White House push for loans no news for two area lenders

Posted Dec. 14, 2009, at 8:32 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — President Barack Obama’s tough words for some of the nation’s top bankers Monday reverberated in Maine as loudly as they did elsewhere, but the consensus among at least two of the state’s banking chains was that Obama was talking to someone else.

During a meeting at the White House, Obama asked bankers on Wall Street to explore “every responsible way” to increase lending for the sake of the nation’s economy, including taking a “third and fourth look” at small-business lending.

The meeting came amid Obama’s fierce criticism of Wall Street. In an interview that aired on Sunday, he rebuked executive paychecks at firms that only last year required financial help from the federal government to keep their doors open.

“I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street,” Obama told CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Spokespeople from Bangor Savings Bank and Camden National Corp., parent company of Camden National Bank, said their institutions have experienced record or near-record years in terms of home mortgages and business lending, proof that they haven’t been shy about granting loans even in the suffering economy.

“We really applaud the president’s efforts to have the Wall Street banks join the Main Street banks to jump-start the economy,” said Diane Norton, vice president of marketing and communications for Camden National Corp. “The banks [Obama] is speaking to are certainly just in a different category. We’ve had a tremendous year this year.”

Yellow Light Breen, a senior vice president at Bangor Savings Bank, said the same is true for his institution.

“I think there is a reason why the president is meeting with the country’s largest banks,” said Breen, who added that those banks’ “one-size-fits-all approach” to lending is part of what started the credit crunch to begin with.

“The country’s community banks have been focused on bread-and-butter lending and taking care of their depositors,” Breen said. “We’ve tried to step in and fill the gap as best we can.”

Bangor Savings is set to shatter its previous record for home mortgage lending by more than $100 million for a total of more than $300 million in 2009, said Breen, and loans to businesses were on track to match the 2008 total.

Norton and Breen agreed that the keys to their success have been maintaining their time-tested lending practices and their ability to assess situations on a person-by-person basis. Camden National’s efforts in this area were recognized by the Finance Authority of Maine, which named Camden National Bank Maine’s 2009 Finan-cial Institution of the Year in November, according to the bank’s third-quarter report. The award is given for “outstanding commitment to Maine people and businesses through innovative financial solutions during challenging economic times,” according to the report.

Camden National had increased its loans to customers by more than $20 million since last December, according to the report.

“A lot of what we’re doing is the same kind of path we’ve been [on], which is to try to be understanding of the situation that’s out there,” Norton said. “I think customers see us and realize that we really are a community bank.”

Breen said one reason for his and other institutions’ success is the fact that when the credit crunch hit, it eliminated many third-party mortgage lenders who relied on some of the country’s largest banks.

“We are increasingly seeing businesses of all sizes turning from larger banks,” Breen said. “We’re seeing that in spades at Bangor Savings, and the same is true for many of the smaller institutions in Maine.”

Officials at several of the large banks targeted by Obama on Monday pledged to try to satisfy the president’s wishes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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