While the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a major blow to the U.S. economy, the largest Maine-based bank has so far managed to stay ahead of the downturn that arrived just as it was finishing a banner fiscal year.
On March 31, Bangor Savings Bank ended the 2019-2020 fiscal year with $4.86 billion in assets, which was up a record-breaking 9.38 percent from the year before, the company announced on Monday afternoon.
Among other highlights, the bank completed a full year at its newly built waterfront campus in Bangor and started a $35 million acquisition of Damariscotta Bank and Trust. It also produced a record $724.51 million in home mortgage loans.
But the bank’s experience over the first few months of this year shows how the economy has quickly flipped from one that was growing and thriving to one that is more uncertain and tenuous for American workers and businesses. Going forward, its performance could also help reflect how quickly Maine’s economy is recovering in the face of an ongoing public health threat.
When the pandemic arrived in March, Bangor Savings Bank lost some forms of revenue and sent home many of its workers so they could safely work from home. But the crisis also helped open up new revenue sources that have so far offset the losses, according to CEO and President Bob Montgomery-Rice.
“I’d call it a wash,” Montgomery-Rice said. “So far we’re holding our own, but we’ll see how long that lasts.”
Among the challenges, businesses have laid off or furloughed many workers, reducing how much they give the bank for payroll services. Individuals have also been charging less to their debit accounts as they spend more time at home and shop less, resulting in fewer associated fees.
But there were also some opportunities. When the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to near zero and took other steps to encourage lending during the pandemic, many customers chose to refinance their home loans, bringing in more fees for the bank, according to Montgomery-Rice.
At the same time, federal stimulus legislation created the Paycheck Protection Program, through which smaller businesses trying to keep people employed can take out loans from commercial lenders that are guaranteed by the federal government. Within two months, Bangor Savings Bank completed those loans for almost 4,400 companies.
“What was different this time was how abrupt and sudden it was,” Montgomery-Rice said of the recession that is now thought to have started in February. “We’ve been through this before as an institution and as individuals. In January, things were going unbelievably well. By early March, we had a lot of turmoil starting. The market went crazy, the Fed moved rates and we sent 650 people home.”
The bank now expects to keep growing this year, as it has during other recessions, but that growth may be slower than in recent years and will depend on how quickly Mainers can get back to work, according to Montgomery-Rice.
He noted that Maine is heavily dependent on the tourism industry, which has been uniquely hurt by physical distancing requirements meant to slow the spread of the virus.
“If you’re someone who likes to go to Waterfront Concerts, you probably can’t do that,” he said, referring to the Bangor concert series. “That can’t help but hinder the economy, if not hurt it when we get to the other side. But I have found Mainers get stronger as a result of crises.”
He also said that Bangor Savings Bank will be looking out for ways to help customers and encourage spending in the local economy as the pandemic continues, such as through its Buoy Local program that encourages spending at local Maine businesses.
“We orient ourselves to what our customer needs,” he said. “We have found over time that if we do that, the bank does well.”