Tioga State Bank
Putting community first
Business View Magazine interviews Robert Fisher, President & CEO of Tioga State Bank, for our focus on Excellence in Community Banking in the U.S.
At Tioga State Bank, it’s not the size of their assets, but the community-focused heart at the center of their operations that makes for their success.
“I typically don’t look at size goals,” says Robert “Bob” Fisher, Tioga’s President and CEO. “I don’t want to say I want to be a billion dollar bank. Instead, I want to continue to be the best bank by providing the best service to our customers, building relationships and being financially successful.”
Founded as Farmers and Merchants Bank of Spencer in 1884 by Fisher’s great-great-grandfather, M.D. Fisher, Tioga State Bank has made it its mission to support the financial needs of families and businesses in the Southern Tier of New York and Northern Pennsylvania. With 11 branches over four counties and more than $570 million in assets, the bank has a community first attitude and aims to provide high quality services, while building personal relationships with its customers.
Even when COVID-19 hit, Tioga State Bank was working hard day and night to ensure their customers were well-served. Fisher recalls, “I think we all knew that small business was going to be adversely affected when we shut down the economy. At our bank, I knew that we were going to be there to help our small business customers even before I knew the details of what PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) was. I didn’t know interest rates, I didn’t know the terms, but I knew that we were going to be there to help our small business customers get through this because somebody had to step up.”
While they have always been ahead of the community banking curve when it comes to technology, Tioga State Bank used the pandemic situation to offer even more online banking services to its customers. “We adapted to online banking pretty early, we’ve had it since 1997, so we had a lot of offerings, and we also adjusted fairly quickly following COVID,” Fisher says. “One thing we didn’t have was the ability for customers sign documents remotely. So we adopted DocuSign early in the process to help with PPP.”
Another thing they implemented was video banking for the bank’s customers. Fisher notes, “Customers could chat with us, and not just over text. They could actually see the person and talk with a person and I think that was fairly unique. I don’t think a lot of community banks are offering that service even today.”
Tioga State Bank’s offerings and ability to process PPP loans quickly and effectively brought in a whole slew of new customers. Up to 45 percent of the bank’s PPP loans were actually done for non-customers or new customers who were unable to access loans through bigger regional banks or credit unions.
“We were able to help out a lot of businesses that were unable to get it from their current financial services provider, and fortunately, we’ve been able to convert a lot of those relationships to become business partners of ours,” Fisher says.
The bank processed almost 950 loans during the pandemic, averaging around $69,000 per loan, with its largest loan amounting to $2.7 million. “We were doing whatever we could to help small businesses that needed the money to keep their businesses going – and it felt really good,” Fisher admits. “Never have I seen our team come together and work like that. People were working on evenings, nights, and weekends because it was truly a mission to help our community and customers get through this. The teamwork and passion behind what we were doing was amazing. The community is part of why we are successful as a bank.”
When it comes to loans, TGA is an incredible partner for Tioga State Bank. As Fisher attests,“ In my 20 plus years as a banker, TGA’s loan review is one of the best that I have seen. Their risk-based
approach ensured coverage of our most risky loans while ensuring appropriate portfolio coverage based on our credit risk. I highly recommend them.”
Tioga State Bank is dedicated to giving back all year round. About five years ago, they established a charitable foundation to make giving even more of a priority. Every year, five percent of the bank’s net income goes into the foundation, which then gives the money to various not-for-profits in the community. Fisher explains, “We do a quarterly granting process so not-for-profits can apply for different grants to help improve our community and make our community a better place to live.”
The bank participates in community outreach events, including providing meals to those in need and taking part in a local health challenge where individuals had to each walk 100 kilometers. The total amount they donated through the walk was about $10,000, which went to multiple food pantries. In addition to donating funds, the bank also encourages its staff to give back through volunteer time. Each year, each employee is given eight volunteer hours that they can use to donate their time to local charities.
Tioga State Bank has partnered with the local schools to help educate children on financial literacy. Students learn about how their credit score affects insurance costs, what they need to get a loan as well as basic financial literacy skills. “Financial literacy is just so important, and that’s something that isn’t necessarily being taught in school,” Fisher emphasizes. “We really think it’s critical that the younger generation understand how financial literacy impacts their lives.”
