply for a donation can be found at bankatpeoples.com/support.

Banking and Financial Services

Some Moves of Interest

 

For a bank that’s been around for 136 years, PeoplesBank came across commercial lending fairly recently.

“My predecessor, Doug Bowen, started commercial lending at PeoplesBank probably 35 years ago,” Tom Senecal, the bank’s president and CEO, told BusinessWest. “We didn’t do any commercial loans until then, and we started out with just commercial real estate. And we stayed conservative with real estate, and never went into the C&I side because we didn’t have a lot of expertise. Just by virtue of what our comfort zone was, we focused on the real-estate side.”

That’s all changed, as PeoplesBank has made a strong push into the realm of C&I (commercial and industrial) business lending over the past two years.

“A little over two years ago, we started talking about our strengths and weaknesses and who we are are and what we do as the largest mutual institution in Western Mass.,” Senecal explained. “We have a very successful commercial real-estate portfolio. What we didn’t have was the C&I side. So we started talking about how to get into the C&I business.”

The reason the bank hadn’t done so sooner came down to expertise, which it had in spades on the real-estate side but much less so in C&I, where “you’re financing equipment, you’re financing lines of credit, there’s different types of collateral, it requires more monitoring, more analysis … we didn’t have that experience,” Senecal said. “It’s a very complex and very different lending skillset than commercial real estate.”

That’s why Senecal started talking with Frank Crinella, who has decades of experience in lending in the region, about bringing over a group of individuals from a large regional bank to spearhead a push into C&I lending.

“We have a very successful commercial real-estate portfolio. What we didn’t have was the C&I side. So we started talking about how to get into the C&I business.”

“We talked for several months about his group of people coming over, and we brought over five people that have an enormous amount of experience on the C&I side,” Senecal said. “Real estate is much more transactional, and we wanted to develop relationships in our home market much better than we ever had in the past, and C&I, to us, was the way to do it.”

Crinella is now the bank’s senior vice president and senior lender, and will also take the title of senior credit officer when Mike Oleksak, the institution’s longtime senior lender and senior credit officer, retires at the end of the year.

“C&I typically brings over the relationship more than just the real-estate transaction. And now that we have the group of people that we have, I think it’s going to be tremendously successful, not just for the Western Mass. market, but for our growth strategy going down into Connecticut as well,” Senecal said. “Frank and the group of people who came over have been here just over a year and have been enormously successful in that period of time, starting to build relationships here in Western Mass.”

Crinella saw great potential in what PeoplesBank was trying to do.

“What attracted us to Peoples was really the culture,” he said. “And C&I is all about relationship lending, the team approach. We have a very strong credit culture, but we also have a lot of depth on the cash-management side, and our branch network is very strong and plays well to the companies here in Western Mass. and Northern Connecticut.”

The commercial-lending department is now up to 50 people, Crinella noted. “The team complements each other so well. They brought in a lot of credit analysts that have C&I experience, so we’ve got depth now on the underwriting side.”

He was also drawn to a lending model at Peoples that prioritizes the ability of lenders to make quick decisions (more on that later).

“We talk about speed to market around here — we make all our decisions here on Whitney Avenue, so we can turn around a loan request quickly, and kind of outmuscle the big boys in that way … and, with the depth that we brought, outmuscle the local competition as well.”

 

Lending Support

Senecal said he knew PeoplesBank could excel at C&I lending based on its culture and ability to forge relationships through its branches.

“C&I is small business,” he explained. “And the interconnectivity between our branch network and our C&I lending is extremely important. It’s very difficult to develop a relationship on the small-business side without a branch network. So, in a lot of my conversations with Frank, we’re focused on our growth strategy and continuing to have the brick-and-mortar strategy, which complements the C&I side.”

Retail banking, Senecal noted, is moving in the direction of digital modes like mobile banking, online bill pay, and ITMs.

“When you talk C&I lending and small-business lending, you can’t do all that digitally online. You need a relationship. Accounts are very different for small businesses than they are on the retail side, between needing cash-management services, wires, positive pay … there are a lot of different functionalities small businesses utilize, more than the typical retail customer. A lot of services need to be communicated, and you can’t do that necessarily digitally. So the branch network has a huge impact.”

Crinella called it “delivering the bank.”

To explain that concept, he noted that, “when a relationship lender goes out to visit a customer, oftentimes they’ll bring the banking-center manager as well as the cash-management professionals, so the customer gets the entire bank when they’re meeting with the relationship lender. That’s really the difference between C&I and commercial real-estate lending. That’s what we’re trying to capture when we talk about relationship lending.”

The relationships customers already had with the lenders who moved to Peoples have generated some business as well, Senecal said.

“When you transition a group of five people from one institution to another, you create some loyalty from those customers who had relationships with them, and you can tell that the relationship means a lot. We’re getting great, positive feedback as a result of that.”

Crinella agreed. “They become valued advisors to the customer,” he said. “They take the time to understand their business and make informed decisions. Again, I think speed to market has been a huge competitive advantage. We get there quick. We can get a term sheet out in 48 hours, and that’s something, competitively, the big boys have a tough time competing with.”

With Oleksak, and soon with Crinella, it was important that both titles — senior lender and senior credit officer — fall under the same individual, Senecal said.

“From a customer’s perspective, when Frank shows up at the table, he has the decision-making authority for quite a few loans. Certainly, when loans get larger, we have a committee, we meet and talk, but Frank has the ability to sit at the table and make decisions immediately with customers based on what he sees.

“That doesn’t occur at most larger institutions,” Senecal went on, “where the lender goes out and gets the loan, develops the conversation, and then goes back with all the information and says, ‘OK, this is the deal. This is the terms of the deal I’d like to do.’ And they sit around with other people — adjudicators, other credit people, who say, ‘yeah, I don’t like that deal. You need to do this, you need to get that.’ And it becomes a group decision.”

That’s not the best or most efficient experience for the customer, he said.

“When you sit in front of a customer and you make the customer believe we’re going to do the deal, then you go back to the office and all of a sudden five different people have their opinions on what it should look like, it’s really hard to go back to the customer and say, ‘yeah, the deal’s changed.’”

That’s why it’s important to empower people, not committees, to make decisions, Senecal explained. “If the loan is a large loan, yes, it goes up to committee discussion. But in my 25-plus years at the bank, maybe two loans didn’t get through loan committee — because the lenders know what they’re doing.”

 

By All Accounts

When commercial lenders at PeoplesBank were focusing solely on real estate, they excelled at deals for warehouses, multi-family facilities, mixed-use properties, and strip malls. With C&I, they’re talking to manufacturers, healthcare practices, nonprofits, lawyers, accounting firms, and many more entities. And that requires specialized knowledge and, yes, strong relationships.

“You’re not lending on the building, you’re lending on the business,” Senecal said. “In real estate, we lend the money and hope to get paid back. If we don’t, we have the real estate. On the business side, it’s a whole different aspect of trying to understand, ‘how are you going to pay the loan back?’ When you get into all these other industries, it takes a unique skillset to identify whether or not it’s viable and the loan is a good loan or not.”

It’s a skillset the bank plans to further grow as it evolves its lending presence in the region’s C&I landscape.

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Behavioral Health Network Inc. (BHN) announced it has received a $25,000 donation from PeoplesBank to benefit the Katherine B. Wilson Staff Excellence Fund. It is the first installment of a $125,000 commitment over the next five years.

BHN established the Katherine B. Wilson Staff Excellence Fund to support the career and professional development of the organization’s workforce and assist in achieving social-justice objectives. Through community partnerships, valuable in-kind services, and generous donations, BHN seeks to address a variety of staff professional-development opportunities. The fund will provide support for scholarship funds and forgivable loans for staff to further their education at local colleges, along with licensure support.

