Vermont bigwigs bank on a new lending venture for businesses

Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 5:07 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 1, 2022 at 2:00 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont bigwigs are teaming up to open a brand new bank in Chittenden County. It’s tailored specifically to support local businesses in a way big banks can’t.

The investor-owned operation is called the bank of Burlington. And if leaders get the greenlight, it will be the first new financial institution chartered in Vermont since 1989.

The Bank of Burlington has 19 founders, eight of whom are on the board of directors. Many are names you might recognize, including the owners of Al’s French Frys, S.D. Ireland, Hula and Larkin Realty.

I sat down with the man at the helm, CEO and Chairman Geoff Hesslink to talk about the vision and mission.

“I think it takes a team,” Hesslink said. “There’s not one individual that will drive the success of any company, including this.”

That’s the idea behind the Bank of Burlington-- an establishment by and for the people.

With 22 years of experience leading the Merchants Bank, which was acquired by Community Bank in 2017, Hesslink knows commercial banking like the back of his hand.

Behind him-- all holding equal shares of the company-- is a team of leaders leaning into the business they know best.

“Local matters, right. We will have local management and local ownership, and what that affords us is the ability to use that local knowledge to apply discretion and customize banking solutions for our customers, and be fast. We will be nimble and we will be responsive,” Hesslink said.

Amid a myriad of big bank consolidations and mergers nationwide, the founders say a financial institution with familiar and friendly faces focused on bolstering small and medium-sized businesses fills a void in Vermont’s commercial banking market.

There are only six commercial banks headquartered in Vermont, down from 18 in 2000.

The Bank of Burlington will only loan to companies, no personal lending.

Hesslink highlights the opportunity to offer clients more options than big banks.

“Have a deep understanding of what the customer’s needs are and develop a customized banking solution that’s specifically designed for that customer and his or her business,” he said.

If approved, the principal location will be on Kimball Avenue in South Burlington. The space is currently under construction. Organizers hope to open the doors by early August.

“Whenever you have more market competitors and more opportunities and access to services for Vermonters, I think that’s always a win,” Vt. Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak said.

Pieciak says he happily signed off on the order granting permission for the Bank of Burlington to organize. It’s conditional approval, not an official rubber stamp, but Pieciak says he’s confident the bank will come to fruition.

“So long as they’re financially stable and they have the right expertise and the right moral character, and in this case, we have no doubt that they possess all three of those qualities,” Pieciak said.

After securing the minimum paid-in capital of $24 million-$30 million, one of the final boxes to check on the list before the bank can move forward is approval from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or FDIC. So far, they’ve raised $3 million. The founders filed the FDIC application in February.

In the last decade, the FDIC has only approved 33 new banks across the country.

Pieciak says it will likely take a few months before the founders get a formal answer.

Then, Hesslink says it’s a matter of getting best-in-class technology online, which is a key component to the business model. The Bank of Burlington is launching its website in the next week.

The list of founders include:

Geoffrey Hesslink (CEO/Chairman, Bank of Burlington)

Jeffrey Beer (Co-founder/CFO, Select Design)

William Bissonette (Owner, Bissonette Properties & Al’s French Frys)

Kristin Blazewicz (Chief Legal Officer, GCS/Coty Inc.)

Corey Bronner (Partner/Deputy Chief Investment Officer, CIPVT)

Elizabeth Glynn (Managing Partner, Ryan Smith & Carbine, Ltd.)

Scott Ireland (President/CEO, S.D. Ireland Companies)

Joseph Larkin (Principal/President, Larkin Realty)

Pietro Lynn (President, Lynn Lynn Blackman & Manitsky P.C.)

William (Billy) Mauer (President, Grandview Farms)

Tom Moody (Principal/Owner, Moody Advisors PLLC)

Judith O’Connell (CEO, CIPVT)

Eric Ode (Partner/President/COO, CIPVT)

Kevin Owens (Co-Founder/CEO, Select Design)

Russell Scully (Owner, Hula/The Spot/Scully Interactive)

Brian Tarrant (Co-Founder, MyWebGrocer)

Jerry Tarrant (Co-Founder, MyWebGrocer)

Richard Tarrant (Co-Founder, MyWebGrocer)

J. Larry Williams (Founder/CEO, Redstone Commercial Group)

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