By Hope E. Tremblay
and Amy Porter
WESTFIELD – Westfield Bank and People’s United Bank are working together to keep a bank branch in the hilltowns.
People’s United Bank announced two weeks ago it was closing its Huntington branch at 14 Russell Road, the only bank branch between Westfield and Lee and Westfield and Northampton.
The hilltown customers that had frequented the former United Bank branch before its merger with People’s United had reacted strongly to the initial news of its closing last month. A petition was circulated by Huntington Liquor Store owner Evelyn Korfias and Linda Hamlin, owner of Mountain Laurel Designs, expressing the “dismay and strenuous objection to the decision.”
To date, more than 600 signatures have been collected on the petition. “All I can say is that we have had overwhelming support from the communities. It is very important for us to have a bank to serve our people.
Important for day to day, important for growth, important for our future,” Korfias said.
Westfield Bank President and CEO James C. Hagan knew immediately that he needed to respond and began talking with People’s United Bank.
“It’s a natural fit,” said Hagan. “We have a lot of customers from the hilltowns already. The residents there spoke up and we wanted to be responsive.”
At a meeting of the Jacob’s Ladder Business Association (JLBA) on Thursday evening. Laurie Mikalunas, manager of the Huntington People’s United Bank branch shared the news of the Letter of Intent with members of the hilltown business community who were present.
“I’m extremely excited about it because Westfield Bank is a JLBA member,” said treasurer Elizabeth Massa of Chester.
Michele Kenney, Economic Development Director for the Hilltown Community Development Corporation, and owner of Functional Art Thermal Insulated Window Treatments, agreed. “I’m really glad to see a bank has stepped up to the plate to serve the people of the hilltowns,” Kenney said.
The sale is for the building only, stressed Westfield Bank Executive Vice President Kevin C. O’Connor.
“We’re buying the building, not the customer base,” he said.
Often when a bank purchases another bank’s branch, the sale includes those customers. Hagan and O’Connor said they wanted to expedite the process and buying the building only enabled them to make it happen quickly.
“They will close the branch Feb. 22 and we will have the purchase closing a few days before that,” Hagan said, noting it took just two weeks to enter an agreement for the sale.
Both Hagan and O’Connor credited People’s United Bank management for a quick deal and cooperation.
“They are being very cooperative and allowing us access to the bank,” O’Connor said.
Hagan said Westfield Bank’s human resources staff and People’s United staff met with the four employees at the Huntington branch to discuss options this week.
“They were all offered positions with People’s United, but they are all offered positions to stay with Westfield Bank,” Hagan said.
The cooperation between the two banks is a little unusual, Hagan said, but ultimately both parties care about the customers and want to support them through the transition.
“In exiting this location, we were open to finding a buyer for the property who would be able to offer branch banking services to the Huntington community. We are pleased that we were able to find that with Westfield Bank,” said People’s United Financial Chairman and CEO Jack Barnes in a written statement.
“People’s United could not be more cooperative,” said O’Connor. “We are putting together a strong communication plan for customers and will have a landing page about the Huntington branch on our website in the next few days.”
Mikalunas said the customers of People’s United Bank will continue to have access to their accounts and all of People’s United Bank’s products and services through its 24-hour mobile and online banking channels, telephone banking, seven-day Call Center, and other branch and ATM locations.
Hagan said anyone wishing to become a Westfield Bank customer is welcome to come to Westfield and open an account ahead of the switch, or they can wait until the branch officially becomes a Westfield Bank in February. Anyone can view account options online at westfieldbank.com.
Westfield Bank is opening two other branches in 2020, both in Connecticut. The Huntington office will be the bank’s most western branch. Hagan and O’Connor are happy to expand into the hilltowns and continue to offer banking services there.
“We grow to be bigger so we can do more for our customers,” O’Connor said. “Westfield Bank is built on community and this is a natural fit.”
Hagan added that Westfield Bank “makes local decisions for local people.”