“BHN made a compelling case that the engagement/skillset of their workforce has an enormous impact on their ‘end users’ – something we know to be true, even in a seemingly different industry such as banking,” said Matthew Bannister, senior vice president, Marketing and Corporate Responsibility at PeoplesBank. “It is the ‘hand up, and not handout’ to these vulnerable populations that hews most closely to our giving philosophy, so we are comfortable that this program will produce those desired results.”

Steve Winn, president and CEO of BHN, added that “we are deeply grateful to PeoplesBank for their generosity and partnership. Through this commitment, PeoplesBank demonstrates understanding of the importance of ensuring high-quality behavioral-health services to the Western Massachusetts community. Supporting BHN’s essential workforce accomplishes that goal.”

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Thousands of voters chimed in recently for the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Readers’ Choice consumer polls, and PeoplesBank was named a winner in several categories, including Best Local Bank, Best Local Online Banking, Best Mortgage/Home Loan Provider, Best Green Business, and Best Place to Work.

“PeoplesBank is proud to play a role in making this a better place to live and work,” said Matthew Bannister, senior vice president, Marketing and Corporate Responsibility. “We truly thank our customers for their votes.”

PeoplesBank has made significant investments in customer service in recent years, adding new digital and contactless banking opportunities such as VideoBankerITMs as well as expanding its banking-center network in Northern and Central Connecticut. In each market it serves, the bank is well-known for its charitable and civic support.

Meanwhile, at the other end of Massachusetts, the Boston Business Journal named PeoplesBank a Top Corporate Charitable Contributor again in 2021.

“I really think what we do for the community, how active we are in the community, what we do for the environment, the level of engagement with employees — it shines, and it shows what an amazing place it is here at PeoplesBank,” said Michael Gay, vice president, regional manager.

Banking and Financial Services Special Coverage

Open for Business

Romika Odedra says the branch’s layout emphasizes the customer experience.

Holyoke-based PeoplesBank recently expanded its presence in Connecticut with a branch in West Hartford. The new location is projected to help the bank grow its already considerable portfolio of consumer and commercial business from south of the border, especially in an ongoing climate of mergers and acquisitions.

 

When PeoplesBank opened its newest branch in West Hartford on August 30, it wasn’t exactly its first foray into Connecticut’s capital region. Far from it.

“This is a retail opening in West Hartford, but half of our commercial business is in Connecticut already — actually, about 60%,” said Matt Bannister, the bank’s senior vice president of Marketing & Corporate Responsibility.

“Some is up in the Granby-Windsor-Suffield area,” he went on, alluding to PeoplesBank’s first three Connecticut locations, in East Granby, Suffield, and West Suffield. “Some is down here in the Hartford region, and it actually goes all the way down to the shore. We’re kind of catching up with this retail storefront because the commercial customers want a presence here. They’ve been saying to us, ‘come down to Connecticut.’ And West Hartford just makes sense; it’s a great community, and a good place to be.”

Aleda De Maria, executive vice president of Consumer Banking and Operations, said a growing commercial presence in Hartford County cried out for a full-service physical branch.

“The banking centers are there for when they need a little more contact, when they have a little more complexity, or they just want to expand their relationship. We need to make sure we have everything.”

“We absolutely need it. The majority of our new accounts are still opened at brick-and-mortar locations. For more complex conversations, customers want to talk to a person, and they want to have that live interaction. There still is a need for that face-to-face contact.

“I think what the industry is trying to do with the self-service channels — with online, with mobile, with video bankers — is give people the ability to do the quick, day-to-day transactions when they want to, without having to park and go in and talk to somebody, and get it done quickly,” she went on. “The banking centers are there for when they need a little more contact, when they have a little more complexity, or they just want to expand their relationship. We need to make sure we have everything.”

Michael Oleksak, executive vice president and chief lending and credit officer, said all those Connecticut dollars in the bank’s commercial portfolio have not come mainly from the Granby-Suffield area, but predated those physical locations.

Matt Bannister with one of the West Hartford branch’s two interactive video teller machines.

Matt Bannister with one of the West Hartford branch’s two interactive video teller machines.

“We have a significant amount of business in the Greater Hartford area, specifically in the Farmington, Glastonbury, West Hartford communities and downtown Hartford, but we also go as far as New Haven and Greenwich. So our tentacles are fairly long when it comes to our Connecticut presence.

“Most of that is in commercial real estate, which tends to be more transactional,” he went on. “We are able to do a lot of full-service banking for these commercial real-estate customers because of our cash-management expertise and the different products we have, but without a branch presence, it’s really difficult to do business banking.”

The branch presence in West Hartford allows the team to do more commercial and industrial (C&I) lending, and complements a recent expansion of the bank’s C&I team with former TD Bank veterans, Oleksak noted.

“We have a very strong following now, and I think by having a physical presence there, we’ll become a more visible part of the community,” he went on. “We do support our current borrowers, including with a lot of their philanthropic initiatives, but it’s kind of behind the scenes because we don’t have a presence there. But with a physical presence, and with the disruption in the market with the M&T acquisition of People’s United, it will really open the door for us to be a bigger part of the community.”

De Maria agreed. “We’ve already created such a solid foundation with our name and then with the physical presence from the acquisition we did in Suffield in 2018,” she told BusinessWest. “And now, with our West Hartford presence, I think we have a solid opportunity to bring the service we provide for our commercial customers to our retail-customer world, and really marry those two sides together and make an impact.”

 

Making Contact

Many visitors to the new branch will first notice the interactive video tellers, one in the entry and one in the drive-thru lanes, bringing the bank’s total number of such machines to 22 at 17 locations. Users can call up a live teller in Holyoke who manages four or five machines at once.

“That way, we can be open seven days a week and have extended hours and not have to have people physically in the branch. And the video banker can do almost any transaction,” Bannister said, noting that Peoples is the only bank in the Hartford to offer the service. “Part of our technology story is good, consumer-facing technology.”

Romika Odedra, vice president and regional manager, said customers appreciate face time with a live person rather than interacting with a machine and the more limited options available at an ATM. And Bannister added that, with the pandemic still raging, many customers appreciate being able to conduct complex transactions in a contactless way.

“We are able to do a lot of full-service banking for these commercial real-estate customers because of our cash-management expertise and the different products we have, but without a branch presence, it’s really difficult to do business banking.”

“Video tellers are something we’re proud to bring to the market,” De Maria said. “It brings seven-day-a-week banking to West Hartford and our surrounding areas.”

Once inside the branch, customers will see pods instead of traditional customer lines — a model Peoples and other banks have been implementing for years. Customers can stand beside the teller and even see what he or she is looking at on the computer screen, if necessary. “In the beginning, people were like, ‘where do I go?’” Odedra said. “But it’s so easy — it’s warm, it’s welcoming, it’s not ‘there’s the line.’ It’s nice to have that one-on-one experience.”

The branch also employs a ‘universal banker’ model, Bannister said. “Any bank employee you see out here can do all the transactions. You can go to a teller pod or pop into an office if it’s more convenient or you just want privacy to have a conversation.” In other, more specialized offices down the hallway from the main area, he added, the bank will offer a mortgage expert, a wealth adviser, and other ancillary services.

And in front, at the main entrance, is a high table, couch, and coffee bar. “We’re trying to say to people, ‘come on in and hang out; get to know us a little bit,” Bannister said. “The thought is, we want to have sort of an open storefront.”

That’s partly to reflect the neighborhood the branch is in, with restaurants and small shops lining the streets and the shopping and dining mecca Blue Back Square just down the road.

“This area really is hopping with foot traffic,” he said. “And if you’re a bank with a retail storefront, you want foot traffic.”

Those who drive to PeoplesBank will appreciate the free parking lot the bank shares with the town’s Post Office.

“I used to work at a different bank, and that was the biggest issue we had, the parking,” Odedra said. “I’m so glad we have the parking we have. We don’t have to rush the customer out; we have time to have that one-on-one with them and invite them to have a cup of coffee.”

