BY EMILY JANKAUSKI
Home to 21 banks and six credit unions, the capital city is well acquainted with financial service offerings from both national and local financial institutions. In terms of growth, however, local banks appear more prosperous than national competitors. In 2016, Chase Bank closed its North Grand Avenue branch, while Illinois-based Citizens Equity First Credit Union (CEFCU) recently opened its third Springfield Member Center location at 1000 E. Lincolnshire Blvd. The secret to the success of local financial institutions is twofold. First, at the core of success for local banks and credit unions are local people assisting other locals. Second, area financial institutions pride themselves on superior customer service.
Thomas Hough, chief executive officer of Carrollton Bank, views his family-owned bank as a success, given its owner-operated business model. Hough notes most of the shareholders of Carrollton Bank are people who work for the bank.
“To me, it is a different experience for our customers because they are working with invested members of the bank,” said Hough. “There is a higher level of care with our customers, because most of us have invested our own money into the bank.”
In 2014, Carrollton Bank began growing its home mortgage business after facing a difficult decision of whether to remain in or to exit the home mortgage business, given the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. In 2010, the Dodd-Frank Act required banks to comply with rigorous federal regulations.
“We came to the conclusion to stay in the home mortgage business,” said Hough. “Home mortgage lending is what Carrollton Bank does and wants to be a part of, so we have been in the process of growing our home mortgage business.”
Carrollton’s footprint stretches from the St. Louis area to Springfield. In 2014, Carrollton Bank’s home mortgage loan closings only numbered 357. In 2016, the bank closed 895 home loans and is estimating 1,125 home closings for 2017.
Bank of Springfield (BoS) Executive Vice President, Mike Pence, also agrees with the importance of local people serving other locals. When asked how BoS differs from competitor financial institutions, Pence said, “our people.” He noted banking products, rates and financing are often comparable from bank to bank, but the main difference is the relationship between the consumer and the financial institution. Earlier this year, BoS opened a loan production office in Brentwood, Missouri that turned into a full-service bank.
With seven consecutive wins as Illinois Times’ reader-voted “Best Bank” in Springfield, United Community Bank (UCB), credits its success to customer service.
“We take great pride in treating our customers like we would want to be treated,” said Steve Otten, market president of UCB.
The bank recently merged with Liberty Bank in Alton, and now serves the Alton, Bethalto and Godfrey areas in addition to their locations in 23 communites across central Illinois and Palmyra, Missouri. According to Kyle Jennings, marketing department, UCB’s “hometown community banking philosophy” allows the banking leader to provide outstanding products and attentive customer service.
Unlike banks, credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives. Member-operated financial institutions, such as CEFCU, provide its 327,000 members up-front, honest financial services.
“We do not hide fees,” said Jeff Ambrose, Springfield Member Center manager. “We offer great rates, and we are also genuinely helpful by encouraging smart financial decisions.” In 2016, CEFCU returned a $35 million Extraordinary Dividend to its members.
Land of Lincoln Credit Union (LLCU) also assists its members in selecting money-saving products, such as interest-bearing checking accounts and holiday loans. Since 1947, the credit union serves its members with 12 branches in 26 counties. Springfield branch manager Melanie Walker said the LLCU difference is that of a personal experience.
“We are people helping people and we want you to succeed,” said Walker. “This is why we not only offer basic financial services, but we also offer financial counseling and outside resources to help you with unexpected life changes.”
The growth of technology has advanced banking in central Illinois from brick-and-mortar-conducted transactions to that of mobile, remote transactions. Pence of Bank of Springfield said new initiatives, such as electronic banking and debit card-based smartphone application allow users to set parameters on their debit card transactions. The BoS debit card applications allows its users to switch their cards to active or inactive. Area banks and credit unions agree the future of banking remains in technology.
“We look at technology in the banking business as a friend, not a foe. It enhances people and relationships” said Hough of Carrollton Bank. “We will continue to invest in technology; not as a replacement to people, but to enhance some of the day to day transactions.”
Emily Jankauski is a Springfield-area native and a regular contributor to the Springfield Business Journal. She holds a master’s degree in communication from University of Illinois Springfield.