In Our Community, The CEO's Posts

Celebrate Local Entrepreneurship

RGCEO11This Saturday, November 29th, is Small Business Saturday.  Shop locally and support our communities.

That’s a pretty simple statement but it carries quite a bit of meaning. This movement (and it is a movement) began in 2010 and has been picking up steam since then. The whole idea is to shop on Main Street – to support our local merchants – during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year. By doing so, we continue the tradition of supporting our neighbors, our towns and communities.

Our local retailers are providing jobs, great customer service and will be open to help answer questions and assemble toys right up until the Holidays. These are folks you see every day supporting our communities, non-profits and our schools.

By shopping locally, the taxes we pay come back into our cities and towns and the sales dollars, nationally, are extraordinary. An estimated $5.5. million is spent on Small Business Saturday – let’s spend some of that here!

So let’s get offline for a while, walk downtown and do some shopping!

In Our Community, The CEO's Posts

Economic Development and the Environment

RGCEO11First County Bank is pleased to be a founding member of Stamford 2030 District, a unique initiative which unites local business leaders in the quest for commercial building energy efficiency, environmental responsibility and sustainability mindfulness. Stamford is the first small city and the first city in New England to join the initiative.

We are following a well thought-out model led by cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, and Denver in an effort to set goals and reduce our use of energy and water and lower emissions related to our office and branch locations in Stamford. The effort is phased and voluntary for the Bank and other property owners who become part of the Stamford 2030 District.

We immediately recognized the financial benefits of improving our building efficiency such as reduced operating costs, increased property values, reduced exposure to fuel price volatility and savings in operations and maintenance costs.

In my view, membership is a win-win proposition. We now have a clearer idea of what we need to work on to improve our energy usage; the 2030 District will connect us to resources and partners to help accomplish our goals – partners with the expertise we would not have had access to. As a Community Bank, we feel that contributing to the greater good by taking sensible actions, which will result in reduced energy usage, is a good thing.

This is a great competitive differentiator for the City of Stamford. Our ability, as a community, to improve our commercial real estate stock, which, admittedly, is somewhat vintage, will help us compete against New York and our Connecticut neighbors, who are all chasing that next commercial tenant. I know the cost-per-square-foot equation is important in rental negotiations but tenants are asking more environmental and sustainability questions these days before deciding where to locate their business.

I would urge commercial property owners in Stamford to get involved in this initiative. More information can be found at www.2030district.org.

In Our Community, The CEO's Posts

Looking for something to do this weekend? Join us at the Oyster Festival in Norwalk.

RGCEO11It’s hard to believe the end of summer is here and kids are back in school when it’s this hazy, hot and humid. That however, is perfect weather for this weekend’s Oyster Festival in Norwalk. For those of you that have not attended before you should come by a branch, pick-up tickets and go. This year’s entertainment is going to be GREAT – Scott Stapp of Creed on Friday evening, Joan Jett on Saturday and Tito Puente, Jr. on Sunday.

The Oyster Festival has been the showcase event of the Norwalk Seaport Association since 1978 drawing over 10,000 attendees for the weekend. I remember working the event as a volunteer in the beer tent counting down many, many singles for the bank deposit. The festival was started to showcase the revitalization in South Norwalk – still a work in progress – and to celebrate the region’s maritime history and raise environmental awareness of Long Island Sound and the Harbor areas. It’s accomplishing all of those goals and more.

It’s also about celebrating volunteerism and the community. The Norwalk Seaport Association is largely a volunteer organization and draws on over 12,000 volunteers to stage the weekend. First County Bank has been the major sponsor of the Oyster Festival for many years enlisting thousands of Bank employees and their families to participate over the many weekends. This year we’ll have 87 of our 200 employees on site handing out backpacks to kids at the main gate. Stop by to say hello and cheer for our own John Bonora, Chief Risk & Credit Officer, to win the Oyster Slurping Contest on Saturday!

The CEO's Posts

Tips for Protecting Yourself from Phishing, Spamming and Hacking Attacks

RGCEO11It was widely reported this week that Russian criminals have stolen more than 1.2 billion Internet usernames and passwords from over 420,000 websites, lifted from companies both large and small. The press is suggesting the credentials have been used for email spamming and for the sale of bogus products like weight-loss pills.

