What do you do when a proud legacy isn't so proud any more? That was the situation that Anthony C. "Tony" Weagley encountered just over a year ago when he was tapped to lead the struggling Malvern Federal Savings Bank, which started in 1887.
"The legacy of this company if you will, we're a hundred and twenty-eight years old I think as of this year. So, the roots of the company if you will, are more of a Mom and Pop local community organization," Weagley told me during our Executive Q & A published in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer.
"So, the bank went through a period of disastrous financial health, and then that's when they found me. I came in to bring the bank back to health, which we've done.
"What my goal is now, is to try to link the past, because obviously I want to be able to use that to play to the markets," he said. "I think it's important to the fabric of the community to keep that linkage, you know, to a hundred-twenty-eight years in this area, and you know, all that comes with that. But by the same token from an investors' standpoint, we need to change what we do on a daily basis and how we conduct business in order to achieve success, and to drive the right kind of performance so investors want to invest in the company.
Question: Lay out the challenges for me.
Answer: I bet you I can throw a rock in any direction, there's probably eight or nine banks within, you know, throwing distance here. So, the ability to generate business [through advertising special certificate-of-deposit rates or through waiting for walk-in trade] is long gone. Years ago, there were only a couple banks in town, so you know, half the town banked at one bank, and half the town banked at the other bank. It was real simple. Today, you don't have that, and people don't come to the bank. We have all of these electronic banking services now and we've driven the client out of the bank. They don't need to come in.
Q: It's true.
A: If you think about it, we did ourselves a disservice, because the relationship is what builds and cements your book of business and keeps it. At my other bank, and that's how we did the business, I was on fourth generation in a lot of the families that we had as clients.
A: That's so powerful, and such a value to the company.
Q: So how do you rebuild that at Malvern.
A: it's obviously getting everybody on board saying, "Okay, this is our business plan, this is what we want to be." You're changing the culture of the company and part of it is, you know, getting new talent that believes in it.
Q: But how do you actually go about that? What you're talking about is having personal relationships in what is now a non-personal field.
A: So that means, everybody goes out, and you know, you're going out and having lunch. You're going and meeting someone for a drink. you're just stopping by to say hello. You know, when a client says, "Well, look I've got this fourteen-million dollar loan deal for you, that's up in Quakertown," you say, `OK, what time do you want me to be there? I'll come and walk the site with you.'
Q: You've done some social stuff, like the Devon Horse Show or the Radnor Hunt.
A: We get seventy-five, eighty of our clients and you just have a nice day enjoying each other's company -- reconnecting, talking about business if business comes up. We've done a number of these things throughout the year to strengthen our ties and our visibility.
Q: So, in theory, if I walk around the executive suite at 12:30, it should be empty, because everyone's out to lunch, right?
A: Pretty much, yes. That's the name of the game. Everybody talks about service, and you know, it's a real easy cliche to throw around when you're talking with people, or when people are giving speeches. With service, you have to live and breathe it. That's really what differentiates you and makes you distinctive among your peers and your competitors, is that you're really doing what you say you're doing. And Malvern is now doing that, and that was the success that I had at my prior organization.
Q: How do you get employees to buy in to all this, short of throwing everybody out? Although you did throw some people out.
A: We had quite a bit of turnover. That was probably one of the hardest things with any transformation, or when you come into a bank that's losing money. There were people that just weren't going to be able to change with the pace, or be able to overcome the complacency they were used to. The people almost become institutionalized, if they live and breathe that year in, year out.
Q: It's tough though.
A: That's a hard thing, because people… I don't consider people to be disposable, and you try to replant people in different positions or whatever. Then other people are just like, "You know, this just isn't for me anymore", and you know, you part company.
Q: Isn't part of the deal trying to re-calibrate by translating your new general philosophy into specific behaviors -- behaviors that exemplify what you are trying to accomplish?
A: We have certain rules with clients, certain protocols.
Q: Like what? Give me an example.
A: Sunset rules.
Q: What's a sunset rule?
A: In other words, if you get a communication, whether it's a phone message from a client, or you get an email from a colleague within the bank, or an email from the client, whatever the communication is, by the close of business, whether you have an answer or not, be courteous and get back to the person. Even if it's to say, `I haven't forgotten about you. I'm working on this for you. But I don't have an answer for you. I'll get back to you tomorrow.' Don't just ignore people, that's rude. Again, that's just a service element that starts to change behavior in the way you're approaching things.
Q: Anything else?
A: Answering the phone. I hate voice mail, so we have a switch board operator down stairs, so you know, if my phone goes to ring three times, and I haven't picked it up, somebody out there is supposed to be picking it up, and if they can't get to it it's supposed to bounce to the board, and there are instructions as to how to take it. That's throughout the bank. You're supposed to have a primary, a secondary, and a tertiary way of getting through. And that's because I think the most annoying thing in the world is calling somebody and getting voice mail, or getting in some of those loops -- you know, dial this to get there. I'm already turned off.
Q: Is that something you changed when you came?
Q: You did the same kind of thing at your previous bank?
A: Yes. We changed the culture there when I took over. We have to answer the phone. You know, you get up from your desk and shake somebody's hand. You smile. I just liken it to the retail. I don't like shopping, so if I have to go shopping, if somebody comes up to me and smiles, and says, "Hello," it creates an entirely different atmosphere. You are thinking, "Okay, this is nice," right? As opposed to somebody that ignores you, or somebody that gets in your face.
Q: How is it working so far?
A: Very well, and I think that has helped to change the culture in the bank. I went and did listening tours when I first got here. We sent out sent letters out to all the customers, and said, "I'll be at this branch on this day, and I'll be here for several hours, come in and talk to me." I went to all the branches just to take the polls, and find out what people thought of the organization. whatever, It was kind of helpful for the most part.
Q: What did you learn that was upsetting?
A: People were upset about stupid things, like they used to have hot pretzels in the branches that they did away with, and you know, they used to have bottled water. Look, that's a cost and expense, and I'm not a restaurant. You know, we have coffee in the branches, or if somebody needed some water, but I'm not having soda machines.
Q: You are talking tough, but people were upset. Is that service?
A: But I didn't lose any business over it. So, some people came in and, `Ah, I miss this and I miss that.' I said, `Well, I'm sorry about that. This is what we're going to be doing. But we have coffee.' People grumbled but I think just the fact that I listened to them they felt okay. They didn't go close their accounts.