Bannister said West Hartford has been an enthusiastic town to work with, from its Chamber of Commerce to local economic-development leaders.

“Right from the start, when we were saying we wanted to come down, they were like, ‘how can we help?’ We’re in a lot of communities, and some of them are very welcoming, and some are maybe not so much. This one has been great to work with.”

 

Opportunity Knocks

The branch is fully staffed as well, with a mix of on-site and hybrid workers, reflecting the current makeup of the entire PeoplesBank organization. Some are West Hartford natives who know the market, Bannisher said, while some were attracted by working near all the nearby restaurants and other neighborhood amenities.

Aleda De Maria

Even in an age of mobile banking, Aleda De Maria says, people still want face-to-face interaction at branches for many services.

There’s room to expand in Hartford County, he added, with plans to open at least two more branches in the next couple of years.

“We’re coming in with a message of ‘we’re here, and we’re here to stay, and we can do everything the big banks do, but with a local feel and local decisions,’” De Maria said. “And I think that’s what’s missing in banking in general nowadays — being able to bank how you want to bank but also at a community bank where you don’t have to worry about who’s going to buy them.”

That presence means civic involvement and philanthropy as well, Bannister said, noting that PeoplesBank plans to give close to $60,000 in the first month alone to local organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Hands on Hartford (which assists with food pantries and the homeless population), the United Way, Foodshare, and even two West Hartford community events the bank will sponsor this fall and next summer.

“Right from the start, when we were saying we wanted to come down, they were like, ‘how can we help?’ We’re in a lot of communities, and some of them are very welcoming, and some are maybe not so much. This one has been great to work with.”

“We feel like we’re leading with the values we want to be known by in the community, which are innovation, technology, customer service, and the community support.”

De Maria agreed with Bannister than broadening the bank’s footprint in Connecticut is a must. “We will continue to actively look for physical locations, primarily in Hartford County,” she said. “We’re not opposed to outside Hartford County should it make sense, but in Hartford County, we feel we have an opportunity for our brand to really make an impact in the community.”

And that means expanded business, including commercial lending, Oleksak said. “I think there’s tremendous opportunity in this market for us, given our size and the experience of our lending staff. We’re very diverse, and between small business, large commercial real-estate loans, and now C&I expertise, I think we bring a lot to the table. It’s a great opportunity for us.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Western New England University (WNEU) announced the recipients of the 2021 PeoplesBank Award. The award, first given in 2020, is made possible by a grant to WNEU from PeoplesBank to advance innovation and entrepreneurship across the university and the entire Pioneer Valley ecosystem.

Mary Schoonmaker, associate professor of Marketing and Entrepreneurship at Western New England, applauded the students’ spirit and innovation. “We continue to be encouraged to see the breadth of businesses that have applied for awards this year. It is rewarding to see these student-led ventures made possible through this PeoplesBank grant.”

Matthew Bannister, first vice president, Marketing and Corporate Responsibility at PeoplesBank, congratulated each of the student-business initiatives. “We are pleased that our grant could assist these student teams in continuing to develop their businesses. Small businesses, powered by entrepreneurs, are vital to the economic health of our region, and we congratulate these six new ventures and Western New England University for their efforts in this area. This is exactly what we hoped would transpire when we formed this partnership with Western New England.”

This year, the PeoplesBank Award at Western New England University went to the following innovative and entrepreneurial student teams:

• Jeremy Bowler, a computer engineering major, for his work on an electronically controlled, continuously variable transmission (ECVT) for small-engine applications. The funding is being used to continue to advance the prototype;

• Tytianie Brown, a sciences major, who runs a full-service beauty-services business. Brown is using the funding for beauty-services equipment;

• Caleb Miller, a mechanical engineering major and the co-founder of Woodside Getaways, an RV rental startup. Miller is using the funding to provision the RV and complete the rental unit, which is already booked for summer travel by Woodside’s clients;

• Dante Talamini, an engineering major and team leader for Frost Alert, a wearable smart device that monitors skin temperature and alerts the wearer if they are beginning to experience frostbite. The team will be using the funding to continue to advance their prototype development;

• Ethan Valdes, an entrepreneurship major with a minor in health sciences, who co-founded Bus Boiz, a social-media experience startup that captures travel experiences. The team was awarded funding for a drone to assist with aerial shots from their travel adventures; and

• Shemika White, an MBA graduate student and founder of Notes of Beauty chemical-free beauty products. White is using the funding to purchase materials and product testing.

Western New England University aspires to develop students’ entrepreneurial mindset with its innovation and entrepreneurial programs. Through co-curricular efforts, such as Startup Weekend and the Product Development and Innovation course, students are able to create innovations that have market potential. The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, located on campus, is a dedicated space for student startup teams, club meetings, and maker space for student-led innovations. Past WNEU student teams have advanced their innovations by participating in the Harold Grinspoon Foundation Spirit Awards, the Valley Venture Mentors Accelerator, and Draper Competitions.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — PeoplesBank has announced the planned April 26, 2021 opening of its newest banking center, located at the corner of Newton St. and Lyman St., South Hadley, along with two adjacent drive-thru VideoBankerITM’s (Interactive Teller Machines), bringing the newest banking technology and seven-days-a-week banking convenience into the community.

The newly constructed banking center, measuring 1,900 square feet, is a modern, aesthetically pleasing addition to the neighborhood, offering a combination of in-person service using the Universal Banker system, where each associate is specially trained to assist with almost all banking transactions, enabling shorter wait times and more efficient servicing, as well as offering the latest in banking technology, the VideoBankerITM.

The two VideoBankerITMs at the location will be open seven days a week, and provide an opportunity for customers to interact with a PeoplesBank associate via video from a remote location. VideoBankers can perform virtually all banking transactions, including cashing checks down to the penny, accepting loan payments or any other common transaction.

The two existing locations in close proximity in South Hadley (at Village Commons, 7 College St., and at 494 Newton St.), will both be closed, with the locations now combined into this one new, state-of-the-art banking center. The 494 Newton St. banking center will be permanently closed at the end of business on April 24 while the Village Commons location will be shuttered on May 24. However, PeoplesBank will retain a retail banking presence at the Village Commons, with the conversion of the ATM into a VideoBankerITM, which will also offer real-time video banking with a PeoplesBank associate, 7 days a week.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — The arrival of spring means sunshine, warmer weather and, of course, the annual Earth Day tomato plants and garden seeds giveaways hosted by PeoplesBank at four of its banking centers today. Gardening enthusiasts can also register to win one of five $50 gift certificates to Dickinson Farms in Granby.

The bank will give away tomato plants and garden seed packets starting at 10 a.m. at the following locations:

• 300 King St., Northampton;

• 547 Memorial Ave., West Springfield;

• 1936 Memorial Dr., Chicopee; and

• 1 Turkey Hills Road, East Granby Connecticut

The events are open to the public. Seed and plant quantities are limited, will be distributed only while supplies last and only at the designated PeoplesBank offices.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — PeoplesBank announced that its charitable giving to nonprofits in the Pioneer Valley and Northern Conn. in 2020 surpassed its previous record high, set in 2019, making this the largest amount ever donated in any year in the bank’s history. Contributions totaled $1,300,000 in 2020, representing almost a doubling of annual contributions over the past five years (from $714,000 in 2016), and a cumulative total of $6 million over the past five years (2016 to 2020).

“While the COVID pandemic impacted many areas of our local economy, we were proud to increase our level of giving to the communities we serve, especially during such a time where people within our communities are in such need,” said Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank. “As a mutual institution, we have a special responsibility to our depositors and our communities, and our strong support of so many worthy causes is one of the ways we demonstrate our commitment.”

Highlights of the support from the past year included grants to 292 unique nonprofits in the region, with an average donation of approximately $4,500 per cause. While the long-standing funding priorities of PeoplesBank include academic excellence, community vibrancy, and environmental sustainability, support in 2020 also included donations to COVID emergency relief funds and to purchase PPE for frontline responders, to organizations fighting food insecurity and homelessness, and to many area youth groups and early-childhood education centers.

