When the doors swung open at Grand River Bank at the beginning of this month, that event ended nearly a three-year effort to get the business going. It also marked the start of a new community bank that proposes to give its commercial and retail customers the friendly, localized service that the mega-banks can often fall short of doing.
President and CEO David Blossey said plans for a grand opening, tentatively set for mid-June, were being finalized as the bank was attempting to line up some dignitaries to take part in the event, something Blossey felt would be good news and not just for the region but also for the entire state.
“We think it’s an important message for the community and really the state as a whole; that things are happening and this is a positive situation. So we’re hoping that other people view it that way, too. So we’re trying to get everyone scheduled. Honestly, it’s going to be sometime around the middle of June,” he said.
Grand River Bank|
Robert Bilotti, chairman; David Blossey, president & CEO; Liz Bracken, CFO; and Mark Martis, chief lending officer
Blossey said the idea for the bank originally surfaced (and the partners agreed to put their own dollars at risk to make that happen) almost three years before Grand River Bank opened on May 1.
“It’s really been a long process and, as you can imagine, there have been some serious ups and downs in the last year or so,” he said.
When the bank’s investors cemented their decision to go ahead with the business in 2006, the Dow Jones was steadily on its way to the 14,000-mark it would reach and then exceed in the fall of 2007. At the same time, the S&P 500 was on what seemed to be an unstoppable climb to 1,500. And the construction of new homes broke monthly records nearly every month and was driving an ever growing economy.
Almost everyone was buying or selling, lending or borrowing.
What happened next was in all the papers.
For those who created the bank’s holding company, that news had changed their market but not their direction. It just took them longer to get where they wanted to be.
“From one standpoint it hurt us because we couldn’t get our approval quite as quickly as we wanted. The FDIC obviously had bigger fish to fry. They were looking at a financial meltdown, so reviewing a bank application was not their first priority,” said Blossey.
“But we were able to convince them that we had a business plan that made sense. And the fact that we pooled $17 million in capital in the local area also convinced them that maybe this was something that should be approved.”
Then there are the opportunities the financial meltdown created, at least in the eyes of the bank’s investors and management.
“Actually, there are positives for us, too, out of this, and that is we think there are some benefits to pricing in the marketplace that’s coming back, I think, to being a little more rational. We’re seeing margins that we haven’t seen for a while, so that’s a real benefit for us,” said Blossey, a former president with Chemical Bank.
“I think also the fact that we’re a financial institution that’s opening with a clean balance sheet in a marketplace. When most banks are having difficulty in spending time collecting loans, we’re going to be out looking for relationships. For us, that’s a huge advantage,” he added.
“So I think, yeah, there have been some negatives but there are also some real positives in the timing. All in all, we kind of think it’s working to our favor.”
Grand River Bank offers a full line of business services, such as deposit sweeps, lines of credit, commercial mortgages and business loans. Personal services, including residential mortgages and health savings accounts, are also on the bank’s menu. Internet banking is available for both customer types.
In addition to finalizing the bank’s upcoming grand opening, Grand River officials are putting the finishing touches on their marketing campaign.
Blossey said the first step is to let the public know that the bank exists and is ready to do business, a message that should be up on billboards and on the radio any day now. The bank will follow that announcement with ads featuring the products officials think will go over well with its core group. Those will run throughout the summer.
Blossey said the soft opening went well and gave management a chance to iron out some of the kinks that normally accompany a new business opening.
Grand River Bank is the first new bank to debut here in about a decade. Blossey said bank officials see West Michigan as a unique market, one that gives a smaller bank like theirs a good chance to succeed.
“I think there is a need for that because the larger banks, and other banks in the area that have gotten larger, don’t necessarily want to deal with that small-business customer. They don’t have the time to do that. That’s our core message; we’re looking for them, we want to spend time with them and we want to establish those relationships,” he said.
“The larger banks are looking to create transactions because they have a huge overhead that they have to support, which means they need volume. We don’t necessarily need that volume. What we need is good, quality customer contacts that can lead to a relationship that we can expand; whether it’s a personal loan or a mortgage or a commercial loan.
“We think we can make money doing that, where the larger banks simply can’t allocate resources for that because it doesn’t give them the mass, if you will, or the quantity of income that they need. From that standpoint, that really is the core for why this organization came to exist. The organizers saw that need and that’s why we’re here today.”