His first challenge: hiring. The bank had nothing to offer candidates except an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a nontraditional bank.
Park started with people he knew in the industry, first filling the positions of CFO and chief lending officer. The latter would be filled by Timothy Phillips, who worked at Old Phoenix National Bank in Medina, which was eventually acquired by FirstMerit. Phillips, who stayed through that transition, says going to Westfield Bank was a draw because it meant he could have a tangible impact on customer outcomes, despite the risk involved.
“Well, people are motivated by different things, so I’m kind of motivated to keep learning and keep trying new stuff,” Phillips says. “And, frankly, it was just an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often in your career.”
Phillips was tasked with building the sales team. So he, like Park, started by approaching people he knew.
“I’m fortunate in my career that I had met a lot of bankers and I had worked with a lot of talented people up until that point, so you go with what you know,” Phillips says.
With staff coming together, Park undertook a year of behind-the-scenes work to get Westfield Bank opened for business. But there’s one central element of forming a bank, without which the whole thing can’t move forward: the charter.
The double-wide headquarters
Park says he wanted to have the charter within a year. One of the requirements regulators must see in order to grant a charter is a physical location, which the bank lacked. He decided to build a branch out of the historic post office near the insurance company’s headquarters at Westfield Center. That would take two years, which was outside of Park’s timeline. He needed another alternative.
“I knew this from previous banking days that you can rent mobile banking facilities,” Park says. “It’s not the most common tactic, but it’s basically a double-wide trailer.”
Actually, it was a double-wide trailer, set up in the parking lot of Westfield Insurance in early 2001.
Banks are built of brick to convey a sense of impenetrability, of security, which a trailer in a parking lot does not. Park was also focusing on Internet banking in the wake of Y2K, the dot-com bust and the uncertainty of the Internet’s stability. Park set to work turning a disadvantage into an advantage to attract customers.
He focused on Westfield Bank’s lower costs to give customers better deals, paying them higher rates on their deposits while charging lower fees on accounts for loans. He also concentrated on pitching small businesses on personal attention and going to them.
“And, of course, we didn’t have a very nice office to come to,” Park says. “So there’s that, too.”
Catching a break
Convincing customers to bank with such a young institution was a challenge. Phillips’ hiring strategy, built on relationships, was central not only to the banking model, but to the approach out in the field.
“The sales pitch was tricky,” Phillips says. “That’s why the relationships were so important. Those people I hired were people that already had those really deep relationships in Medina County, and had grown up in Medina County, gone to Medina County schools and all that stuff, so the relationship was a really big part of establishing credibility from a sales perspective.”
Around the time Westfield Bank was getting started, the Check 21 regulation passed, which allowed a scanned image of a check to be processed through the Federal Reserve. Being an early adopter of remote deposit technology helped Westfield Bank tremendously. Larger banks weren’t pushing remote capture technology at the time, in large part because they’d be selling against using the branches and the ATMs in which they already invested millions of dollars.
“The bigger banks took the tactic of thinking of it as a luxury item, so they were charging a premium for businesses that wanted to do this,” Park says. “We took the opposite approach and said we’ll give it to the businesses for free. And to businesses, this was a lot of money, this was hundreds if not a thousand dollars a month difference. So we said, well, we don’t have the expense of all these branches and ATMs, we’ll bring you the electronic device, we’ll hook it up, we’ll do the training and you just deposit with us electronically.”