“Way Finders is privileged to be a long-time beneficiary of PeoplesBank’s charitable giving and volunteer programs. Year after year, they make significant investments in programs and services that advance our communities,” said Keith Fairey, president and CEO of Way Finders. “In 2020, individuals and families in our region faced extraordinary challenges as a result of COVID-19. We know we can count on PeoplesBank to invest in meaningful solutions that will help people who are facing crisis now, and that they will also partner with us long-term as we work toward and advocate for equitable recovery.

Importantly, it is not just cash contributions that the bank has provided to assist these efforts — or, more specifically, that the bank’s employees have provided. The bank’s associates have consistently contributed more than 10,000 hours per year to local causes, with service ranging from board membership to volunteering in food pantries and survival centers, and within schools and youth groups. Though this number dropped considerably in the current environment due to social-distancing restrictions, it has long been a tradition for the bank to not only enable, but also actively encourage, volunteerism throughout the ranks.

“PeoplesBank has been an enthusiastic supporter of our work to help repair homes for low-income families with children, the elderly, military veterans, and people with special needs for many years,” said Colleen Loveless, president and CEO of Revitalize Community Development Corp. “They roll up their sleeves to volunteer and donate, not just the bank but their employees as well.”

PeoplesBank was once again recognized by the Boston Business Journal as a Top Charitable Contributor for the 13th consecutive year, and was once again the top-ranked bank headquartered in Western Mass.

“We believe that we ‘punch above our weight’ in the region,” Senecal said, “and, as an institution that is determined to remain independent — we will never be bought or sold — we look forward to continuing, and growing, our philanthropic giving in the years to come.”

Daily News

HOLYOKE — PeoplesBank announced the following nine promotions.

Christina Bordeau has been promoted to assistant vice president, banking center manager for the High Street, Holyoke location. She has more than 24 years of financial-services and banking experience, having served in various retail banking roles.

Michael Gay has been promoted to vice president, banking center manager for the Amherst location. He has more than 20 years of retail and banking experience.

Jacquelyn Guzie has been promoted to vice president and regional manager. She has more than 20 years of financial-services and banking experience, having served in various retail banking roles, including managing the Suffield Banking Center.

Clare Ladue was promoted to vice president and regional manager for the Holyoke region. She has more than 25 years of financial-services and banking experience, having served in banking center management, administration, and commercial lending. She previously served as banking center manager for the Hadley Banking Center and was promoted to assistant vice president, regional manager, in 2019.

Aneta Lombardi was promoted to finance officer. She has more than 15 years of financial-services and banking experience, including serving in various positions in the finance division, most recently as financial analyst.

Nicole Nelson was promoted to banking center manager at the Windsor Locks location. She has more than eight years of banking experience, including serving as assistant manager of both the East Longmeadow and Windsor Locks banking centers.

Steve Parastatidis was promoted to first vice president, commercial banking. He has 16 years of banking experience.

Brenda Rodriguez was promoted to assistant vice president, banking center manager of the Chicopee location. She has more than 14 years of financial-services and banking experience, having served in various retail banking roles, including most recently as banking center manager for the St. James Avenue, Springfield location.

Danielle Rosario was promoted to vice president, banking center manager, for the Chicopee location. She has more than 17 years of banking experience.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest, in partnership with Living Local, has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Episode 37: Nov. 2, 2020

George Interviews Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank

Tom Senecal

George talks with Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank. The two discuss the state of the local economy, how the pandemic is impacting the business community specific sectors of the economy, the short and long-term impacts of state and federal stimulus initiatives, and what lies ahead in 2021. They also discuss the impact of the pandemic and falling interest rates on the banking industry. It’s must listening, so join us on BusinessTalk.

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Daily News

HOLYOKE — According to President and CEO Tom Senecal, PeoplesBank wanted to bring something new to the Ludlow market. Then COVID-19 hit, and suddenly PeoplesBank’s investments in technology had a whole new meaning and value.

“It’s about as close to curbside banking as you can get, except with way better hours,” Senecal said in describing the drive-thru VideoBanker ITM that will be a feature of the new Ludlow banking center located at 450 Center St. “Customers can do pretty much anything they can with a teller — except they do not have to enter the banking center. This new technology also allows us to extend the banking day, and they will be available seven days a week, including Sundays. Customers are finding a whole new level of convenience by banking when they need to as opposed to when they have to.”

Currently, the PeoplesBank VideoBanker ITMs are the only such service in Ludlow. The new banking center is slated to open on Oct. 15.

“While we apply the design template differently every time we build a new branch, the basic elements are the same: new technology, an open interior, and an empowered universal-banker team of associates all housed in an extremely efficient footprint,” Senecal added.

PeoplesBank wanted to develop a team of associates for the new banking center who had strong community connections, said Aleda De Maria, senior vice president of Retail and Operations at PeoplesBank. “Ludlow is a close-knit community where trust is granted based on what you do, not what you say. And we hit it out of the park when Scott Ganhao joined us as our Banking Center Manager in Ludlow. Not only does he speak fluent Portuguese, he has incredibly strong community connections from serving in roles of responsibility in a variety of charitable organizations, including Festa.”

“Ludlow is a hardworking, close-knit community comprised of many cultures,” Ganhao noted. “PeoplesBank is a great community partner. We are going to bring technology that people have not seen, and I think Ludlow is going to embrace that.” Ganhao is the president of the Our Lady of Fatima Preservation Society, a 501(c)(3) organization, and is a member of the board of directors of the Wilbraham Rotary Memorial Foundation Inc. and the Lusitania Institute. He is a member of the Wilbraham-Hampden Rotary Club and served as chairman of the Our Lady of Fatima finance committee, president of the Our Lady of Fatima parish council committee, and director of the Our Lady of Fatima Festa committee.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Tens of thousands of voters in recent consumer polls have named PeoplesBank a winner in several categories.

PeoplesBank, the largest community bank employer headquartered in Western Mass., was a second-time winner of the Best Place to Work in one area poll.

“We are a strong work family with goals and values,” explained Christine Phillips, First Vice President, Human Resources at PeoplesBank. “Making sure our associates’ professional and personal needs are met, that’s what being a family is all about. We value them, the work that they do, and this award would not be possible without them.”

With 21 offices, including its new Ludlow office, which will open in October, another area poll named the bank  Best Local Bank for the eighth time.

“It’s not enough for us just to operate here, we are a part of the community and a part of what makes our local community vibrant and successful,” Jacqueline Charron, Senior Vice President & Chief Risk Officer at PeoplesBank. “I’m out in the community at the grocery store, and people stop me to say ‘you’re from PeoplesBank’ and it’s a great feeling for someone to say that…it really makes you proud to work here.”

Also, innovative services like mobile banking and a complete, contactless mortgage application process earned PeoplesBank the Best Mortgage Lender for the ninth time in that same poll.

Nadine Maggi, Consumer Lending Operations Manager at PeoplesBank commented, “I think it’s our focus on service and our commitment to the community. Our mortgage lenders are out doing first time home buyer seminars. We have a digital mortgage process, so if a customer wants to work with a mortgage lender they can or they can go online to their own personalized portal. At the end, they close faster, and we do what we can for the customer because it’s all about them.”

Daily News

HOLYOKE — PeoplesBank announced the appointment of Scott Ganhao as the manager of its new banking center located at 450 Center St. in Ludlow. He has more than 13 years of financial services and banking experience. In his new position, Ganhao will aim to ensure the banking center meets and exceeds service and sales goals, provides excellent customer service, operates according to all bank policies and procedures, and serves as a leader within the community.

