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Updated: July 30, 2018 Commentary

Communication key to bank’s culture in northern New England

Curtis Simard

Like most New England bankers, many at Bar Harbor Bank & Trust have lived and worked in several New England states at some point in our careers. These travels have deepened our appreciation of what northern New England has to offer. At the same time, we have developed great pride in our ability to not only survive — but rather thrive — in the face of consolidation in many industries, including frequent centralization to larger markets.

When I returned to my home state of Maine with Bar Harbor Bank & Trust five years ago, I was quickly reminded of this great pride in the state. In fact, it’s more prevalent than ever. While terms like “from away” continue to exist, we have realized the need to grow in order to attract additional talent. Many of us have experienced bigger markets and now want to build businesses and reverse the more challenging growth trends in much of northern New England.

This has become a visible driver of our culture. When we expanded into New Hampshire and Vermont, similar foundations in culture were apparent. Respecting and appreciating the places we call home in northern New England has become a unifier in our company. The result is rewarding: a loyal workforce that knows these are the markets in which we want to live, work and raise families. This is due in part because of the geography itself, but also due to the opportunity to be aligned with colleagues who think similarly.

With the culture solidified, we have achieved our success through the development of meaningful relationships with our customers and the communities in which we operate. The relationships must be sincere and include accountability. We have been able to build these by focusing on four priorities:

  • Developing and providing the right products and services our customers need
  • Building the tools and locations to allow our customers to bank where and how they want
  • Adhering to a stringent risk-based operation model that is sold as valuable not cumbersome
  • Developing and hiring the best possible people to deliver the first three items.

Each of the northern New England states has its own characteristics, market dynamics, competitors and, in some cases, regulations.

With 500-plus employees, the culture’s existence and our efficiency rely on information flowing throughout the entire organization. While similar, each of the northern New England states has its own characteristics, market dynamics, competitors and, in some cases, regulations. Having team members who understand how to respectfully communicate the right information to the right people in a timely manner are table stakes. Otherwise, breakdowns in communication begin to define the culture. Northern New Englanders simply like dealing with those who value their ideals and will not accept a lack of transparency, let alone pay for it.

The communication aligns viewpoints, gives everyone a role in ownership and provides the team the ability to be clear and decisive. The dreaded “long maybe” might have become accepted by many standards, but can never be tolerated where the trust in people’s word is the very foundation of the authentic relationship. Our leadership takes great responsibility in working collaboratively with our teams to develop a distinct culture, one that fosters a passion for teamwork and accountability to our goals.

Technology has bridged the geographic distance between employees in different states. However, we believe that you cannot replace the insights gained when meeting people in person. It’s simply what we do and believe it’s the only way to be a truly active participant in northern New England markets.

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