A strong overall economy, a roaring stock market and a robust showing by tourism-based businesses were among the factors that made 2017 a good year on the financial front in Maine, according to area bankers.
They hope that a continued push for regulatory reform, with a shift away from a one-size-fits-all approach, will make 2018 a good year as well.
The biggest news in the Maine banking world this year came from Bangor Savings Bank, which in late October announced that New Hampshire-based Granite Bank would merge with Bangor Savings in a transaction valued at approximately $45 million.
Bangor Savings first expanded its footprint into New Hampshire earlier in 2017 with a limited-service branch in Portsmouth, N.H. The acquisition of Granite Bank, Bangor Savings officials said, complemented the Maine-based mutual bank’s vision of increasing its customer base in northern New England.
Bangor Savings President and CEO Bob Montgomery-Rice said his bank has invested in new branch offices and technology in recent years while retaining “the personal approach and local perspective of a smaller bank” that listens to its customers. He said Granite Bank shares that culture, making Bangor Savings “a good fit for a great bank like Granite.”
The boards of directors of both banks approved the merger in October, but it still awaits final approval. The deal is expected to be completed in the spring of 2018.
That merger followed another Maine bank’s expansion to the west the year before, when Bar Harbor Bank & Trust acquired Lake Sunapee Bank. Announced in the fall of 2016, that acquisition was successfully completed in January of 2017 and expanded Bar Harbor’s footprint into both New Hampshire and Vermont.
That move also cemented Bar Harbor Bank & Trust’s position as the third largest Maine-based bank in terms of total assets. That figure jumped from $1.58 billion in 2016 prior to the merger to $3.5 billion last year. The financial numbers remained impressive throughout 2017, with the bank reporting record results in the third quarter (earnings of $8.6 million, or 56 cents per share).
The bank said the 10 percent increase over the second quarter “reflects the strength of the company’s new expanded footprint and seasoned team.” Bar Harbor President and CEO Curtis Simard said it was a “record quarter for us in both total revenue and earnings.”
Bangor Savings is the second-largest Maine-based bank, while Camden National tops the list with just over $4.0 billion in assets as of June 30, 2017. Camden National received the Finance Authority of Maine’s “Lender at Work for Maine” award in November, in recognition of its status as the highest-volume commercial loan guarantee partner in the past 12 months.
FAME said Camden National worked with it on “46 loans totaling over $17.3 million, creating 110 Maine jobs, and retaining an additional 435 jobs in the past year.”
Another bank that saw expansion, albeit on a smaller scale, was Machias Savings Bank, which this year opened a branch in Portland. President and CEO Larry Barker said that brings his bank’s total number of locations in Maine to 19, and that its footprint now stretches from Caribou to Machias to Portland.
“It was a good year,” Barker said. “It seems like any tourism-related businesses had a super strong year. From Portland to Calais, that was real strong.”
Barker said the lobster industry struggled a bit, as the projected catch for 2017 is expected to be down from final landings in 2016.
Kyle Casburn, president and CEO of Bucksport-based Seaboard Federal Credit Union, said he did see some expansion among businesses tied to seafood and seafood distribution, however — “projects to increase delivery capacity,” he said.
The credit union overall had an “extremely” good year, Casburn said, with loans up about 5 percent and recognition from the Small Business Administration as the state’s leading credit union. While not an expansion, Seaboard strengthened and reaffirmed its presence in Ellsworth by purchasing the building at 200 Main St., where it has been based for the past dozen years.
On Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor Savings & Loan Association President and CEO Bill Weir said the last several years have been record years at his institution and that 2017 will be close to that, as well.
“The year’s been very good,” he said. He said Bar Harbor Savings primarily works with residential customers, and that the commercial customers it does have are generally small, storefront type businesses such as Peekytoe Provisions and Adelmann’s Deli that often have apartments above their shops.
“That’s what we specialize in,” said Weir. “It keeps people here in town.
Weir said one of his biggest concerns is regulatory issues, regarding compliance with federal regulations. Bar Harbor Savings hired two new people this year, one to address compliance matters and the other an internal auditor. Weir said he used to be able to spend a lot more time with customers but that more of his time is now taken up with compliance matters.
Weir and Casburn both mentioned the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA, pronounced HUM-duh) as one example of regulation, while Casburn mentioned the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as another. Casburn said the latter regulation has had a “gotcha” mentality and he said he welcomed the departure of former director Richard Cordray.
“His departure was a refreshing breath of fresh air,” said Casburn. “I think the change in administration will change their outreach. Casburn said he expects a departure from a one-size-fits-all approach and what he called the “broad and aggressive attitude” of the federal agency with regard to how it operates.
Reform at the national level has trickled down to local banks in other ways as well. Camden National announced in January that it would give one-time bonuses of $1,000 to all non-executive, full-time employees and $750 to all part-time employees. The bonuses, the bank said, total $620,000 and are a result of recently enacted federal tax reform.
“The recent tax change has provided us a unique opportunity to make meaningful investment decisions that complement our existing values and strategies,” said Greg Dufour, Camden National’s president and CEO. The bank said it also would make additional investments to “evaluate employee compensation and increase access to continued employee education.”
Area banks have been giving back to the community in other ways, too. Camden National’s [email protected] program has given nearly a quarter-million dollars over its existence to local homeless shelters and other community-based organizations. First National Bank, the fourth-largest Maine-based bank with $1.76 billion in assets and 16 offices in five counties, recently donated $25,000 to support United Farmer Veterans of Maine.
“As a company, First National Bank is not only committed to helping our state’s veteran community, but we are also passionate about ending food insecurity in Maine,” said President and CEO Tony McKim.
Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, meanwhile, has supported local community projects on Mount Desert Island including the Maine Seacoast Mission’s Christmas gift program and the Southwest Harbor Playground Renovation Fund. For its Community Commitment Program, BHBT matches voluntary donations from its employees.