New Vermont-based bank has big ambitions

Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 4:49 PM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Most banks are a dime a dozen, but a new financial institution in the works says it’ll stand out by being dedicated to supporting small and medium-sized businesses in Vermont. The Bank of Burlington has raised $33 million in start-up capital in record time and now it just needs to get the green light to open.

A team of 12 is busy getting up to speed on what they say is best-in-class technology. Many of these new employees say they are trading in jobs at regional and national banks to sit in these seats, drawn to the Bank of Burlington’s mission and vision to cut through the red tape and long waits for clients so they can get their projects off the ground and finished faster.

Each employee is equipped with vaults of local knowledge and resumes rich with banking expertise. President and chief credit officer Walt Greiner leads that team. “I was retired for a year-and-a-half after 32 years in the banking businesses, all here in Burlington,” Greiner said.

Reporter Christina Guessferd: What motivated you to work here, in particular? Why come out of retirement for this?

Walt Greiner: I thought the opportunity was really good for me. But I really like the business model.

A de novo bank founded by Vermonters, run by Vermonters, for Vermonters. “We built the team with people that we knew, mostly that we had worked with in the past. There are perhaps as many as eight of us that have crossed paths at one time at another institution,” Greiner said.

From TD Bank and Bank of America to People’s United, some cashed out of the industry altogether when Community Bank acquired Merchants Bank in 2017. Now, with their former Merchants Bank boss, Geoff Hesslink, at the helm, coming back just made sense. “We really have a great team. They want to be a part of this,” Greiner said.

While the team trains on the bank’s technology, painters put the finishing touches on the space -- all preparations in anticipation of a soft open in August.

With 26 years of banking under his belt, senior loan officer Phil Smith is currently in charge of getting the company’s tech online, including a mobile app and website with capabilities that he says compete with big banks.

Reporter Christina Guessferd: Having your boots on the ground, how does that make a difference in your relationship to your customers?

Phil Smith: Being able to go out and visit clients at their location, learn what they do, understand their needs and their concerns, and then help them find solutions to grow their business and be successful. That’s the best part of the job.

And just a short drive away, the lenders can check on the projects they’re funding face-to-face and see their money at work and catch any clues if the venture is tanking or taking off. “And that’s the important part of lending money as a bank, is protecting the bank and making good credit decisions,” Smith said.

Reporter Christina Guessferd: How quickly of a turnaround do you hope to have credit decisions for your customers?

Phil Smith: With the consolidation that’s occurred in banking, decision-making has moved further away from the client here in Vermont. We’re bringing that back local. Where it could take several weeks, our expectation is to deliver a decision within a matter of days, if not quicker.

There are already a couple of dozen businesses on the waitlist. CEO and chairman Geoff Hesslink says the response has been humbling.

Reporter Christina Guessferd: What kind of attention has the Bank of Burlington garnered since we last talked?

Geoff Hesslink: Completing the capital raise in four weeks time, to us, was confirmation of the market need and market demand for the bank’s offerings.

The Bank of Burlington says it plans to provide loans to businesses that bigger banks decide don’t fit the bill. In addition to commercial lending, the bank will also offer consumer deposit products like checking and savings accounts. If the state and FDIC approve the bank, it will be the first new financial institution chartered in Vermont in more than three decades.

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