1st Colonial Community Bank
banking with a difference
Offering a host of products and putting the customer first; 1st Colonial Community Bank stands out from the banking crowd
1st Colonial Community Bank is well known throughout the communities of southern New Jersey and Southeast Pennsylvania, with branches in Collingswood and Westville, New Jersey and Limerick, Pennsylvania. Since 2000 it has offered a full suite of financial services for personal and business banking. Yet it is perhaps even better known for its visibility within the community for its commitment to charitable causes and client relationships.
As a community bank, 1st Colonial considers relationships and customer service at the center of everything, which includes building long-term relationships with customers for their individual, household, and business needs. The bank offers a full range of consumer products ranging from mortgage and home equity lines of credit to term loans and unsecured consumer products when needed. Its loan officers work closely with customers throughout the entire process from application to closing. For many consumers, 1st Colonial is the starting point for initial checking and savings accounts, helping to build their portfolios from there.
On the commercial side, 1st Colonial provides entrepreneurs with owner-occupied mortgages, investment, real estate transactions, commercial lines of credit, and term lines of credit most often used for expensive equipment or other capital products that depreciate in value over time. The bank is heavily involved with securing loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration especially its 7(a) Loan Program, which includes financial help for small businesses with special requirements. This is the best option when real estate is part of a business purchase, but it can also be used for short- and long-term working capital needs.
Says 1st Colonial CEO Robert White, “we are not focused on transactions but relationships. We want to be one of the top banks in our area by delivering value added products and services to our customers.”
Part of that comes with understanding customer situations and anticipating their needs, for personal or commercial accounts. That has been particularly important since the COVID pandemic started because of the significant adverse impact on many business owners. For example, 1st Colonial wants to be responsive to our clients when they need credit availability and provide assistance when making an acquisition of a business, real estate, or vital equipment necessary to grow their business.
“Having access to a lender who understands their situation and believes in their business is important,” White says. “It’s not always just about the numbers.”
One example of understanding and anticipating a commercial client’s need is educating them on why equity is more important than debt, or the different types of debt that are available that they may want to consider given the current financial environment.
Currently, that environment is one of high-interest rates and inflation. White calls it “unique” because unemployment is also low. He believes the key is to stay in regular communication with customers because they will often have more questions during times of uncertainty. The goal of the U.S. Federal Reserve in raising interest rates is to tame inflation, and there are strategies that customers should consider whether they are borrowers, savers, or both.
“Whether you own a business or are running your household budget, many customers are seeing a meaningful negative impact from rising interest rates,” White says. “That is forcing businesses and households to make difficult decisions.” Those decisions, he adds, often include delaying a large capital purchase or even a dream vacation. “We want to keep our customers educated on the current trends and what that means for them.”
The supply chain is improving month by month in many industries but it is still far from pre-pandemic levels of efficiency. This is particularly true in the construction sector, where 1st Colonial is a major player with its commercial clients. Many construction firms are having a tough time obtaining the materials they need, which delays certain projects. Electrical transformers in particular have been a challenge to acquire since early 2020, White says.
A challenge that is even closer to home is the labor market, which impacts most of 1st Colonial’s commercial clients and the bank itself. Here again, communication is key, White says. He and his executive team are making a concerted effort to recognize and reward its highest-performing team members. The bank is doing so by offering not just salary increases, bonuses, and more benefits but company stock options and grants to support the best of the best.
1st Colonial instituted a pay scale evaluation process for all positions in 2022 to make sure it was paying a competitive wage for all of its deserving professionals. It has also created a hybrid and flexible work arrangement for many of its associates based on employee demand, allowing many to work from home when feasible.
Finally, employees now are able to benefit from unlimited leave time in case of an advanced illness such as COVID. This allows them to recover without exposing colleagues to an illness that may be contagious. Plus, it allows employees to maintain the time off they need for vacation and other family functions.
As a community bank, 1s Colonial does seek to make a profit, but it also supports many causes both financially and with volunteer and mentoring activities from staff. It offers a weekly Jeans for a Cause campaign where participating employees donate to a charity of their choice, with the bank matching the monies collected.
The bank has established Team Spark, which supports and collectively organizes team members’ charitable activities and volunteer efforts. Among the recipients of these efforts are the American Cancer Society and several food banks, including The Food Bank of South Jersey which works with more than 200 partner agencies in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Salem counties to provide food to those in need. Team members who volunteer for these and other charities are incentivized with paid time off to compensate for volunteer time.
The biggest current investment 1st Colonial is involved in is a comprehensive transformation of its systems to account for greater digital and online access for customers. White says 1st Colonial is always looking for ways to upgrade its personal and commercial products and expanding into new digital distribution channels is the latest example.
One of the reasons for this investment is that 1st Colonial wants to become a community bank option for all customers who want a faceless or digital banking experience and do not require in-person branch experiences. “That’s a growing segment of our market and we want to be positioned to support our clients how and when they do their banking,” White says.
Beyond that, the community bank wants to keep its associates in close contact with customers. White says 1st Colonial is fortunate to have a loyal and stable client base, and remaining visible and responsive is the key to customer retention.
Yet more than anything White stressed the importance of keeping and hiring the most experienced, qualified team members. The bank will continue to look for ways to reward and retain top performers and recruit the next generation of leaders in the community banking industry. “We want to get the word out that 1st Colonial provides a great path for those who want to excel in their banking careers,” White says.
AT A GLANCE
1st Colonial Community Bank
What: A community-first bank with a loyal customer base
Where: Cherry Hill, New Jersey