About one year ago, when Chelsea Bank President Joe Vinard was at a banking conference in Florida, he bumped into East Cambridge Savings Bank (ECSB) President and CEO Gilda Nogueira, and that chance meeting 12 months later would turn into what is believed to be an exciting merger of the two local banks.
Prior to its official merging last week, Chelsea Bank was one of the oldest institutions in the state, having been operating for 129 years. However, it was also one of the smallest banks in the state with assets of $55 million. Vinard said during that chance meeting last year, this reality was on his mind.
As they parted that day to head off to separate meetings, Vinard suggested to Nogueira that maybe they should talk about a merger.
“A month later, the call came,” said Vinard during an interview recently in Cambridge at the ECSB headquarters. “They were 129 great years, but the industry has changed rapidly in the last few years. The last five to seven years have been very difficult for smaller banks to find their way. Regulations make it very expensive to keep the doors open. We wanted to find someone who had our same values and dedication to the customers and we have found that with this merger. When you…look at what we did and they do, we really have more similarities than differences…It’s really been no change and the customers seem very, very happy.”
On Monday, March 2, the merger officially went through.
Chelsea Bank is now a division of ECSB, and Vinard remains the president of that division. Chelsea Bank directors have joined the Board of Corporators of 1854 Bancorp, parent company of ECSB. The past chairman of Chelsea Bank has joined the Board of Directors of ECSB. The Chelsea Bank branch will remain open and all Chelsea Bank employees were offered positions, with 18 out of 20 employees choosing to stay. Customers will now have access to 10 full-service banking centers, 16 bank-owned ATMs and enhanced online banking services.
Together, the will boast total assets of $940 million.
One interesting fact that many might not realize is that ECSB – which is 160 years old in its own right – didn’t buy out Chelsea Bank. In fact, no money was exchanged. It was a mutual to mutual transaction.
“Putting the customer first is what it came down to,” said Nogueira. “We are a bank, but we don’t have shareholders. We are always looking to please our customers.”
Added Vinard, “A lot of times when this happens, people ask ‘Who got rich?’ Nobody made money here. It was about the customer. The depositors own the bank.”
Nogueira affirmed the same.
“It was mutual to mutual,” she said. “There is no money that changed hands. It’s merging. We have found a good partner. As a combined organization, we’re able to do more…We consider ourselves partners. That’s what we said when we began things with Chelsea and I believe customers will find that with East Cambridge…It’s been much more of a partnership than a merger.”
Both also affirmed that this wasn’t a situation where the larger institution, ECSB, absorbed the smaller, weaker Chelsea Bank.
“When we put the balance sheets together…the reality is even though we’re much larger in customer size, we are so similar even on the balance sheet. When we brought them together, the shift on the balance sheet was minimal.”
Already, Vinard said he has reaped some of the fruits of the combination – being able to call on a technology department when his computers were not completely in sync, or being able to phone over to the maintenance department to come and shove the sidewalks. With the merger, both said, Vinard and his staff have tapped into an entire network to help them.
“Before, that was all on me or my staff,” he said. “The message is if anything, this should be better. The customer service should be enhanced and improved and the customer experience made better. We should be able to do more for the community and for the customers and the commercial borrower…By just teaming up with East Cambridge we have opened the whole world of banking in Chelsea to all those small businesses up and down Broadway.”