“We are excited to have Scott lead our new Ludlow team,” said Aleda De Maria, senior vice president of Retail and Operations at PeoplesBank. “With his strong connections to the community, he has been instrumental in helping us open our newest banking center and introducing customers to our innovative banking technology.”

Ganhao earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from Western New England University. He is the president of the Our Lady of Fatima Preservation Society and a member of the board of directors of the Wilbraham Rotary Memorial Foundation Inc. and the Lusitania Institute. He is a member of the Wilbraham-Hampden Rotary Club and has served as chairman of the Our Lady of Fatima finance committee, president of the Our Lady of Fatima Parish council committee, and director of the Our Lady of Fatima Festa committee. He is fluent in spoken Portuguese.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — PeoplesBank announced the appointment of Jennifer DeBarge as assistant vice president of Marketing. She has more than 22 years of financial-services and marketing experience. In her new position, she will provide strategic direction and execution for various marketing projects, supporting the lines of business and brand.

“Jennifer is an asset to our team and brings a tremendous depth of bank marketing experience,” said Matthew Bannister, first vice president, Marketing and Corporate Responsibility at PeoplesBank. “We are looking forward to her contributions as she will be helping us communicate and connect with our customers and communities.”

DeBarge earned an MBA in entrepreneurial and innovative thinking from Bay Path University and a bachelor’s degree from Westfield State University. She also received a certificate from the ABA School of Marketing & Management. She has a history of community service and currently serves on the board of directors for the Westfield Boys & Girls Club.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — PeoplesBank issued its 2020 annual Corporate Green Report in recognition of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Through its green values and actions to support environmental sustainability, PeoplesBank believes it can help make the region a healthier place in which to live, work, and raise a family. The bank puts these values to work throughout the year through its charitable donations, volunteerism, support of green-energy projects, and construction of LEED-certified offices.

“A lot of things have been canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus. Earth Day is not one of them,” said Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank. “Environmental sustainability is really the meeting place of all of our corporate values. This year might be a remote celebration, but we will not forget our commitment to the community and the environment.”

PeoplesBank is also a longtime leader in sustainable-energy financing, and the bank’s commercial lenders are recognized for their expertise in creating financing packages for green-energy power generation. To date, the bank has financed more than $188 million in wind, solar, and hydroelectric power-generation projects.

Over 2019-20, PeoplesBank supported several green community projects in Western Mass., including the Center for EcoTechnology’s ‘eco fellows’ and more than 100 community-education events; the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) Food for All campaign; e-recycle and shred day at the bank’s Suffield Banking Center; Grow Food Northampton; the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s Local Farmer program and awards; scientific environmental education at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment; a mobile farmers’ market that travels to underserved/food-desert areas of Springfield and surrounding communities; the Source to Sea Cleanup of the Connecticut River, which also includes hands-on participation by a team of volunteers from the bank; and ValleyBike Share, the region’s new bike-sharing program.

Community banks, like PeoplesBank, are not generally known for building green offices, but PeoplesBank has a LEED Gold-certified office in Northampton, a LEED Gold-certified office in West Springfield, and a LEED Silver-certified office in Springfield. The LEED-certified office in Springfield, the first of its kind in the city, won a Green Seal from the city of Springfield. The bank will pursue a fourth LEED certification for its Pedlar Banking Center in Holyoke in the near future.

Three PeoplesBank offices (Northampton, West Springfield, and 330 Whitney Ave. in Holyoke) have electric vehicle-charging stations. The bank also launched a “Choose to Reuse” campaign designed to eliminate the use of disposable paper products internally.

In the past, PeoplesBank has been recognized by Independent Banker magazine for its environmental sustainability efforts and voted a five-time winner of “Best Local Green Business” by Daily Hampshire Gazette readers. PeoplesBank is also a past recipient of the Sustainable Business of the Year Award and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts’ Sustainability Award.

PeoplesBank has traditionally commemorated Earth Day by giving away tomato plants and seeds at several banking centers throughout the region. Due to the extenuating circumstances this year, in lieu of those customer giveaways, a donation will be made to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to assist in its COVID relief outreach.

“A business’ responsibility is to try and influence their communities toward being more sustainable,” said Matthew Bannister, first vice president, Marketing and Corporate Responsibility at PeoplesBank. “The environment is a core belief that is built into the fabric of our organization. That goes a long way toward what we do in the community.”

Daily News

HOLYOKE — PeoplesBank announced the appointments and promotion of several key associates.

Eric Coutinho has been appointed mortgage consultant for Hartford and Tolland counties. In his new position, he assists homebuyers with finding the right mortgage option as well as guiding them through the application process. Coutinho has a history of volunteer service that includes serving on the fundraising committee for Longmeadow Knights Cheerleading.

Aieshya Jackson has been appointed Westfield Banking Center manager. She has more than 10 years of financial services and banking experience. In her new position, she oversees and manages all aspects of a full-service banking center, including staffing, sales, lending, operations, business development, and community relations. Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bay Path University. Her volunteer service includes serving as an executive member of the board of directors of Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services, where she serves as chair of the financial committee. She also serves on the board of directors for Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts.

Daniel Malkin has been appointed East Granby Banking Center manager. He has more than eight years of financial services and banking experience. In his new position, he oversees sales and operational success of the banking center. Malkin is a member of the board of directors for the Bradley Chamber of Commerce and Kent Memorial Library in Suffield.

Sara Roberts has been promoted to Sixteen Acres Banking Center manager. She has more than 10 years of financial-services and banking experience. In her new position, she aims to ensure the banking center meets and exceeds service and sales goals, provides excellent customer service, operates according to all bank policies and procedures, and serves as a leader within the community. She previously served as the assistant Banking Center manager in Holyoke. Roberts has a history of volunteer service that includes providing financial-literacy instruction for Credit for Life and at the Picknelly Adult and Family Education Center.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — PeoplesBank has found a new way to celebrate its founding on St. Patrick’s Day in 1885, its deep Holyoke roots, and its support of the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Road Race and Parade: a new local beer called PeoplesStout.

The bank partnered with Holyoke Craft Beer to produce PeoplesStout, an Irish stout featuring the traditional warm, roasty character one would expect in a traditional Irish stout, with a subtle twist. It is brewed from mostly local ingredients, including barley from Valley Malt in Hadley.

“When you see the beer and the label with all the shamrocks on it and the name PeoplesStout, it represents PeoplesBank, the city of Holyoke, and Holyoke Craft Beer,” said Matthew Bannister, first vice president of Marketing and Innovation at PeoplesBank. “It’s great for us to all come together and have a toast to the city and the success of small businesses in the city.”

Holyoke Craft Beer has been in business for just over a year. Through help from the program EforAll Holyoke, owner Mike Pratt was able to turn his passion into a business and open his doors in Holyoke.

“When Matt approached us back in October with this idea of brewing a beer in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it would be unique to collaborate on a beer with a bank,” Pratt said. “Having the opportunity to work with PeoplesBank gave us the opportunity to run our first canning batch, so I’m very thankful for their support and partnership.”

A release party is planned for today, March 6, at 4 p.m. at Holyoke Craft Beer, located in the STEAM Building at 208 Race St., Holyoke. Matt O’Connor will help kick off the event with the playing of his bagpipes. BarRated Trivia will start at 6:30 p.m.

“This partnership shows that there are community members and stakeholders who are invested in Holyoke and want to support local startups, and being able to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, it’s a perfect match,” said Tessa Murphy-Romboletti, executive director at EforAll Holyoke.

PeoplesStout will have a limited quantity and will be available at the brewery and at events during parade weekend.

Banking and Financial Services

On the Way Up

PeoplesBank joined Google, Facebook, BMW, Southwest Airlines, and more top companies on the 2019 WayUp Top 100 Internship Programs list. WayUp is a professional networking application that connects college students and recent graduates to career opportunities with reputable employers.

