November 27, 2017
Focus: Banking / Finance

Thompson-Hamel of Presque Isle expands its footprint with new Bangor office

Photo / Jim Neuger
Photo / Jim Neuger
Arthur Thompson, founder of Thompson-Hamel LLC, left, with partner Bryan Thompson, at the firm's head office in Presque Isle.
Photo / Courtesy Thompson-Hamel
Brian Hamel, the firmís managing partner, says the new ground-floor office in Bangor has been an important addition.


Based in Presque Isle and Bangor

Founder: Arthur Thompson

Owners: Brian Hamel (managing partner) and Bryan Thompson (partner)

Employees: 18 associates

Recent acquisitions: Paterson Payroll of Presque Isle (2015), Farrington Financial Group (2016).

Services: Estate planning, investments, insurance and payroll processing ($100 million processed annually, 225 clients)

Assets under management: $265 million

Client base: 7,000 financial clients in more than 25 states


Arthur Thompson got out of potato farming in 1962, when he founded a financial firm in Presque Isle that's still going strong today.

Looking for something to do in the winter, he signed up for a two-week course in Portland on estate planning. On the day of the last class, "I woke up and I thought, I don't want to farm anymore, I want to do this full time," he recalls during an interview at Thompson-Hamel LLC's Presque Isle office. "I thought I could help more people."

Thompson, the former president of what was then called the Maine Potato Council, also didn't see much of a future in farming for himself after wrapping up a good year.

"My odds of survival weren't good," he says, noting that the number of growers in the state has dwindled from 4,500 back then to 300 today. "I think I made the right decision."

Now 83, Thompson still works part-time — in the office three days a week, as well as on the road and from home — with no plans to retire until at least 95. Over the years he's advised entire generations of families, during which he's seen estate planning grow more complicated amid a changing tax landscape. "You have to be nimble-footed to help people keep their estate plans up to date."

Today, Thompson-Hamel employs a total of 18 associates, including three in Bangor where it opened an office in November 2016 and moved to bigger digs this past October. The firm has come a long way from its humble beginnings in Aroostook County, serving more than 7,000 financial clients in 25 states and managing around $265 million in investment assets. Besides estate planning it handles investments, insurance and, more recently, payroll processing. Along the way, it acquired Paterson Payroll of Presque Isle in April 2015 and Bangor-based Farrington Financial Group in November 2016.

"It kind of tickles me to see what we've built here," says Thompson, only taking credit for hiring a successor. "It's pretty amazing actually.'

Succession plan, steady growth

Thompson brought on Brian Hamel as a managing partner and majority owner over a decade ago. Both had served on the Loring Development Authority, after Thompson convinced Hamel and his family to move to Maine from Greenland, N.H., to become the authority's president and CEO.

"It was a bit of a stretch for me to move to a very rural area," Hamel says now, calling it the "best move I ever made in my professional or personal life." The 59-year-old says Arthur Thompson became a good friend and his "surrogate northern Maine dad" after he lost his own father.

Thompson-Hamel's succession plan continued when Hamel hired Bryan Thompson, the founder's distant cousin, as a partner in 2012. That connection was forged years earlier when Bryan Thompson interviewed Brian Hamel for a high school English assignment.

"Brian was on the news all the time for the Loring Development Authority and I thought, he seems pretty important and I wanted to do something important," says Bryan Thompson. The 36-year-old Caribou resident joined Thompson-Hamel after three years as an adjunct business professor at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and a decade with the Defense Financing & Accounting Service Center in Limestone.

One of the first things he did at Thompson-Hamel was hire a college student to freshen up the brand, which he did by designing a logo of a tree with the slogan, "Your family your future," displayed in the office and on the firm's website.

"It was perfect," he says. "We strive to maintain relationships with families and in a lot of cases, we have Art's clients from when he started in '62."

Once a week, Arthur and Bryan Thompson go on the road together to see clients, including farmers saddled with staggering equipment and storage costs. "People still want to keep that family farm going," Arthur says. "They're very determined."

The two work well as a team, Arthur keeping up old friendships and Bryan handling "the details," as the older man puts it, adding: "I don't like the details," with a smile.

While the majority of clients are in Aroostook County, they can be found on both U.S. coasts and even Australia.

Tapping the Bangor market

Closer to home, by about 160 miles to the south, the firm has a number of clients in the Bangor area, easier to service since opening an office there last year. It moved to a 1,600-square-foot space this past October inside a historic building on Exchange Street.

"Having that ground-floor location is important," says Hamel, who also regularly takes calls from clients at home. "We don't want our clients to ever feel that we don't have that personal touch."

The firm applies takes the same approach to payroll processing, which it got into in 2015 when it bought Paterson Payroll in Presque Isle from its owner, Curt Paterson. Payroll is a small but growing niche for Thompson-Hamel, which processes around $100 million annually for 225 clients from mom-and-pop shops to companies with hundreds of employers.

Payroll clients include Northeast Packaging Co., a family-owned maker of plastic and paper bags for potatoes and other produce with 75 employees in Presque Isle and Caribou. Its president, Bob Umphrey, had used a national payroll company until deciding to try Thompson-Hamel, having known Arthur Thompson and Brian Hamel for many years.

"It's nice working with a local firm," he says. "If we need something we can just run over there."

Though payroll remains a small part of what the firm does, Bryan Thompson sees a lot more growth potential. "We're new in this market. We're successful so far," he says, "and I think we can make a successful niche for ourselves."

An analyst who follows the sector agrees, writing by email that "there is always room for another payroll provider, particularly those who can offer personal and local service."

Younger workforce, growth strategy

Since Bryan Thompson started in 2012 he has seen the number of employees grow from six to 18, including a "good handful of us that are my age or younger that are here now."

Recent hires include Hamel's daughter, Natalie Nadeau, who works full-time in the Bangor office. She was hired as an associate in January following more than 11 years of retail and commercial banking experience in the Bangor area at Machias Savings Bank and the past eight-plus years at Camden National Bank as an assistant vice president of treasury management and government banking. Her father says she's not treated as the daughter of the majority owner and managing partner in the office, and has had to earn her own respect from clients.

Hamel says that he and Bryan Thompson are both of the mindset to keep expanding the firm, in terms of clients and services. That could potentially mean further acquisitions but only ones that offer the right strategic fit, he adds.

But he underscores that the firm doesn't ever want to get so big that its clients feel as though they're not getting the personal attention to which they've grown accustomed. "That's one of the reasons they're here," he says.


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