Neil Kiely, president and CEO of Androscoggin Bank, exchews merging with another bank. Instead he's focusing on growing the bank's business within Maine. Credit: Courtesy of Androscoggin Bank

Amid the spate of mergers and expansions beyond the state, Androscoggin Bank’s Neil Kiely says he wants to keep the institution within Maine and grow its core business using innovative approaches.

Kiely, 53, is president of the Lewiston-based bank, which plans to announce his new role as CEO on Wednesday. Keily took over from Paul Andersen, who will become the bank’s chairman of the board.

He began his career as an attorney, then started several businesses. But he never was a banker until he joined Androscoggin in 2015 as chief strategy officer and became president in 2018.

“I bring a very different lens to the bank,” he said. “I have a strategic focus to make us the business bank in Maine.”

He said the bank, which will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year, is committed to staying independent.

In Maine’s fiercely competitive banking environment, Kiely believes he can set the bank apart by focusing on its strengths. One of the bank’s core practices is serving municipal government, school districts and counties.

“And we are a commercially focused bank with two-thirds of our loans in real estate and businesses,” he said. “That’s heavier than other community banks.”

The bank has developed specialties, including lending to dentists. It also has hired three specialists in its cash management practice to help businesses control their flow of money and to structure their payments to reduce fees.

The idea, he said, is to make it easier for businesses and other customers to bank.

“We have a new courier service so we can go to the client for their banking,” he said. “Time is the most precious commodity to businesses. And we’ve streamlined our mortgage process.”

A big part of the bank’s customers are businesses with 50 or fewer employees, some of which are seasonal. And that presents challenges to banks, including customers who do not have the traditional amount of collateral needed for loans.

Credit: Courtesy of Androscoggin Bank

“Maine businesses don’t normally fit into boxes,” Kiely said. “Part of our mission as a mutual bank is to be an economic development engine.” A mutual bank is owned by its account holders whereas traditional banks are owned by shareholders.

“We try to look through the numbers, get to know the individuals and look at their track record,” he said.

Rob Pierson found the bank’s flexibility attractive enough to move both his personal and business accounts from his former bank, which he said is a large national bank.

Pierson and his wife wanted to buy a camp, but their former bank would not budge on any requirements, including $5,000 in flood insurance.

“That’s more than my property tax for the year would have been,” he said. “We wouldn’t have been able to buy our camp.”

He said Androscoggin was more flexible and underwrote an affordable deal.

Pierson, who also is president and CEO of Grover Gundrilling of Oxford, soon switched his business bank account to Androscoggin as well. Grover makes the raw materials for medical devices such as bone screws to hold a metal plate to a broken femur.

“We consolidated our banking in one place. And we get better service with a local bank and can support the Maine economy,” he said.

“Neil and how he is running the businesses is the bigger story for the bank,” he said. “He doesn’t bring preconceived notions about the way a bank works.”

In his previous roles at the bank, Kiely was chief operating office, chief strategy officer and general counsel.

During that time, he looked at rebuilding everything the bank did to make it more competitive. That included the loan department, where mortgages were made easier and less timely to complete.

Loan numbers more than tripled quickly, from $28 million in 2017 to $101 million in 2019, he said.

“But we’re not growing for growth’s sake,” he said. “We plan to offer more value and be more strategic services for our clients.”

The bank recently expanded its Portland commercial lending and treasury management businesses. And it is looking at expanding its space in Lewiston within the next two years, he said. Kiely said the bank could add up to seven employees this year.

It also is looking to increase its retirement planning business. It started a subsidiary called Portland Trust Co. in 2015 to focus on institutions, individuals and the bank’s largest clients.

For smaller clients, it added an agreement with Raymond James for retirement planning in 2016.

And it launched a private banking team to help business owners in 2018.

“We plan to expand all of those,” Kiely said.

As for what main lesson he is applying to the bank from his previous experience as an entrepreneur in a stock trading firm and real estate, he said. “Taking on challenges that others thought couldn’t be solved.”

Androscoggin has $1.1 billion in assets. It has 187 employees at its home office and 12 branches from Jay to Portland.