We are all now accustomed to seeing seemingly random messages sent from personal email addresses or social media sites with a link imbedded in the body of the message. To mitigate the risk, you should follow this simple advice: never open or click on the link and, if you can help it, don’t open the email either.

You can also take a few steps to further protect yourself:

  • Change your passwords to smart passwords that contain symbols, numbers, etc.
  • Use different smart passwords for different services & change them frequently.
  • Consider using a short phrase as a password.
  • Be careful what you store electronically – never email account numbers, SSN, TIN etc. as these are the “keys to the kingdom” for hackers.
  • Above all, monitor your account statements for unusual and unauthorized activity. If the activity is not legitimate, you may be a victim of identity theft.

 

There are many others tips for keeping your data and accounts safe but it comes down to common sense. If you get a poorly worded email that suggests you’ve won the Australian Lottery, don’t respond as you probably haven’t.

For additional information on these topics, you may visit the For Your Privacy and Security section of our website.

The CEO's Posts

A recent visit to our Nation’s Capital

RGCEO11Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Washington, DC for a short trip and had the good fortune of a little free time. In spite of it being 93 degrees outside and 100% humidity (evidently DC, or at least a part of it, is built on a swamp). I ventured out to the Mall to visit a couple of the Smithsonian Museums and sightsee a bit. The Smithsonian is actually 19 world-class museums and a zoo, all but two within the confines of our Capital.

I started out at a pretty quick pace with the Air and Space Museum in my sights and of course saw the Spirit of St. Louis and the original Wright 1903 Flyer. Pretty cool stuff for a rusty pilot to see.

My next stop was the American History Museum where the 40-foot long American flag that inspired the Star-Spangled Banner is on permanent display in advance of the 200 year National Anthem anniversary this September. Of course, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, Archie Bunker’s chair and Julia Child’s kitchen were also a few favorites of mine.

There is obviously plenty to do and see at no cost as museum entry is free. The National Park Service does a great job administering these national treasures where at one end of the Mall are the museums and the other end features the very moving war and veterans memorials.

It’s been quite some time since I last visited DC but I’m reminded that is one of the places in America everyone should visit to be reminded of our great heritage. Be sure to bring water and wear comfortable shoes!

The CEO's Posts, Trends & Tips

Mobile Technology Trends and New (Mobile) Service Launch

RGCEO11It’s not hard to notice the ownership trends driving mobile technology. According to the Pew Research Internet Project:

  • 90% of American adults have a cell phone
  • 58% of American adults have a smartphone
  • 74% of smartphone users say they use their phone to get directions or other location based information
  • 86% of smartphone users use their device to decide whether to visit a business, such as a restaurant and
  • 44% of cell phone owners sleep with their phones next to their beds so as not miss a call, message or alert.

 

I’m not sure I would place my smartphone next to my bed but obviously, these data points are quite telling especially when you think about this technology being less than 10 years old.

As a Community Bank, we pride ourselves with having a technology platform that is not only secure (that’s always our first priority) but one that very quickly meets the needs of our clients. In the last year or so, we rolled out a Mobile Banking App to provide on-line banking users with a smartphone channel. We also converted our web presence to a “responsive website” for an optimal experience on your mobile device We’ve just finished vetting a consumer remote capture program so you’ll soon be able to make a deposit via a photo from you smartphone!

Next in line is our new ValueAccess Checking with BaZing. We are very excited about this new service as it gives clients access to hundreds of thousands of shopping and dining discounts from local and national retailers on the free BaZing mobile app using your smartphone and its built-in location service. Two of my favorite retailers – Planet Pizza and DiMare Pastry – popped right up! The BaZing app also provides cell phone protection, roadside assistance, identity theft assistance and other benefits.

I hope you use and enjoy your BaZing benefits and tell others about your savings story! It’s another great way to get the most out of your relationship with your smartphone and First County Bank.

Bank News, The CEO's Posts

Strong Succession Planning is Key During Times of Transition

RGCEO1As summer approaches, our good friend and colleague, Kathy Harris, is approaching the autumn of her banking career, poised for retirement. Kathy has devoted nearly 30 years to First County Bank, successfully navigating her way through our retail franchise until reaching the President’s Office 3 years ago. Being able to retire from doing what you love, with good health, and at the pinnacle of your profession is something we all aspire to. We have been fortunate to have had Kathy here as a teammate. Her leadership has made a lasting impression on many of us.

