The Bank of Belleville has surpassed $100 million in assets within its first eight years of existence. Bank president Kevin Pesko has seen more than 300 shareholders invest and the bank has recorded profit increases each year over the last five years. Pesko recently sat down to talk with business writer Will Buss about this new milestone and his role:
What does reaching this level in assets mean to you?
"One hundred million is nothing more than a round number. But I think it's a good time to let our shareholders and the community know that because of the partnership with them that this has worked and this has been a success. I think we've hit a nice stride and we expect to continue with that."
Did this meet or surpass your expectations?
"I think it's close. We raised a little over $8 million in capital to start with. Other than a little slowing down during the recession, it's been pretty steady."
What was your vision for the bank at the beginning?
"We thought that there was an additional need for this type of bank model: a community bank with local ownership and customer focus. There have been a lot of mergers and all banks started looking the same. There has been some success by some startup banks in the decade leading up to the time that we opened. We felt that the timing was right. The largest player in town, my former employer, had just been acquired. They, by far, had the largest market share. There were rumors about the largest community bank perhaps selling. This is a customer-focused approach and more of a focus on small- and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs. And that seemed like a segment of the customer base out there that was being left behind, a little more so by the large banks."
How long have you been in banking?
"I have been in the industry for over 30 years. Prior to coming here, I was with Union Planters. It then became Regions when I left. I was the commercial banking executive. We served St. Clair, Madison and Monroe counties."
Why did you want start a new bank?
"It is something that a lot of bankers have in the back of their minds as their career progresses. In my case I was from the customer base and I felt like there was a need for this in the marketplace, a demand for this in the marketplace and at the time when we opened, we partnered with Capitol Bancorp. and they were looking to expand their business model and partner with community banks. So that was very helpful in raising half of the capital when we first opened. Three years ago, we bought them out."
Why did you choose to be known as the Bank of Belleville after another unrelated bank had operated under that name?
"Part of it is the community had a fondness for the Bank of Belleville. The Bank of Belleville had operated until the mid '80s, but it does stay with you and it says that we're local. I think that it also carries the implication of throwback, perhaps banking like it used to be. I think people have that connotation and it really has been well received from day one. It said what we wanted to say."
Do you have plans to expand and open any branches?
"We have the capacity for more growth, but the industry is changing. You see bank branches closing. Those may create opportunities. One of the things that we've seen in the industry, and part of the reason why branches are closing, is technology. Most people have their checks automatically payrolled through direct deposit. They pay their bills online and they use ATMs. In our case, we have one ATM machine, but with our cards we allow our customers to use those cards at any ATM in the network and there's no charge for that, even if that bank charges them. So they go anywhere they want to. When we opened, because of this being a business- and commercial-focused bank, we started within a month of opening having a courier for our commercial accounts. So every day we pick up maybe 50 or 60 deposits in the greater Belleville area and we go to O'Fallon and Fairview Heights and if we need to make Millstadt runs, we do that as well. So we committed to do that early on and that's just expanded. The other thing for somebody that might be beyond what's practical for a courier, now there are check-scanning machines that businesses use. They're very commonplace. But there's an element of folks that want to come to the bank. In our case, versus other places, when you come here it's headquarters. Everybody's here. It's not just a branch. For people who want to come to the bank, they prefer that sort of environment where they can see whomever they want to in the bank, they can talk to the decision makers and they can use their safety deposit box."
What have you enjoyed most about your role in the bank?
"I think we're so fortunate because we're able to put a team together of experienced people that generally enjoy what they're doing and enjoy working with each other. And I think the most rewarding thing I see, and this is both personal and professional, is when I'm out in public and somebody comes up to me in front of others and has a neat story to tell about one of our employees who has gone above and beyond to help them. It's like if I knew you were going to do that, I might have paid you to do that. That is probably the best advertising we can get. And really what has been a driving force of our success is the word of mouth. When somebody says that in public, I don't have to pile on. It's much more credible coming from them than from me. I think our investors want this kind of a bank model."
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 239-2526.