February 2009

Need a Loan? Atlantic Community Bank will help you get it

Author: Paul deVere | Photographer: John Brackett

Here’s the deal. You want to buy a car. Detroit rejoices! Your local car dealer rejoices. Your family rejoices. You’ve had your eye on that new Prius.

But then you check your RSS feeds on the Web, turn on the television or open the newspaper only to learn that the economy is in a free fall, credit is drying up, no one is lending.

But the part about lending? That’s not true.

“The perception is that it’s more difficult to get a loan because a couple years ago, you could do no wrong. When money was just kind of flowing, it was very easy. There were a lot of financial products that made it easy,” said Todd Hoke, Chief Credit Officer of Atlantic Community Bank. His bank did not participate in those financial products.

“Those providers are not around anymore. The playing field of who makes loans has changed dramatically,” added Karen Sprague, the bank’s Chief Operations Officer. In fact, since late 2006, more than 300 lending providers have either stopped lending altogether or gone out of business, according to industry reports.

“But community banking has not changed. It’s still the same. If you want to buy a car, you put down 20 percent and I finance 80 percent. As long as you are doing what was normal banking, needing typical lending, that’s the same. If someone tells me, ‘I’m going to buy a building and put my business in it,’ or ‘I’m going to buy a car, I’m going to buy a house or a lot and build on it,’ that’s typical and that has not changed,” Hoke said.

What also hasn’t changed is Atlantic Community’s focus. It’s been the same since the day its doors opened, a little over three years ago: relationship banking. That focus has made a big difference for customers today. “We can deal with each borrower’s specific circumstance,” explained Michelle Pennell, Chief Financial Officer.

For Atlantic Community Bank’s commercial customers, understanding those circumstances is critical. “As a relationship banker, our job is to work with the customer and find out how to help them in the good times. Now that their balance sheet is shrinking, we help them move through that phase, help them minimize expenses, restructure debt. We can do a lot of different things. We’re acting more as consultants now,” Hoke said. “We’re proactive, not reactive. When sales are down we know it. We’re in there, meeting with them and trying to help them out. We’ll either change the circumstance or work with it,” he added.

According to Sprague, while Atlantic Community is still a “new” bank, the staff is well known in the community. “We have a team that’s been in the market, anywhere from 15 to 20 years. So there is reputation and trust there. People come to us for those relationships.” Pennell added, “Since some of the non-banking players have gone, there is more demand for what we offer. Customers who might have been big bank customers or ones who might have gone to a mortgage broker are back. They want a relationship. They are saying, ‘I know Todd; I’m going to bring my whole relationship here,’ ” she said.

Hoke explained that his bank, unlike larger institutions, doesn’t have the “spigot” mentality, as in “turning off the spigot” for lot loans. “They’ll say, ‘We not doing that anymore.’ Or if you bought a lot and it was coming up on a three year maturity, they’ll say ‘We’re not renewing it; you have to take it elsewhere.’ We are getting that business,” he said. That, he added, is where having a strong relationship, really pays off for both banker and customer.

“We’re very creative. We can deal with each borrower’s specific circumstance,” Pennell said. “There are a lot of opportunities for relationship banking now and for customers to retrench. We can take a look at how they handle debt, how they use debt. When their deposits are at a wide array of banks, they can consolidate them. This is the time to get back to basics,” she said. “This is a great place to work, great place to live. Those basics are not going to change. We need to capitalize on that. We have a solid foundation.”

Sprague said that during this time of financial uncertainty, Atlantic Community Bank’s job is to keep the focus that has made it a successful community bank. “What we’re doing now is strengthening our bonds with the client so when they come out of it [economic downturn], they will remember who helped get them through. Those bonds? They’ll just be stronger.”

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