Planning for Kathy’s retirement, or for that matter all of our leadership positions, is something we focus on at the Bank. Being sure we have ready and able “bench-strength” makes any transition easier and smoother. Strong succession planning allows us to have a seamless hand-off in all of our positions which is a sign of continuity to our customers, employees and to our communities.

We welcome and congratulate Bob Granata as he takes the President & COO office in July. Bob comes off our bench early in his game having been with First County Bank for eight years in both finance and risk management roles. Changes in management always put a fresh set of eyes on our operations and new leaders always bring a refreshed perspective on how we do business. I’m looking forward to having Bob’s viewpoint on all things First County Bank.

So over the next couple of weeks, please take a moment to congratulate Kathy on her retirement and wish Bob well on his promotion.

Kathy Harris and Bob Granata

President and Chief Operating Officer, Kathy Harris, and Executive Vice President, Chief Credit and Risk Officer, Bob Granata.

Bank News, The CEO's Posts

CBA’s Annual Community Involvement Survey

Each year the Connecticut Bankers Association gathers information on the philanthropic and civic contributions made by Connecticut banks to our communities through its annual Community Involvement Survey.

The results of the most recent survey are in, and we are proud to be among the 35 institutions that contributed to the following figures for 2013:

  • Gave nearly $20 million through charitable donations to more than 9,200 organizations
  • Our employees provided over 400,000 hours of volunteer community service
  • Paid $15.8 million in property taxes
  • Closed $6.6 billion of residential loans
  • Closed $5.1 billion of commercial loans


And as 2014 progresses we look forward to continuing to play a key role in keeping our local economies vibrant and growing.

The CEO's Posts

Best Practices for Securing Your Cards

Since the beginning of the New Year, we’ve heard a lot about the data security breach that occurred at the Target stores around the country. Some First County Bank clients were affected as we have a Target here in Stamford. At the time, we chose not to reissue our debit cards being concerned that our customers would be inconvenienced during the holidays. We did, however, increase the level of monitoring on these cards and, to date, no unauthorized activity has been detected.

Just like with website credentials and account information, it is important to safeguard your debit and credit card information. Memorize your personal identification number (PIN) and avoid writing it on a sticky note attached to your monitor. This is a case where sharing is NOT good.

Here are a few things you can do to help safeguard your on-line credentials:

  • Before you shop on-line be sure you know the site is secure and who you are doing business with.
  • Always log off after completing an online transaction, or close the browser window
  • Regularly check to make sure you have your cards with you.
  • Report lost or stolen cards immediately and
  • Regularly check your statements for unfamiliar transactions.

Continue reading

The CEO's Posts

Being Resolute…

Happy New Year to All!

Over the last several days, we’ve heard many stories in the media about New Year’s Resolutions being made and abandoned. It seems the most commonly broken promises – you might say selfies – are weight loss, quitting smoking, learning something new and eating healthier. Financial resolutions are not usually high on anyone’s list, in fact most people spend less than 20 minutes a year, yes, a year, looking at their retirement accounts.

Having just concluded our annual Strategic Planning process, we know that goal setting is important to our success.  Each goal was debated, clearly articulated and importantly, broken down to bite-size, measurable pieces.

The same should hold true for personal goal setting; your annual Resolutions.  Here are a couple of important financial goals you should consider in 2014:

1.)    Pay-off high cost debt.  For most people, these are usually credit card balances that never seem to be reduced by a monthly minimum payment.

2.)   Build an emergency fund.  This is a topic I have written about in the past.  Having a 3-6 month  “cushion” of cash in your savings helps mitigate any uncertainty in your financial future.

3.)   Bulk up your retirement savings.  The financial markets were extraordinarily kind to us this year and hopefully, to your 401-(k).  Put away as much as you can afford to help secure your financial future.

Think about any one of these for yourself and set a specific goal that is “actionable.” For example, take advantage of First County Bank’s automatic balance transfer program and set aside say, $25 per week into a savings account until you have reached your emergency fund objective.

I know this is easier said than done but start somewhere.   Have a Great 2014!!