Banker: Pick a financial institution you trust

Posted Jan. 22, 2009, at 9:34 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Two local bankers assured area business leaders Thursday that Maine-based banks are not facing the kind of crises large international financial institutions are, but urged them to be informed about the health of their banks.

William Lucy, president and chief executive officer at Merrill Bank, and John Edwards, chief banking officer of Bangor Savings Bank, both based in Bangor, spoke about Maine’s banking future at the monthly business breakfast held at Husson University.

“I wish I had a crystal ball and could predict what’s going to happen next, what the future holds for our economy and the financial services industry,” Lucy told the gathering of more than 150 people. “What I think bodes well for our economy is that historically Maine has never experienced the economic extremes of some other regions. Our economy chugs along at a fairly steady pace. That’s not to say we will escape the current recession unscathed. We are certainly feeling the impact, but it is cushioned in part because of our geographic location at the end of the Northeast corridor.”

Traditionally, he said, Maine has been slower to recover from recessions, but the impact also has not been as severe as it has been in other, more urban states.

“The very rock-bound coast, rugged interior and low-density population, which challenges our delivery of health care and other services, helps protect us from some of the extremes,” Lucy continued. “And I am encouraged that some of the natural resources that have largely been tourist attractions up until now have the potential, at this point in time, to help shape our economic future.

“It will require innovation, dedication and partnering among our cities, towns, businesses, banks, universities and hard-working people,” he said. “But we have all of those resources at hand.”

Edwards also made no predictions about the future of banking in Maine but offered some practical advice.

“If I could sum it up in one sentence,” Edwards said, “it would be, ‘Choose a financial services provider you can trust.’ In times like these, the last thing you need to be worried about is your financial services provider. In times like these you do not want to worry about finding a new banking partner because you have lost faith and confidence in your bank.”

Edwards urged business owners to take several actions:

ä Keep their banker in the loop about the challenges they are facing.

ä Make sure their banker understands their business and knows their plan to weather market volatility.

ä Deal with local banks that have organic access to liquidity instead of nonlocal ones that rely on the global marketplace.

“So how do we, in these times of uncertainty, arrive at sound decisions — decisions we can trust?” Edwards asked. “There is no certain way.”

He urged individuals to ask the following questions to determine if their bank is managing itself in a prudent manner:

ä Is the asset quality sound or could credit issues affect the bank’s future lending ability?

ä Is the bank sufficiently capitalized to weather the difficult economic times?

ä Is the bank’s liquidity sufficient to meet the needs of depositors and borrowers?

ä Are decisions being made and is bank policy being set locally or out of state?

Edwards joined Bangor Savings Bank in January 2005. In his role as chief banking officer, he oversees all retail, commercial trust and investment functions for the bank.

Lucy has served as president of Merrill Bank since April 2004. Before that, he served as executive vice president and senior loan officer at Merrill.

Both men began their careers in 1981. That year, inflation was running at 11.83 percent and unemployment was 7.5 percent, Lucy recalled.

The next Husson Business Breakfast will be Feb. 19. John Kerry, director, Maine State Planning Office, Office of Energy Independence & Security, will discuss “Maine’s Energy Future.” For information, call 941-7129.

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