Joseph Friscia, head of sales at Maspeth Federal, said it starts with having free business products and no minimum balance.
A lot of new businesses, such as the ones popping up along Grand Avenue in Maspeth, don’t have the funding they need. As a result, they’re “bootstrapping,” or using money from their own pockets just to grow their business.
Many of them turn to large commercial banks, like the ones Friscia used to work for. Having been with Maspeth Federal for three years, he has noticed the difference in mentality and culture. He said his former employers are “stock-driven,” and often underwrite loans that don’t necessarily match the needs of the small businesses.
For the big banks, it may not even be profitable to spend time on a smaller loan, so there often isn’t appetite for smaller lending. That isn’t the case for Maspeth Federal, which Rudzewick said is geared to handle the small business market.
“We understand their business model better,” Friscia said. “We take the time to underwrite and really look at the needs of their businesses, and see how we can help them.
“We’re offering genuine service and that’s what keeps our customers,” he added. “And that’s why they want to bank with us, because they feel safe and secure with us.”
It can be as simple as walking into a business with a gift in hand. At their Ridgewood branch on Fresh Pond Road, Rudzewick said they came up with the idea of visiting small businesses and offering them a welcome package, stocked with pens, widgets and other freebies.
One of Maspeth Federal’s new hires walked into a dentist’s office, basket in hand, and walked out with a commercial mortgage application.
“He’s stunned that a banker walks in with a gift and not just offering a product,” Rudzewick said. “That flipped the whole relationship. Now we’re going to wind up getting their full checking account.”
As community banks fight to keep up with the resources of big commercial banks, they’re also investing in new technologies to cater to a new customer base of millennials.
Friscia, who just makes the cutoff to qualify as a millennial, said Maspeth Federal has already adjusted, and offers all of the products and conveniences younger customers have come to expect.
“We’re a double threat because we have the best product set, no fees, and we have all of those conveniences,” he said. “And the best staff.”
Rudzewick said if community banks are profitable and willing to put money back into their technological infrastructure, they can compete even better than the big banks. Back up the technology and tools with superb customer service, and that will create the relationships “that will last a lifetime.”
According to Rudzewick, Maspeth Federal’s digital channels, including their online account openings, are seeing the highest rate of growth in the bank today. They also plan to revamp their website, online banking tools and their digital app.
“I want to make sure when I’m touching towards the next generation of banking customers, I have a channel they’ll use,” he said.
Friscia added that while millennials enjoy the online conveniences, they also look for a “safety net to pop back in” when they face any problems. He noted that the big banks are closing or shrinking their branches, while Maspeth Federal is expanding their brick-and-mortar presence.
In the coming month, Maspeth Federal is breaking ground on their renovated Ridgewood location, which is expected to reopen in the fall.
Rudzewick said the branch will have special features, such as a section to highlight small businesses. Calling it the “community corner,” he envisions spotlighting local businesses and allowing them to make connections with the larger community right inside the branch.
The Ridgewood location will also give free space to POMOC (Polonians Organized to Minister to Our Community), a local nonprofit group that helps Polish immigrants with their paperwork to become U.S. citizens. The renovation will add a second floor elevator, which will lead up to POMOC’s new space.
“We’re trying to make the community better,” Rudzewick said. “We’re really a community company that happens to do some banking. I believe in that.”