Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Local Autonomy Still Works

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Local Autonomy Still Works

Article excerpt

In 1998 Stephen Crowe recognized that his institution faced perilous conditions. Williamstown Savings Bank's market in northwestern Massachusetts had lost population since the 1970s and its remaining customer base was aging. At the same time, technology and compliance demands were increasing, as was the difficulty of attracting good workers.

Strategic planning by the then $200 million-asset mutual yielded an idea novel at the time: merge with another mutual bank under the ownership of a mutual holding company. "It was a unique model," says Crowe, president, and one with obstacles.

When Williamstown Savings initially approached neighboring Hoosac Bank, the gesture was misinterpreted as a takeover attempt. "A few months later, when there was a little more clarity, we started to have constructive meetings," recalls Crowe. Talks continued for three years.

"We took a long time, appropriately so, to figure out who each other was. Did we share the same goals about mutuality, about retaining independence?" Crowe says. "Then, when we thought we had everyone on board, the regulators threw everything at us. It was a challenge for them because they hadn't had any experience with this, either." Regulatory hurdles took another year, at substantial cost.

The MHC, MountainOne Financial Partners, finally was formed in 2002, with Crowe as president and CEO. …

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