They have also partnered with FinTech firm Zogo to provide students with a financial literacy app to help to further encourage learning. “It’s a gamified approach to financial literacy and kids can actually get money if they complete a certain number of classes,” Fisher says. “They can get money for Starbucks or other cards like that.”
If being there for the community and its customers wasn’t enough, Tioga State Bank also works hard to foster a welcoming and positive corporate culture for its 100 employees. The bank has been named one of the “Best Banks to Work For” by American Banker Magazine for four years running.
“I’ve been here 23 years and we really do focus on relationship building, not just with our customers, but with our staff as well,” says Jennifer Moraczewski, Senior VP Operations & Technology. “Pre-COVID it wasn’t uncommon for Bob to go visit an office and just say hi to people. And we hear that is unusual to have the CEO going around and greeting everybody and having them get to know Bob and his family.”
Tioga State Bank is also just a fun place to be. “We are an awesome place to work,” Fisher says. “We work hard, but we play hard. We like to have a good time. We do a lot of fun things with our staff. Even through COVID, when we were trying to minimize in-person contact at the offices, we did some creative events to keep the culture tight.” Those events included virtual trivia nights, bingo nights, and even a virtual cooking class led by a chef from a local restaurant. Bank employees were given all the ingredients for spaghetti, meatballs, and cheesy garlic bread and they were coached by the chef on how to make it.
Since its inception, Tioga State Bank has been working to make banking better for its customers. In addition to its Spencer location, bank offices were added in Owego in 1967 and the 1980s, Waverly in the 1990s, and into Binghamton in the early 2000s. Now, they are looking to expand further with sights set on a new office in Johnson City to be built in the near future. According to Fisher, “It will be about a 3,000 square-foot office that we are looking at potentially breaking ground on this summer.”
They are also expanding their technology. Plans are in the works to invest in Interactive Teller Machines (ITMs) for the bank, which will allow customers to speak with, and conduct teller transactions, via video conference without having to actually enter a branch. “Right now, we are in the process of gathering all the information on ITMs and we are looking at installing 19 units,” Moraczewski says. “We will replace all of our existing regular ATMs and move forward with this technology. Every location will have its current ATM swapped out for a new one and then a few of our locations will have an additional ITM added to their office.”
With all the changes it has undergone over the past 150 years, Tioga State Bank continues to ensure it is providing top notch, up-to-date, community-first service for its customers. But what would its founder think about where they are today?
“I think it would be hard for him to recognize what a bank is today versus what a bank was back then,” Fisher says. “I know even my dad struggles with some of the things we have done at the bank. Technology changes so quickly today and you really need to stay on top of that technology if you want to remain relevant. I think it would be difficult for my great-great-grandfather to comprehend the financial institution we have become, but I think he would be proud.”
Click The Cover To View Or Download The Brochure
AT A GLANCE
Tioga State Bank
What: A community bank serving the Southern Tier of New York and North Pennsylvania
Where: Headquartered in Spencer, New York
T. Gschwender & Associates, Inc. – https://tgschwender-assoc.com/
T. Gschwender & Associates, Inc. (TGA) has provided credit risk management services to financial institutions since 1984. Our objective is to deliver credit related services and experts to clients in a cost-effective manner, allowing them to tap into resources they would not otherwise be able to employ internally. TGA is a Veteran-Owned business and was the recipient of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 2014 Veteran-Owned Business of the Year Award.
TGA is best known for our loan review services, using a well-established “risk based” approach. We start by completing a Credit Risk Assessment to determine the current level and direction of Credit Risk. Each loan in the portfolio is then separated into High, Moderate, and Low risk buckets. Loans are classified based on their unique characteristics. In evaluating risk ratings, TGA sticks to the proven “5 Cs of Lending” methodology.
TGA utilizes a proprietary Loan Review System to complete reviews. This state-of-the-art system allows us to complete reviews in a consistent, transparent, and timely manner while thoroughly documenting all key loan information. It also enables TGA to provide clients with comprehensive, concise reports to evaluate and manage their loan portfolio.
TGA staff all have extensive banking experience, having held high level positions within the banking industry. With expertise spanning “both sides of the street”, the company provides a well-balanced and thorough approach to all that we do.
Visit our website at www.tgschwender-assoc.com for more information or to become part of our team.