Alive and Well, and Moving Forward
By Kris Gilbertson
It’s the oldest bank in Virginia, in business for 163 years—yet Burke & Herbert Bank doesn’t look or act its age.
“The bank loves its history. It’s a very grounding feeling to be at a company that’s been here for 163 years, still owned by the same family, the Burke family – you just don’t see that,” says Jane Petty Lichter, Branch Marketing & Community Relations Director. “But we’re really focused now on looking to the future.”
How to thrive in a changing world
Until this century, word of mouth, solid performance, and community involvement were enough to build a strong customer base, but in the 2000s, competition, economic downturn, and rapid changes in banking regulation require more.
In 2009, W. Scott McSween became the new president and COO. Six months later, Terry Cole joined the bank as Sr. Vice President, Products, Marketing & Sales. For Cole, it was an opportunity to contribute fresh ideas and skills to an organization investing in the future.
Her mission has included rebranding Burke & Herbert Bank as having “a great combination of old-fashioned focus on personal customer service and attention, but added to that are things people might not expect from Burke & Herbert Bank because we look old –we are old – like online banking, mobile banking, apps for iPhone, Android, and iPad. We added a [checking account] that offers fee-free use of ATMs across the country.
“People want anytime, anyplace convenience. To compete with larger banks that have much larger networks, we needed something else. So we said, let’s make it every ATM is your ATM without worry about transaction fees.”
The bank absorbs the cost, but has more than doubled its checking account customer base since offering fee-free ATMs, to 45,000+ personal checking relationships. Part of rebranding was renovating the interiors of many branches, updating all 40+ ATMs to models with touch screens and scanning of deposits, and changing the signs on all 25 branches to be consistent. There had always been variations in graphics that confused corporate identity, e.g., signage in different colors, and “Burke & Herbert Bank & Trust Co.” v. “Burke & Herbert Bank.”
With new signs, people began to notice Burke & Herbert Bank more, often thinking that a branch had just opened when it had been there for years, sometimes decades. “Before, you wouldn’t make connections because the branches weren’t branded in a consistent fashion,” says Cole. “Now we have a noticeable presence in the marketplace.”
On the business banking side, Vice President Walter Clarke joined the bank five years ago, bringing experience with First Union, Chemical Bank of New York, and Bank of America. One of Burke & Herbert Bank’s four business bankers, Clarke had not worked for small community banks, but was aware of them from his upbringing in Tidewater Virginia. During the economic downturn of 2009-10, he says, “a lot of the larger banks were changing focus and the way they do business.
“Here I’m able to offer the same types of services to my client base that I could at a larger bank, but do it more efficiently, more effectively, because the decisions are made locally.”
Clarke calls this “high touch” service. “I am easily accessible by email or cell phone, which I pride myself on. Working for some other banks, it’s 9 to 5, but for me, I have no limits and no walls. If I’m awake, I will answer.”
Burke & Herbert Bank currently maintains more than 15,000 business customers and, as of September 30, 2015, $2.2B in deposits; $2.68B total assets.
Modern banking with old-fashioned values
Burke & Herbert Bank’s long-term success has always been tied into service to Alexandria and the Northern Virginia area. In recent weeks, bank volunteers have supported or participated in community workshops, festivals, and events ranging from the Taylor Run block party to the Marine Corps Marathon family festival. This holiday season, activities include:
- Volunteer Alexandria’s toy drive (toys only) for children ages 1-12 in the city. Toys can be dropped off at any Burke & Herbert Bank branch. See www.volunteeralexandria.org for suggestions on appropriate donations.
- The American Bankers Association Lights, Camera, Save! Video Contest is happening now. Teens 13 to 18 compete to produce 90-second videos on the importance of saving and using money wisely. Burke & Herbert Bank is the Virginia sponsor.
The entry deadline is December 1. The top winner’s entry will go to the national contest, where the top prize is $5,000. There are smaller cash prizes all along the way. Search Lights, Camera, Save! Video Contest at www.burkeandherbertbank.com for details.
- Partnership with West Potomac High School to provide financial education and sponsorship of student recognition programs.
- In November, Burke & Herbert Bank will support food and toy drives for families in need. Details are or soon will be posted on at www.burke&herbertbank.com.
Business bankers participate throughout the year in local organizations such as the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (revitalization of the Route 1 corridor from the beltway to Fort Belvoir), Hope House (shelter for homeless mothers and children), Fraternal Order of Eagles, historically black colleges and universities, and local Chambers of Commerce. Walter Clarke is the 2015 chair of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.
“Our people are out there,” says Jane Lichter. “It’s a philosophy of the bank—folks are encouraged to interact with their neighbors, to see where there’s a need. We are the official bank of Visit Alexandria and were voted best business last year by the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.”
Preparing future leaders
Unlike companies where only a sales force goes out to meet clients, almost everyone in the bank deals directly with customers and must have sharp customer service and banking skills. Burke & Herbert Bank ensures that employees have these abilities through training.
“Encouraging personal community involvement (festivals, volunteering, workshops) is a form of customer service,” says Lichter. But Burke & Herbert Bank goes further to ensure that they will have leaders in the future.
The Leadership Development Program, new this year, brings 10 assistant branch managers into training classes every other week for 6 months, with special assignments between gatherings. This is in addition to their branch duties. “All identified as bright leadership management talent that we want to invest in,” says Terry Cole, “to ensure that the bank continues to have the right kind of people with the right set of knowledge, skills, and confidence, able to deliver banking services as managers.
“They are already better assistant branch managers than at the start of the program,” she adds. The group graduates on December 1.
Future and past tied together
In the end, it is clear that the people who work with Burke & Herbert Bank are its greatest strength. Nearly everyone contacted for this article said two things: 1) they had only planned to stay for a year; and 2) it really is like family.
There are numerous accounts of husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, close friends—all working at various branches, many for a long time. “Burke & Herbert Bank is family-oriented, personal; it doesn’t have that big corporate feel,” says Terry Cole. “People who have only worked here will say, what do you mean? But it’s not like elsewhere.
“It’s genuine that people help each other out and care about each other. And I think it makes for a different experience for customers. People have banked with us for years and years, seeing the same familiar faces in the branch network. That doesn’t happen at many other institutions.”