Howard Bank works to keep small-town touch as it rapidly grows

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Editor’s note: This article was published on TheDailyRecord.com on September 11, 2015.

By Anamika Roy

Since it first opened in 2004, Howard Bank has had a meteoric rise. The Ellicott City bank that started with less than $20 million in assets is now close to the $1 billion mark.

For CEO and President Mary Ann Scully, the company’s growth is about being a bank that’s constantly changing while maintaining the features of a community bank.

“Growth is the means to an end,” said Scully, who is also one of the bank’s founding members, in an interview Friday.

While maintaining the accessibility of a community bank, Howard is increasing its market presence by offering more services and acquiring other banks. In August, Howard completed its first traditional bank acquisition with Patapsco Bank.

In 2013, Howard bought a small branch in Harford County through commercial loans. In 2014, the bank conducted an FDIC-assisted transaction and bought most of the assets from NBRS, formerly known as the National Bank of Rising Sun in Cecil County.

“It was strategic, it was financially an attractive transaction,” said Scully.

Howard also prides itself in being embedded in the community, through its 13 full-service branches and by encouraging its employees to donate time and money to nonprofits, chambers and advocacy groups.

“You can’t do all of those things unless you’re growing,” said Scully.

In 2012, Howard Bank had $400 million in assets, the majority of which was “organic,” cultivated through courting individual customers, something the company was able to do by maintaining good access to capital markets, Scully said.

Later that year and into 2013, the bank entered the mortgage business. That revenue stream has grown to $50 million per month in residential mortgage negotiations for the bank.

After the recession, customers were also more inclined to go to their community bank instead of larger institutions, she said. As Howard has grown, it has been able to provide the services people seek from larger institutions such as M&T and PNC.

According to Scully, small and mid-sized businesses prefer working with small banks. While they may not get the breadth of services offered by a larger bank, business owners get face time with the bank’s top officials, giving them flexibility.

Scully puts a premium on old-fashioned, face-to-face communication in banking, one that is largely dwindling in the industry as most transactions can be done online.

While the purpose of a bank as a facilitator that connects people to their finances has not changed, the way the bank does that job is different today,” said Scully.

“People don’t come in to do a transaction in a bank,” she said. “If they come into our offices, chances are it’s to have a discussion.”

Because of that change, even physical offices serve a different purpose.

Scully tells her employees about client management, “You shouldn’t be in your office. You should be in their office.”

Scully spends about 50 percent of her time in front of clients and in the community, she said.

“That connecting role…it’s very much about human contact.”

Even in the bank Scully makes sure experienced people are working in the branches.

“When someone comes into a branch, they don’t want to talk to a TV screen,” she said.

But prioritizing face time comes with its own expenses. “Our salary costs are very different than they used to be,” said Scully. “It’s customer service, it’s business development, it’s advice … it’s a much more expensive human resources model.”

Source: The Daily Record

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