According to WayUp, the bank was selected because “PeoplesBank interns not only get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to operate a bank, they also get hands-on experience to work on passion projects like Habitat for Humanity’s Build Days.” The list is determined by a panel of industry experts who consider everything from public votes to internship-program highlights. More than 1,000 employers participated in this year’s assessment.

“Our internship program instills that we can learn just as much from our interns as they can learn from us.”

“PeoplesBank interns make an immediate and direct impact on the organization and the communities that the bank serves,” said Danielle St. Jean, HR Coordinator and Training Specialist. “Each intern is also assigned to a home department at the bank. In addition to day-to-day assignments and value-add projects completed within that department, the group of interns are involved in several hands-on activities.”

PeoplesBank interns participated in on-site professional development, a Habitat for Humanity Build Day, employee-engagement planning, banking-topic webinars, and job shadowing. They also were able to discuss their career paths with senior leadership in the bank’s finance, human resources, information technology, marketing, and retail operations. After spending the summer at PeoplesBank, the interns have returned to study at colleges throughout Massachusetts as well as Connecticut and Colorado.

“Our internship program instills that we can learn just as much from our interns as they can learn from us,” St. Jean said. “We ask for lots of feedback from our group of interns, and even have a private ‘PeoplesBank Internship Alumni’ group on LinkedIn so that we keep in touch with them at the conclusion of the program.”

Recruitment for the next PeoplesBank summer internship program kicks off during the winter. Interested students are encouraged to complete an application on the bank’s career page, www.bankatpeoples.com/careers.

People on the Move

Jill Monson-Bishop

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recently welcomed Jill Monson-Bishop into the role of Community Development manager. She comes to the ACS with expertise in networking, relationship building, marketing, project management, and more. Prior to joining the American Cancer Society, Monson-Bishop was one of the opening-day team members at MGM Springfield, with responsibilities including internal communications and employee events. She also owns Inspired Marketing, now a consultative marketing agency, but at one time a full-service marketing and event-planning company serving clients such as Smith & Wesson, Adam Quenneville Roofing, and Northwestern Mutual. Previously, she was a radio personality in Western Mass. on stations such as WMAS, Rock 102, WHYN, and more. Community engagement has always been a priority for Monson-Bishop, who, over the years, has been involved with organizations such the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, Square One, YWCA, the Springfield Regional Chamber, the Drama Studio, and more. She is a graduate of Bay Path University with a MBA in entrepreneurial thinking and innovative practices, and she earned her bachelor’s degree in communication and media studies at Westfield State University.

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Jeffrey Neumann

Valley Solar, LLC announced the appointment of Jeffrey Neumann as lead master electrician. Neumann started with Valley Solar in April 2019 and will oversee all electrical operations. Prior to working at Valley Solar, Neumann was the electrical foreman at Hampshire College from 2010 to 2019. There, he supervised a crew of four journeyman electricians and oversaw all aspects of the the college’s Electrical Department, including supervision of crews, planning, budgeting, installations, and maintenance of campus electrical systems. He also oversaw several solar projects while at Hampshire and has performed solar installations involving single-phase residential wiring as well as more complex three-phase commercial projects.

 

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Linda Morgan, an attorney with extensive experience in higher education, has been named vice president and general counsel at Springfield College, effective Aug. 26, President Mary-Beth Cooper announced. Morgan will provide legal counsel and guidance to the leadership of the college and will serve as secretary to its board of trustees. She will be a member of the president’s senior leadership team. Joining Springfield College with 13 years of service as a practicing attorney and more than six years in positions of senior-level organizational management and financial administration, Morgan is well-practiced in providing leadership to institutional compliance with laws and regulations pertinent to higher education, including the Higher Education Opportunity Act, Title IX, FERPA, HIPAA, and the Jeanne Clery Act. She provides experience in broad aspects of law and related matters, including contracts, agreements, litigation, legal investigations, dispute resolution, mediation, business formation, compliance, and management. She is admitted to the bars of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the State of New York, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Morgan most recently worked for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, providing expertise in areas of employment-law adjudication and related statutory interpretation. Her previous experience also includes service as associate dean for Gender Equity at Bard College, grant administrator within the School of Medicine at the University of Maryland, and an attorney in private practice. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Maryland University College and a juris doctor from Western New England University School of Law. She has teaching experience as an adjunct professor at Holyoke Community College and Greenfield Community College.

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Jean Deliso

Jean Deliso, CFP has been selected for membership in the Nautilus Group, a service of New York Life. The Nautilus Group is a planning resource comprised of financial professionals experienced in taxes, law, life insurance, accounting, and charitable giving. Deliso’s access to this exclusive resource enables her clients and their other financial advisors to benefit from the group’s collective experience and solutions as they apply to the protection, accumulation, and distribution of wealth to individuals, families, and business owners throughout the country. Deliso is president and owner of Deliso Financial and Insurance Services, a firm focusing on comprehensive financial strategies that position clients for a solid financial future. Her 30-year experience has led to a focus in certain fields, such as cash management, risk management, investment, and retirement planning. She has developed an expertise in assisting business owners with protecting and securing their future. She is also fully committed to educating individuals regarding their finances and frequently conducts workshops advocating financial empowerment. She has been a member of New York Life Chairman’s Council since 2012 and a qualifying member of the Million Dollar Round Table since 1999. Members of the Chairman’s Council rank in the top 3% of New York Life’s sales force of more than 12,000 licensed agents in sales achievement. Deliso currently serves on and is past chairman of the board of the Baystate Health Foundation and the Community Music School of Springfield. She has also served on the board of the YMCA of Greater Springfield and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

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Darcy Fortun

The Ad Club of Western Massachusetts recently recognized the Innovation Series with an award in the Video Series category. The Innovation Series is a documentary-style video series produced by Darcy Fortune, producer for Garvey Communication Associates Inc. (GCAi), for PeoplesBank. The series explored Valley Venture Mentors and some of its more unique entrepreneurial teams. The series was hosted by Matthew Bannister, first vice president of Marketing and Innovation for PeoplesBank. According to the bank’s website, the six-episode Innovation Series was designed and produced with the belief that PeoplesBank can not only be innovative, but help inspire innovation as well. The series garnered considerable media attention, with feature stories appearing in BusinessWest and several other area media outlets, as well as a sizable viewing audience. GCAi also distributed the Innovation Series through social-media channels, where it accumulated almost 400,000 total impressions, 100,000 engagement actions, and 90,000 video views at the time of the award. Fortune’s team included GCAi’s John Garvey as producer, Mary Shea as project manager, and James Garvey as digital dissemination manager. Matthew Derderian served as director of photography. Fortune is an experienced media professional and video producer, having served on assignment desks for both ABC and FOX News affiliates and developed videos and animations for GCAi clients including Connecticut Orthopaedic Specialists, Cape Cod Cooperative Bank, MP CPAs, PeoplesBank, Peter Pan Bus Lines, and Winchester Savings Bank. She also just released two new pro bono videos for the Children’s Study Home and Wild Care of Cape Cod.

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Yvonne De Faoite

Elms College announced it will host an Irish Fulbright language teaching assistant (FLTA) during the 2019-20 academic year. Yvonne De Faoite of Limerick, Ireland, will teach Irish (Gaelic) language and culture. The Irish FLTA position is co-sponsored by the Irish Cultural Center of Western Massachusetts. De Faoite earned her primary teaching degree from Froebel College of Education in 2008. In 2012, she spent a year in Australia, where she gained international teaching experience. She recently completed a master’s degree in Irish immersion education from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. Prior to that, she completed a diploma in educational leadership in University College Dublin. De Faoite’s educational interests include immersion and second-language acquisition. As a Fulbright Irish FLTA, she will teach the Irish language and culture to Elms College students and to community members through the Irish Cultural Center. She will also take classes at Elms.

