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Can the Bank of Castile carve out a niche in the Buffalo Niagara market?

Adam M. Desmond is drumming up business for a bank that doesn't yet have a branch in Erie or Niagara county.

But Desmond, 35, welcomes the challenge. As Tompkins Bank of Castile's regional market leader for the Buffalo area, he is spearheading the Batavia-based bank's push into this part of the state. The bank has a loan office in Amherst and is deciding where to open its first Buffalo Niagara branch.

The Grand Island resident brings local knowledge to the job. He grew up in the Town of Tonawanda and worked for First Niagara Bank and KeyBank before joining Tompkins Bank of Castile in April 2017.

Desmond loves jazz and plays the saxophone. He developed an interest in music at an early age, and started his collegiate studies at SUNY Fredonia's music program. He switched to a business track, earning a finance degree at the University at Buffalo and an MBA at Canisius College. Desmond recalled having conversations as a young person with an uncle who was a CIA economist, and learning about the influence financial systems have on the prosperity of countries.

Adam Desmond joined Tompkins Bank of Castile from KeyBank. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

During his own career, Desmond has witnessed the impact bankers can have where they live.

"Being a traditional commercial lender in a bank, you're really helping support real estate development, helping support corporate and industrial borrowers, and being able to provide effective credit solutions for them in order to grow their business, add to staff," he said. "That's really an exciting part of that function, how you can kind of support your area."

Desmond talked about carving a niche for Tompkins Bank of Castile here and how he is working to build brand recognition for his employer, in a market where M&T and KeyBank dominate:

Q: When will the bank announce its first Buffalo Niagara branch?

A: We're getting closer. I'm happy with the progress. We're not done yet. but definitely it's moving forward rapidly. I would imagine it won't be too much longer before we officially say where we're going and when.

Q: What difference will having a branch make for brand awareness?

A: I think the way we're going to approach it is more like a financial services center. Our designs are to obviously have retail business at that location, but it's going to be commercial lending, Tompkins Financial Advisers, Tompkins Insurance, a residential mortgage lender, community space that the community can use. … We're going to try to give back to the community a little by sharing our real estate.

At the lowest level, (the branch is) kind of a billboard. You get the right location, you put the name up there, you start getting (customer) traffic just driving by, you'll start getting some brand recognition just that way. But, too, you start hiring people locally, you start growing critical mass in the area. And it's really going to help compound the effect: more voices, more boots on the ground.

I have had meetings with prospects where they believe you, but they're like, "I just need the brick and mortar." It's kind of funny because the reality is with financial technology these days, most of these businesses will never have to ever step foot in an actual, hard location.

But there's just that inherent nature. In an emergency, they want to be able to go someplace, which I completely appreciate. It's just that's where banking has gone over the last generation. It's almost becoming a little bit of a loss leader in some instances, where you just need the location just to kind of say, hey, we are here, we're committed to the area.

Q: What made you decide to join Tompkins Bank of Castile?

A: [President and CEO] John McKenna reached out to me in late 2016 and started telling me about their designs and plans of moving west from their existing footprint, and there was a myriad of factors that really impressed me about their operations. John, in general, as I got to know him and know his background, was an intriguing and exciting part about the opportunity.

It's an extremely strong bank, financially speaking. It has an unbelievable track record of profitability and clean credit quality. It's been around for 149 years, the Bank of Castile. They're proactive, they want to grow, it's a community bank that's really focused on its clientele. ... I really felt comfortable that the board was made up of local business owners, shareholders, people that lived in the community and how vested they were in the area. That's a really important piece.

Q: How did they describe the opportunity you would have in your new job?

A: For the first leg, which could be kind of a big period of time, was grow the Erie and Niagara footprint. ...  They were saying, this is going to be our first bolt-on to our existing footprint. That's everything from expanding real estate, to expanding staff, to continuing to grow the commercial lending portfolio, which they had been doing over a period of time.

There was about $130 million already in the loan portfolio from Erie and Niagara counties. So they wanted to continue that. That was exciting to me, because it was not just commercial lending, but it was really helping grow the footprint of the bank, creating a new region for them.

And this isn't new to the bank. They had spent the last 15 years or so in Monroe County doing a similar type of growth plan, with growing into the Rochester marketplace. Because principally before that, Bank of Castile was in the GLOW region: Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming counties, where they have a very high market share. So they first grew east and now they're growing west from their core area.

Q: Did you have any hesitation leaving Key and to take this on?

A: It's a nothing risked, nothing gained type of thing. But I felt that if you were going to put enough checked boxes in the "pro" column, it was a strong enough foundation, it was someone that's been around for a while, it's not a headquartered bank that's out West somewhere that's looking to get in upstate New York and you're questioning their motives.

I was happy with First Niagara and Key, I have a lot of friends still there. It's a great organization. I wasn't being shown the door. It was: alright, is this a good opportunity? I sat down with my wife and talked about it and the upside opportunity was something where I really wanted to give it a crack.

Q: How do you see Tompkins Bank of Castile capitalizing on its strategy for this region?

A: There was a lot of foundational work. You're establishing the rapport with people, either again or anew. And you're doing top of mind constantly — you're always circling back to people saying, we're still here, we're moving forward. … In the end, it's always about execution. As long as we execute on what we say we can do, then obviously that just kind of helps the next deal. It builds brand equity and business in the marketplace.

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