Starting from scratch Featured

9:04am EDT March 31, 2003
Most banks grow using the build-it-and-they-will-come method. You build more branches to get more locations that give you more exposure and convenience to your customers.

But not Westfield Bank.

"We took a blank sheet of paper and looked at what the best practices were from other banks that we could assemble," says Jon Park, president of Westfield Bank. "We asked ourselves, if we could do things differently in today's world, what would the bank look like?"

The concept they come up with is the antithesis of what other banks do. The company determined that the two most important things customer want is convenient access to their accounts and a relationship with someone at the bank that knows them.

As a result, Westfield built one bank to serve as its headquarters and nothing more. Instead, it relies on the existing infrastructure of other banks.

"We partnered with two other banks, Key and First Merit, to utilize their ATM networks," says Park. "Our customers have access to any of their ATMs free of charge. We also joined three large ATM networks, so our customers have access to 530,000 ATMs."

The company also built a Web site with comprehensive banking services to provide customers with 24/7 service via the Internet.

Other agreements allow for customers to deposit funds through a non-Westfield branch into their Westfield accounts. Customers get the convenience of local banking, but Westfield doesn't have to spend millions on infrastructure to accomplish it.

Westfield's target market is the small business with under $10 million in revenues and less than 50 employees. This means establishing a relationship is key.

Park says the company hires experienced bankers who have the power to make decisions on the spot, rather than having to refer everything to a committee. Rules are flexible, allowing the bankers with knowledge of the business customer to tailor the right products for the customers' needs. Instead of making the customer come to a branch, the banker often drives to the customer.

"Our decision makers are the same ones who go out and talk to people," says Park. "You can sit across the table from someone who can make the decision. Banks try to position themselves on price, and they end up all looking alike. We truly are different with our hands-on personal level of attention. The experience is completely different."

Westfield Bank