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Robert Burnell has been appointed executive chef of all dining venues at the Red Lion Inn. In his new role, Burnell oversees the day-to-day culinary operations of the main dining room, Widow Bingham’s Tavern, the Lion’s Den, and the seasonally open courtyard. In addition, Burnell will collaborate with Brian Alberg, vice president of Culinary Development, on all future food- and beverage-related development, including specialty menus for Red Lion guests and private parties. With nearly 20 years in the food, beverage, and hospitality industries, Burnell was previously executive chef at Gedney Farm in Marlborough. With a passion for clean cooking and eating, coupled with expertise in modern food trends, Burnell revamped menus to incorporate locally sourced items, along with gluten-free, vegetarian, and keto options for diners. He also strived to deliver exceptional client experiences for weddings, community events, and private dining. Additional hospitality experience includes five years as a property developer for Berkshire Hotels Group, during which he implemented construction projects for both hotels and restaurants.

•••••

Sean Sormanti

Michael Tucker, president and CEO of Greenfield Cooperative Bank, announced that Sean Sormanti has joined the bank as senior vice president – Human Resources. Most recently, Sormanti was director of Human Resources at Strategic Information Resources in Springfield. In his new role, he will be responsible for recruiting, planning, coordinating, and managing the activities of the bank’s Human Resources department. He will be based at 63 Federal St. in Greenfield. Sormanti has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine. He currently holds a professional in human resources certificate and is an active member of the Western Mass. chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management.

•••••

Joseph Baker

 

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation (BTCF) announced that Joseph Baker has joined its team as vice president of Finance and Administration. He will oversee finances, investments, human resources, and operations for the $152 million foundation. Baker previously served in leadership roles at other community foundations for 13 years, most recently as vice president of Finance and chief financial officer at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation. Before that, he was director of Finance and Administration at the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain. He brings to BTCF a background in nonprofit finance and development, as the former head of a United Way and a nonprofit service organization. He also developed Danbury Children First, a parent-led community initiative. Baker earned his MBA from the Yale School of Management and a bachelor’s degree in economics and Spanish from Colby College.

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Bob Cummings has been re-elected to serve as president of the National Assoc. of Professional Benefits Administrators (NAPBA). A  NAPBA trustee since 2007, Cummings was first elected NAPBA president in 2015, and has been an instrumental force in the emergence of the consumer-directed healthcare industry over the past 20 years, orchestrating the growth of NAPBA as the primary compliance-standards and best-practice organization for third-party employee-benefits administrators serving the consumer-directed healthcare industry. As CEO and founder of American Benefits Group (ABG), a leading national employee-benefits administrator located in Northampton, Cummings has been a pioneer of the consumer-directed healthcare industry before the term even existed. ABG was one of the first administrators of flexible spending accounts (FSAs) in 1989 along with COBRA, billing-administration, and commuter-benefit accounts in the 1990s. When health savings accounts (HSA) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRA) were enabled under the Internal Revenue Code in 2002, ABG was one of the early leaders in administering consumer-directed healthcare plan designs. As pre-tax, account-based plans became a linchpin of most employer benefit-plan designs along with high-deductible health plans, NAPBA was founded to promote compliance and best-practice standards in the administration of pre-tax, account-based plans. All NAPBA member organizations are third-party administrators focused on the administration and service of employer-sponsored plans for consumer-directed pre-tax accounts such as FSAs, HSAs, HRAs, and commuter benefits, as well as COBRA administration services. Collectively NAPBA member organizations provide services to more than 30 million employee healthcare consumers nationwide.

•••••

Richard Venne, president and CEO of Viability, announced longtime staffer Richard Horton’s promotion to vice president of Administration and Finance. Horton joined Community Enterprises, one of the nonprofits that merged to become Viability, in July 2008 as director of Community Staffing. Before joining Viability as a staff member, he had executed consulting work to revive and re-engineer the Community Staffing operations. Over the next decade, his role expanded, first becoming director of Financial Planning and then associate vice president of Administration and Finance. He is known throughout the organization for serving as project manager for the implementation of Viability’s electronic health record and outcomes-management system. Two years ago, during the merger of Community Enterprises and Human Resources Unlimited into Viability, he led the effort to bring the infrastructure of the organizations together, focusing on technology and facilities. Entering its third year as Viability, the agency’s focus is on the creation, integration, standardization, and improvement of systems and processes. In his new role, Horton will play a central role in helping achieve that goal.

Banking and Financial Services

Landmark Decision

Tom Senecal, left, and Andrew Crystal

Tom Senecal, left, and Andrew Crystal, vice president of O’Connell Development, look over blueprints for the new banking center now taking shape at the site of the Yankee Pedlar.

Tom Senecal says PeoplesBank first looked at the historic Yankee Pedlar property as the potential site a future branch roughly three years ago.

‘Looking’ didn’t advance to anything further, though, said Senecal, the bank’s president, because at the time, the efforts to ‘save the Pedlar,’ as the campaign concerning the beloved restaurant and gathering spot came to be called, was ongoing, and hopes to keep that landmark in its long-time role were still somewhat high.

Fast-forward a year or so, after many restauranteurs had looked at the Pedlar and essentially passed on it, deeming it too large and too expensive to maintain as a restaurant — and hopes for keeping the property a restaurant had all but dissolved — the bank was back for another look.

“We thought we could do something special for the city.”

And what it saw was opportunity — and in a number of forms, said Senecal.

First, there was an opportunity to save the most historically significant piece of the property, the home to John Hildreth, “overseer of the making up department of the Farr Alpaca Company,” according to Mass. Historical Commission documents concerning the property and, later, a lawyer, judge, president of Crystal Spring Aqueduct, and “president-clerk” of the institution that would become PeoplesBank.” (Note: Officials at PeoplesBank cannot confirm that Hildreth was president, but they also can’t confirm that he wasn’t).

But there was also an opportunity for the bank to consolidate and modernize two of its branches in Holyoke — one on South Street in the Elmwood neighborhood, and the other at the corner of Hampden and Pleasant Streets in the Highland neighborhood, and create a new state-of-the-art facility.

“As we’ve been remodeling all our other branches, we thought there was no better way to do this in Holyoke than put all this together in one centralized location between those two branches in an historic building that we certainly have the ability and the desire to retain and keep as an historic building,” he explained. “We thought we could do something special for the city.”

The Hildreth House, constructed in 1885

The Yankee Pedlar

The Yankee Pedlar

Specifically, that something special is preserving the Hildreth House itself — the hip-roof Queen Ann dwelling built in 1885 that was later added on to several times — for use as a community center, while also building a new state-of-the-art, 4,700-square-foot banking center.

Also to be preserved are many pieces of memorabilia from the Pedlar, including a stained glass window originally from the Kenilworth Castle, a historic Holyoke mansion torn down in 1959, wainscoting, and even ‘Chauncy the Butler,’ the wooden figure that greeted visitors to the Pedlar.

The next chapter in the history of the property will begin the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend, said Senecal, with the opening of a property that will blend the old with the new, the nostalgic with the environmentally friendly.

“We’re doing this in the long-term best interests of the community; quite frankly, no one would spend the kind of money we’re spending on refurbishing this and doing this — no one.”

It’s a project Senecal said is in keeping with the bank’s large and visible presence in the community, and also in keeping with its desire to be on the cutting edge of both of emerging banking technology and ‘green’ architecture and building practices.

He chose to categorize the undertaking, which comes with a pricetag he opted not to disclose, as an investment, one he described this way:

“We’re doing this in the long-term best interests of the community; quite frankly, no one would spend the kind of money we’re spending on refurbishing this and doing this — no one,” he said. “We’re going to be here for a long time. Holyoke is our mainstay, it’s our headquarters. It’s our community.

“We’re a mutual bank, and we want to do the right thing for the community,” he went on. “This bank is going to be here for a long time.”

Building Interest

Senecal told BusinessWest that that the bank has long had a pressing need to modernize those branches in the Elmwood and Highland neighborhoods, both nearly a half-century old in his estimation.

