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Family legacy guides Alden State Bank

Alden State Bank has more than 100 years of his history on its ledger. Richard D. Koelbl has been there for more than 40 of them.

Koelbl joined the bank as a teller in 1973 and rose to president and CEO in 1991. At the end of this year, Koelbl will hand the reins to chief financial officer Steve Woodard — himself a veteran of the Alden-based bank — under a transition announced several months ago.

Koelbl, 66, will remain involved as chairman. His family has a long connection to the bank: Koelbl's brother, John, is executive vice president, and their father, Christian, preceded Richard as president, starting in 1979.

Alden State Bank was founded in 1916 by businessmen who felt the village could benefit from local financial services. The bank has endured a century's worth of ups and downs in the economy and stayed independent while many other small institutions were acquired by bigger partners. Koelbl led Alden State Bank through expansion and adoption of technology. As of June 30, the bank had $319 million in assets and ranked seventh in deposit market share in the Buffalo Niagara region, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Koelbl, only the sixth president in the bank's history, reflected on making a career in his hometown (pop. 2,573) and how he sees Alden State Bank remaining independent.

Q: Did you always know you were going to work at Alden State Bank?

A: I really liked the idea of coming back to Alden to live [after graduating from Hamilton College]. I always had a strong tie here. My family's here and I always joke, I'm just an old Aldenite. My brothers and I all live in town.

Alden State Bank's headquarters and main branch on Broadway in Alden. (Matt Glynn/Buffalo News)

Q: What appealed to you about making a career here?

A: I was very close to my dad. We spent a lot of time together, doing things like cutting firewood and talking. He always talked about how much he enjoyed the lifestyle of a small town and being able to work in a small town. He had a great deal of influence on me. Frankly, a small, rural town is a wonderful place to raise a family. It's not necessarily the easiest place to be 22 years old, looking for a social life. But it's a great place to run a business. It's a great place to have a family.

Q: What was it like to follow in your father's footsteps as bank president?

A: It was imposing. He had done so well. The bank was in excellent shape. In fact, I remember him telling me as he left, "Now, the bank has never been in better shape than it is now. It's up to you to keep it that way." … I also knew that he was going to be very supportive. He became chairman of the board. We still were able to legitimately talk about things, because we were both still involved in the bank. … It was a great deal of help. … We spoke just about every day.

Q: What are the biggest changes you've seen in banking since becoming president and CEO?

A: The big change is the level of regulation. It seems like we used to spend all our time running the bank, making loans and talking to people about various projects, investing the bank's money. Now we spend more and more time complying with government regulations. Let's put it this way, I think it's very difficult for someone in Washington to imagine what it's actually like sitting here speaking to people. Being part of the community, if I go to Tops, I run into my customers. Sometimes they want to talk, so we do. That sort of thing.

The newly established Alden State Bank originally leased space in this building, now home to a pharmacy, across from the bank's present-day headquarters. (Matt Glynn/Buffalo News)

Q: What about the impact of technology?

A: We have had to invest a lot in technology, but it's all been good. When I first started here, a bank was considered well run and efficient if you had $1 million in assets per employee. Now we have over $5 million per employee. Really what's allowed us to do that is technology. Nobody's sitting here with a pencil adding up accounts anymore, it's all automatic.

Q: Alden State Bank added a branch in Lancaster in 1995. How significant was that?

A: That was a major step for us, and it's been a good one. We've got about $54 million in deposits at that branch, and we're looking to grow that a little bit more. ... We had a lot of business in the area between Alden and Lancaster. We had a lot of customers from the eastern part of the Town of Lancaster and we thought we do well by moving into that area, kind of expand our trade area a little bit.

Q: What about your plans for a third branch, on Transit Road in Clarence?

A: We're waiting on regulatory approval. We applied to our two regulators, the state and the Fed. The state gave us approval within about two weeks. The Fed had some issues and we're still finding out what those issues are. ... We're still talking to them about what they would like us to do.

Alden State Bank built this building — now home to the Alden Advertiser — as its second home, next door to its present-day headquarters. (Matt Glynn/Buffalo News)

Q: While lots of banks are cutting back on branches, you're looking to add one. What's the value of branches to you?

A: I think people still like the idea of driving by their bank and knowing that it's there. My sense is that Buffalo and Western New York is a rather conservative market. I think that people still like their traditional brick-and-mortar bank to be there. Having said that, we're not interested in opening a branch that's not of a sufficient size. We want to go where we think we can do well. And part of it is, we're never looking to be a regional bank, but we'd like to be large enough to attract the talent we need to run the bank. The skill sets are a lot different than they were 50 years ago.

Q: How can Alden State Bank stay competitive?

A: We, as a group — by that group I mean our officers, directors and employees, and not insignificantly our shareholders — want to remain independent. We're continuing to work to that end.

Q: How do you do that? Is it a matter of staying financially viable enough to stand on your own?

A: Financially viable is a very good way of putting it. Ultimately, banks and probably other businesses as well … the ones that feel the need to sell out or merge don't remain profitable enough, frankly. If you're going to grow, you've got to grow your capital. You've got to keep everybody happy, meaning your stockholders, your employees, your community, your customers. … I feel very comfortable.

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