It’s a Wonderful Bank

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At Bayonne Community Bank the line moves swiftly. Bank tellers greet customers by name and dole out lollipops to kids. A large media board promotes local events and Mom & Pop shops as a complimentary service for business checking-account holders.  The scene is much the same at all six Bayonne branches; BCB has a hometown vibe.

BCB started out with only one branch in 2000. The first branch was at 860 Broadway at the site of a former Buick dealership. The bank was created because big corporations were replacing local banks, and someone took notice.

“The concept came about because New York Community Bank came in and took over a local bank called First Savings and Loan of Bayonne,” says Tom Coughlin, founder, president, and chief executive officer of BCB. Coughlin thought that New York Community Bank wasn’t serving Bayonne the same way that the smaller, local bank had been. “We wanted to keep the community spirit,” he says.

Senior citizens were hit hard by the change. They used to come into the community bank to get their social security posted to a passbook and get their interest paid out monthly. The New York Bank switched the pay period from monthly to quarterly. This change was a problem for older people who lived on a fixed income and relied on those monthly payments. “They were going to shrink down the size of the passbook,” Coughlin says, noting that older customers also struggled to read the tiny numbers in the new books.

If You Build a Bank …

Coughlin, along with other founders, decided to form BCB to again give Bayonne a community bank. The original founders were local business people including Mark Hogan, H. Mickey McCabe, Gary Maita, Ken Poesl, Donald Cymbor, Phyllis Garelick, Robert Doria, Donald Mindiak, John Cherchio, Al Pasiechnik, Robert Ballance, Joseph Lyga, Judith Bielan, Joseph Brogan, James Collins, August Pellegrini, and the late Joseph Tagliareni.

“In order to start the bank we needed to raise six million dollars,” Coughlin says. “We started with a road show.” This was a reception in town where the founders shared their idea. “We got a tremendous response. We raised it all with local senior citizens and business people.” BCB went from being a great idea to a bank with 3,000 shareholders.

“The bank was so successful from the start,” Coughlin says. “We were so busy we couldn’t input the new account openings while the customer was in front of us.” They had to input the information overnight to keep up with the long lines of new customers. “The original business plan was to be $75 million in five years, and we were $80 million in five months,” Coughlin says.

After a successful first year with one branch, BCB considered expanding to serve more of Bayonne’s population. The bank bought a piece of property at 104 Avenue C, formerly the old Shop Rite.

“We built a three-story building and made that our corporate headquarters,” Coughlin says. “We grew quite rapidly after that, and we had to open a midtown office.”

A third branch opened at 23rd Street after that. BCB had opened three branches in Bayonne within three years. As the bank grew, it raised more capital locally, and within a few more years it went to the stock market to raise more.

Bayonne Boosters

Hiring locally was a boon. The company started with 14 employees; it now has around 420. Many are Bayonne residents.

BCB, meanwhile, was spreading goodwill. “For BCB it’s all about giving back to the community by supporting many charitable organizations,” says Pamela Sclafane, vice president and head of marketing. Many BCB employees sit on nonprofit boards and volunteer locally. The company works with the recreation department, public arts, the special-needs community, and the group that it aimed to help from the very beginning: senior citizens.

“We’re passionate about our veterans and our seniors,” Sclafane says. “BCB supports various veteran organizations such as Rebuilding Warriors, which places a service dog with a soldier suffering from PTSD or physical injuries. BCB has proudly sponsored several dogs.” It helps seniors with educational seminars about mobile banking, senior checking advantages, and IRA information.

“Community banking is a more personal way of banking,” Sclafane says, “We are more flexible when it comes to rates and fees, and we know our customers and their families.”

“BCB started with a dream and grew into a $2.7 billion-dollar institution,” Sclafane says. “This is all due to Tom Coughlin at the helm. Tom, let’s call him a visionary, he has always been one step ahead of the banking game. Tom’s philosophy for success is to read and read some more, absorb as much knowledge as you can, don’t be afraid of change, treat your employees well, and always remain humble.”

Coughlin’s philosophy seems to be serving BCB well. “As other community banks are closing their doors, BCB is expanding its footprint,” Sclafane says. “Three new branches are scheduled to open in 2019.” — BLP

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