And it was with the goal of finding a replacement for the latter that he said he personally drove the length of Northampton Street to scout potential options.

“I went all the way from Hampden Street to Beech Street looking for various properties that might work,” he explained, adding that the Pedlar property was among those considered. He said he was aware that other businesses were looking at the property, located at the well-traveled corner of Northampton St. (Route 5) and Beech Street, but this was at a time when hopes to keep the Pedlar a restaurant were fading but still alive.

As those hopes eventually dissipated, the bank eventually came forward to acquire the property and announce plans for the consolidation of both branches in that area into the new location that, as noted, would blend new construction with renovation of the Hildreth House — it’s ground floor, anyway, into a community center.

The 4,700-square-foot banking center will feature state-of-the-art banking technology, such as video tellers and cash dispensers, but also include memorabilia from the Yankee Pedlar.

The 4,700-square-foot banking center will feature state-of-the-art banking technology, such as video tellers and cash dispensers, but also include memorabilia from the Yankee Pedlar.

“At the time, I was looking at something to replace the Highland location,” said Senecal. “But as I got closer to the South Street location, it made all the sense in the world to consolidate both branches, because the Pedlar was far more centralized than I thought when I set out.”

Beyond geography, the Pedlar site offered a chance, as he said earlier, to modernize banking at the institution’s Holyoke branches, and do so seamlessly.

“If you look at our branches in West Springfield, Westfield, East Longmeadow, and Sixteen Acres, those branches were built 10-15 years ago — they’re pretty modern and up-to-date,” he explained. “Our brand in Holyoke is extremely dated compared to those. So in order to get existing branches up to our current brand, you’d have to gut the branch, and if you gut the branch, you can’t operate the branch. This provides us an opportunity to close on a Saturday and open on a Tuesday, with no customer traffic impact.”

The bank’s plans were initially greeted with some resistance by those behind the ‘save the Pedlar’ initiative, but it waned as it became clear that the bank would not demolish the Hildreth House, the historically significant portion of the property.

“This project provides a statement of who we are in the Holyoke community.”

As Senecal explained, the property is not on the National Register of Historic Places (it is on the state’s list) essentially because of those aforementioned additions, including the so-called Opera House, a banquet room, and the enclosure of a wrap-around porch to expand the restaurant, undertaken in the ’80s.

While the interior of the Hildreth House was gutted to make way for the community room — to be used by area nonprofits free of charge — and other portions of the property were razed or moved, visitors to the new branch will certainly get a taste of, and feel for, the Pedlar when they head inside, said Senecal.

“The final product will incorporate a lot of the significant historic memorabilia from the Pedlar,” he explained, adding quickly that, originally, there were hopes and expectations that more of these items could be on display. However, due to size constraints and functionality issues, the collection won’t be as large as anticipated.

“Chauncy the Butler will be in the lobby, and in the Hildreth House will contain other historic memorabilia,” he went on. “The ‘hunter’ stained glass painting, which used to be in the main restaurant portion of the Yankee Pedlar, has been refurbished, and that will hang in the main branch, and the wainscoting from the entrance to the original Pedlar will be in a similar area in the community room, and some of the pictures will hang in the corridor between the branch and the community room.”

Also, a few historic gas lanterns, more than a century old, that were mounted on and around the Yankee Pedlar have been refurbished, he said. They’ve been converted to electric and will be positioned on a patio constructed outside the Hildreth House.

Beyond the historic and nostalgic, however, the new facility will also feature state-of-the-art banking technology, including video-banking machines and cash dispensers, as well as cutting-edge ‘green’ building practices. Indeed, the bank will look to have the project, being undertaken by O’Connell Construction (the general contractor and construction manager) and Western Builders, become LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.

“This project provides a statement of who we are in the Holyoke community,” said Senecal, summing up the initiative and its many characteristics.

The Bottom Line

Returning to the scouting trip be took down Northampton Street a few years ago, Senecal said there were very few properties that both suitable for what he wanted to do and for sale at the time.

One that fit both categories was an old BayBank Valley branch that he looked at and thought about. But another party beat him to the punch.

“I’m kind of glad they did,” he said, noting, in retrospect, that the site probably was not big enough for what he had planned. And if he had pursued that property, he probably could not have gone ahead with the Pedlar project.

One that, as he said, provided a chance to do something special — for the bank and especially the city.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Banking and Financial Services

Financial Environment

PeoplesBank recently issued its annual Corporate Green Report in conjunction with Earth Day 2019. Through its green values and actions to support environmental sustainability, PeoplesBank believes it can help make the region a healthier place to live, work, and raise a family. The bank puts these values to work throughout the year through its charitable donations, volunteerism, support of green-energy projects, and construction of LEED-certified offices.

“As a mutual bank, we are focused on our values of innovation, community support, environmental sustainability, and employee engagement,” said Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank. “Environmental sustainability is really the meeting place of all those other values. It is a way we can be innovative, support the community, and engage our associates in a way that is meaningful.”

Added Philippe Michaud, a loan service associate at PeoplesBank and co-chair of its environmental committee, “a business’ responsibility is to try and influence its communities toward being more sustainable. The environment is a core belief that is built into the fabric of our organization. That goes a long way toward what we do in the community.”

Community banks, like PeoplesBank, are not generally known for building green offices, but PeoplesBank has a LEED Gold-certified office in Northampton, a LEED Gold-certified office in West Springfield, and a LEED Silver-certified office in Springfield. The LEED-certified office in Springfield, the first of its kind in the city, won a Green Seal from the city of Springfield.

The bank’s newest branch in Holyoke will also seek LEED certification once construction has finished. Pursuing that objective means the new branch will be constructed and operated as a green building. Some of the highlights include:

• Reuse of a portion of the existing Yankee Pedlar building (the historic Hildreth House);

• Reduction rainwater runoff on the site and use of landscaping that requires no irrigation;

• Use of low-flow water fixtures and high-efficiency HVAC; and

• Use of building materials that have low or zero volatile organic compounds and are sourced locally where possible.

In addition, the exterior wall is highly efficient and allows for the flow of air vapor in two directions, meaning the wall will ‘breathe’ throughout the year, leading to a cleaner indoor environment.

Three PeoplesBank offices (Northampton, West Springfield, and 330 Whitney Ave. in Holyoke) have electric-vehicle-charging stations. The bank is also launching a “Choose to Reuse” campaign designed to eliminate the use of disposable paper products internally.

“As a mutual bank, we are focused on our values of innovation, community support, environmental sustainability, and employee engagement. Environmental sustainability is really the meeting place of all those other values. It is a way we can be innovative, support the community, and engage our associates in a way that is meaningful.”

During the past year, PeoplesBank was recognized by Independent Banker magazine for its environmental sustainability efforts and, for the fifth year in a row, the bank was voted “Best Green Local Business” by Daily Hampshire Gazette readers. The bank is also a past recipient of the Sustainable Business of the Year Award and Associated Industries of Massachusetts’ Sustainability Award.

Over the course of the last year, PeoplesBank provided more than $58,000 in support for green initiatives in Western Mass., including:

• A mobile farmers’ market that travels to underserved and food-desert areas of Springfield and surrounding communities;

• The Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture Food for All campaign;

• The Center for EcoTechnology’s Eco Fellows and support of over 100 community education events;

• The annual Source to Sea Cleanup of the Connecticut River, which also includes hands-on participation by a team of volunteers from the bank;

• The Mount Holyoke Wetlands Restoration Project, conducted by Restoration Ecology Summer Scholars;

• Scientific environmental education at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment; and

• ValleyBike, the region’s new bike-sharing program.

PeoplesBank is also a longtime leader in sustainable-energy financing, and the bank’s commercial lenders are recognized for their expertise in creating financing packages for green-energy power generation. To date, the bank has financed more than $183 million in wind, solar, and hydroelectric power-generation projects, an increase of $17 million in just one year.

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