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Being a B Corp makes All the Difference

Richard Wallis

President CEO

Piscataqua Savings Bank


Rick Wallis

Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine

Published – February 1, 2021

CEOCFO: Mr. Wallis, would you give us some history about Piscataqua Savings Bank?

Mr. Wallis: The Bank was established back in 1877 as a state chartered mutual savings bank and still operates pretty much under the same business model. We are a retail bank only; meaning that we do not do commercial loans. We do have a trust department which supports our retail business model. We are a $325 million bank and we have about $340 million of assets under management in the trust department.

CEOCFO: When did you decide to become a B Corp and why is that important for you and your customers?

Mr. Wallis: We became a B corporation in 2019. We have always felt that a mutual savings bank is quite a bit different from stock held banks. Our mission from day one was always to serve the community, customers, and staff. It is really in line with the B Corporation model. It has been hard to explain what mutuality is and why a bank like us that is mutual is different from a stock held bank. We think it is going to be easier to explain the benefits of doing business with a B Corporation, as more companies get certified. It seems that more people want to do business with organizations that balance profit and purpose.

CEOCFO: What is different when someone is doing business with Piscataqua Bank?

Mr. Wallis: One of the unique things about our bank is we only have one office, so everything is done under one roof. My office, and the office of our Executive Vice President, is on the first floor near the lobby area. The office doesn’t even have a door, so customers and staff can come in and see me when they want. We make all of decisions right here, without all the layers of bureaucracy that other larger banks have.

CEOCFO: Why do people come to you as CEO rather than talking to a teller? How might you help with something outside the norm?

Mr. Wallis: Some people want to talk about their personal financial goals or strategies that they can use to help with their finances. My background was in lending for 30 years prior to becoming CEO and I use those years of experience to help people. Especially when people know and trust you for so many years. I’ve had longtime customers ask me to speak with their son or daughter to help them get organized financially. I am glad to do that with any of our clients.

CEOCFO: What is your Kids’ Bank?

Mr. Wallis: We have had it for close to 30 years. We just did a renovation a couple years ago and moved the location of the Kids’ Bank so now it is incorporated into the main teller line itself. The Kid’s Bank teller window has stairs so that kids can see above the counter and interact with the teller.

We have online activities that the kids can do to help with math and introduce them to money. We’ve done fun things for the kids like children’s book signings or have an ice cream truck stop by to provide treats for the kids. If a parent or grandparent wants to open an account for a child or grandchild, they do not have to have a minimum balance and we pay the kids a higher interest rate. It’s a fun way for parents to introduce their children to money.

CEOCFO: Would you tell us about the community you serve and why your approach is particularly meaningful for your area?

Mr. Wallis: We are on the New Hampshire seacoast which is from Hampton to the Portsmouth. We also serve the Southern York county of Maine area as well. We focus on just on the communities in our location.

The economic engines in the area are the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the Pease International Tradeport. The tradeport is the location for the local airport that used to be Pease Air Force Base. Now we have biotech and technology companies established there. Lonza Biologics for examples is one of the corporations that is on Pease International Tradeport.

I think we are relevant in the Portsmouth area, being the only bank headquartered in Portsmouth. We have approximately twenty banks in the Portsmouth market, so everyone seeks to be in this marketplace. Customers like the way we deliver our services and like that we are a local bank. Customers also appreciate doing business with a bank that gives back to their community and focuses on their financial needs.

CEOCFO: You are in a fairly well to do area. Why are they not teaching their children what to do with money?

Mr. Wallis: Schools have added financial curriculum in recent years, but we augment that education and provide tools for parents. We have school groups come in for tours of the bank and students get to see the vault which is always fun for kids. Staff have gone out to high schools and elementary schools to talk to students about financial literacy.

Also, some parents themselves aren’t well versed in handling their own finances so have not taught their kids. It’s important that we help teach kids to put money aside for a rainy day or save up for something big, like a bike. These are important lessons that children should learn.

CEOCFO: Do you do much outreach for new customers?

Mr. Wallis: We have a marketing plan that we work on throughout the year. Also, we are looking to fill a new position within the bank that will assist us with direct outreach to develop business for all our departments. That is something we think is a little bit different than how other banks are approaching outreach.

CEOCFO: How is business?

Mr. Wallis: Business was very good last year. Given COVID, it has been tough trying to serve customers, but luckily for us, we have embraced technology. We have online, mobile and all the technology products that people desire. Having these tools has really helped us during the pandemic when customers were being cautious about public places. We saw a fairly large increase in the use of those products, both on the mortgage side as well as the deposit and trust. We also have the ability to communicate and provide information to clients in a secure and convenient manner.  

CEOCFO: Would you tell us about your estate settlement services?

Mr. Wallis: That is our trust department. Attorneys or accountants in the area refer clientele to us. They might be working with a client that needs a special needs trust or there might be an elderly couple that just need someone to manage their money. Once a trust is set up with directives the grantor needs someone to make sure those wishes are followed. Instead of asking a family member to act as trustee for the trust, they look to us as a corporate trustee to manage their assets.

CEOCFO: How do you interact on a regular basis with the community and how do you decide where to focus your efforts?

Mr. Wallis: Part of our mission is to give back to the community at least 10% of our earnings each year. We have a Board level community support committee that identifies the needs of the community. Our board members are rooted in the community and know the community needs well. For example, a few years back we recognized the need to help fight the states opioid crisis.

We identified some peer-to-peer groups that needed support in this effort and we reached out to them with financial support. It is a very proactive approach.

One of the biggest economic drivers in Portsmouth is the art and culture industry. Portsmouth is a destination for many tourists. People come from all around to enjoy music, art, and culture that the area has to offer. We support a number of art and culture non-profit organizations to help the local economy be vibrant.

All of our philanthropic activity supports over a hundred different organizations throughout any particular year.

CEOCFO: What do you look for in your people?

Mr. Wallis: We look to hire people that are like-minded and committed to the community and committed to the organizations culture. I like to think that it is not just about a paycheck but about being part of an organization that they can believe in and is trying to do good work in the community. Someone’s resume may list all the skills needed for the job but the most important thing is whether they will fit into the culture that we have here at the bank.

CEOCFO: What is ahead for the Piscataqua Savings Bank in 2021?

Mr. Wallis: Having just come out of a strategic plan process and are excited to implement our goals. As I mentioned previously, we will be looking for a team member to help us with our outward-looking approach in trying to bring businesses into the bank. We think there is a lot of opportunity for us in the future.

CEOCFO: Do you see consolidations banks in your area?  Potential acquisitions or mergers for Piscataqua?

Mr. Wallis: We have been approached by a number of organizations throughout the years offering their reasons for a merger, however, we are very well capitalized, and our financial strength is good. I believe other bankers recognize us for our market share and reputation and would like to capitalize on that. However, it is the Board’s wish to stay independent for the foreseeable future.

CEOCFO: So 2021 could be a year of change for you!

Mr. Wallis: I am looking forward to it.

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“It seems that more people want to do business with organizations that balance profit and purpose.” Richard Wallis