The Camden National Bank home office and branch, all brilliant brick and stylish arched windows, stands prominently in downtown Camden, perched where five streets converge. The current building reflects the architecture of the original, established at that very location in 1875. Perhaps being at the same location for 137 years is an ideal feather in the cap of a community bank.
“We have a great history of strong community banks in the state, but we’re not as many as we used to be,” said Greg Dufour, president and CEO of Camden National Bank. “In the mid-1970s, Maine had over 150 independent banks. Now we’re down to 28.”
Dufour said local presence for any of Camden National’s 38 branches statewide is a vital part of the company’s mission. “It’s something that we try to make sure we bring to every location that we have,” he said. “In every community, we want people to understand that it’s local decision-making, and we have people you can talk to. You’re really dealing with your neighbors.”
Viewpoints & Technology
Dufour said Camden National has been busy recently streamlining and improving many things. Anything considered was done so through the lens of how the customer would view it.
“We always try to see things through our customers’ eyes,” Dufour said. “Customer requirements have changed significantly over the past few years, so we’ve had to streamline and improve our processes to keep up with customer requirements.”
This required Camden National to make significant investments in technology. When the Web was new and banks first ventured into online banking, customers were timid about trying it out. But in just 25 years, we’ve gone from checks to ATMs to debit cards to online banking, and now many customers want to do everything from their smartphones. Banks have to move quickly to keep up with customer demand.
“The smartphone-technology adoption rate from the general public is just huge,” Dufour said. “To me, that really puts banks like Camden National in a position where we’ll change the way we do business to meet those new and evolving customer expectations. I get excited about how we can reposition ourselves with that while still maintaining our traditional service in branches.”
Last year, Camden National rolled out a comprehensive online-banking package to better serve its customers. It’s another delivery channel, like providing branches or checks. And even the checks will take a high-tech turn; instead of physically taking a check to the bank, soon you’ll be able to snap a picture of it with your camera phone to deposit it .
In fact, the sort of software that used to be big-bank-only is becoming more affordable to smaller banks. And “software” doesn’t mean “Microsoft Office” or “QuickBooks”; it means specialized banking software you won’t find at the office store. What was once prohibitively expensive is becoming financially manageable.
Meanwhile, Camden National’s information-technology personnel not only keep the company’s network and computers running but contemplate what customers want and find software solutions. The Information Security team works with the IT crew to ensure the security of customer data.
“Security is always of the utmost importance to us, whether we’re making sure the vaults are locked up at night or that, on the Web, your information’s secure,” Dufour said. “We have to make sure that, as we’re adopting technology, our information security efforts are keeping up with it.”
Camden National is also streamlining many of its procedures, for customers and internally. For example, when you apply for a mortgage online, you’re using the same process as if you went into the mortgage originator’s office, which saves time and is more efficient. Behind the scenes, the company recently formed a team of employees from around the company to look at various ways to streamline, reducing duplicate paperwork and processes and improving service.
Dufour knows firsthand how well it works. Recently, he refinanced his mortgage online just to go through the process. It was easy and flawless, and when he needed to talk to bank personnel, they didn’t give their president any breaks when it came to security protocols. The experience was one of, once again, seeing things from the customer’s eyes.
“I think it was Warren Buffet who said, ‘You have to eat your own cooking,’” said Dufour. “We like to pride ourselves on that here.”
Recession & Recognition
Camden National opted to invest significantly in technology early in the recession. “We had the attitude that we could meet those challenges head-on and be proactive, or we could re-trench and wait out the storm,” Dufour said. “We were very proactive and made investments that have really paid off for us.”
Interestingly, there wasn’t much trepidation about pushing forward — from the board of directors, management, or staff.
“We all saw the past few years as an opportunity to really show our customers — and, more importantly, people who weren’t customers of ours then — what a real community bank can do,” Dufour said. “I think that was probably one of the things that resulted in us having record earnings last year.”
The bank’s efforts have certainly been recognized. For the second time in three years, Camden National was named the bank of the year by the Finance Authority of Maine. But recently, another award took the bank completely by surprise: Forbes called to say Camden National had been named one of its 100 Most Trustworthy Companies in America.
“What these companies have in common is what they don’t have: problems that indicate elevated risk,” GMI Chairman James A. Kaplan told Forbes. “Those problems can range from high executive compensation or incentives that are not aligned with shareholder interests to inconsistent application of accounting principles, or the occurrence of negative events.”
GMI rated over 8,000 companies traded on American exchanges. Only those with the top 15 percent accounting and governance ratings earned “conservative” ranking. And only 1.25 percent of them made the list. Companies could not apply for the listing, which is why the award was a surprise to Camden National. Dufour said that he’s quite proud of it, and earning that recognized level of trustworthiness echoes the company’s values.
“We manage our organization by a set of core values that is part of our culture,” he said. “We talk about them in just about every meeting that we attend.”
Key to that is building trust and confidence in customers by what Dufour explains as “seeing things through the customer’s eyes.”
“But that’s just what we do here in Maine,” he said. “All over the state, there are companies and people that do these really unique, impactful things, and we’re pleased that Camden National was recognized for being one of them. I think it’s part of that Maine mystique; you never know the interesting things people or companies do here. So it’s nice to be recognized.”