As the first anniversary of his appointment as CEO of Torrington Savings Bank approaches, Lesa Vanotti is overseeing community banking expansion in Greater Hartford.
Torrington Savings recently opened a branch in Bristol, its second in Hartford County.
“Prior to the pandemic, Litchfield County, our home for over 150 years, was somewhat stagnant with out-migration and few new industries or major employers entering,” said Vanotti, who is also chairman of the bank. “We had a great foreclosure in our market, but we felt we had somehow exploited it. We knew that in order to grow we were going to have to expand geographically.
Bank officials therefore looked east towards Hartford County, particularly Farmington, Bristol and Plainville.
“And Bristol got to the top of our list pretty quickly,” she said.
‘Act of faith’
Around this time, United Bank sold to People’s United Bank, which enabled Torrington Savings to acquire United’s former branch on Route 6 in Bristol.
“We were kind of taking a leap of faith,” Vanotti said.
But after finding a vacant bank branch in the area where they wanted to expand, the serendipity continued as several new employees who lived or worked in the Bristol area arrived on board.
Then other big banks announced they were closing branches which made the timing perfect for the Bristol location.
“I could tell it was genius of me, but it was luck,” Vanotti said. “We were in the right place at the right time and everything was in place for us to be successful. “
The branch has only been open for a few weeks, but Vanotti said she liked what she saw.
“The Bristol market was a home run for us,” she said. “The branch is very successful in collecting deposits and receiving many inquiries, so we are very proud of it. “
Overall, bank deposits grew from $ 652 million in December 2019 to $ 792 million at the end of August 2021. Torrington Savings has $ 946.9 million in assets and eight branches.
Mergers open the door
Torrington Savings joins a growing list of community banks that have thrived in Hartford County in recent years, seeking to take advantage of industry consolidation that has seen big banks grow and small lenders disappear from the map.
Other banks that have moved or added branches in Hartford County are Ion Bank, based in Naugatuck, Norwich’s Dime Bank, Thomaston Savings Bank, Collinsville Bank, and PeoplesBank of Massachusetts.
As banks enter new markets, one of the biggest challenges they face is establishing brand awareness, said John Carusone, an industry consultant who runs the Bank Analysis Center in Hartford.
“When a community bank like Torrington Savings tries to break into a bigger market, it’s an uphill struggle and a name recognition challenge,” Carusone said. “There is intense competition from other community banks in the surrounding towns, and there are size and scale issues in terms of the loan limits needed to enter a market like Hartford. “
Banks with more branches in a particular market have an advantage over new entrants, he added.
“When you have to deploy branch by branch to gain a foothold, the process is much slower,” Carusone said.
Thanks to the pandemic, Vanotti’s first year as the bank’s 14th president has been anything but routine, but she thanks her predecessor, John E. Janco Sr., and his fellow bank CEOs for helping her through everything. throughout the process.
Vanotti was appointed president in January 2020 and added the CEO to her title when Janco retired on September 30, 2020.
“I took on the role [as president] and John and I had this transition plan where we were going to work on things. We had that schedule, and then it was supposed to be around March 17th, things exploded so we threw it aside, ”she said.
Vanotti and Janco shared responsibilities and relied on their fellow bankers.
“I can tell you that was a quick lesson in leadership during a crisis, and all this schooling, all this leadership training couldn’t prepare any of us,” she said. “But we did what everyone else did: we leaned on each other, we leaned on our colleagues and other bank CEOs. Somehow, miraculously, we have succeeded.
Connecticut bank profits fell overall last year due to the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic, but Torrington Savings has always been able to stay in the dark, posting a net profit of $ 173,000, according to data from Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
In the first half of 2021, Torrington Savings recorded $ 4.7 million in profit compared to a loss of $ 4.6 million in the period last year, according to FDIC data.
Torrington Savings Chairman of the Board Edwin Booth Jr. said it was a pleasure to watch Vanotti rise through the ranks of the bank, where she has spent most of her career.
He said a full CEO search ended with Vanotti as the top candidate.
“As a longtime Trustee, it is very gratifying to see an employee grow and excel over the years,” said Booth. “Lesa’s efforts and desire to learn have led to many different promotions and has strengthened her skills in many areas of banking.
Vanotti is the first female president in the bank’s 153-year history, but initially didn’t like people to insist on it.
“When he came out, I was adamant with everyone, please don’t put a woman in the ad. I’m the 14th president of the bank,” she said. “I don’t didn’t want them to say that because I think it perpetuates a stereotype I’m from a generation where no one ever told us we couldn’t do something because we were a woman.
But she is now embracing being known as the bank’s first female president.
“It gave me the opportunity to be a role model, participate in forums and talk to young women about careers in STEM and get involved in non-traditional things,” she said.
She said she tells other women that they don’t have to act like men to be successful.
“And I have proven that you don’t have to play golf to be CEO of a bank,” she said.