Back in the 1980s, I got tired of big bank practices. I switched to a one-branch bank in Carson City, Comstock Bank, after checking to make sure that their services and cards worked like a big bank’s. I was happy at Comstock, until it got ambitious, opened more branches and eventually was swallowed up by a bigger bank—two of them, actually, and I ended up at Colonial Bank. Colonial eventually became the fifth largest bank in the United States, with 346 branches and $26 billion in assets.
One day when I worked at KTVN, I was assigned a story on small banks. This was prompted by the opening of a new Reno bank—let’s call it “Acme Bank.” I talked to presidents of both Acme and another small Reno institution, Heritage Bank. Since I wanted to leave my growing bank and was looking for a smaller one, I interviewed the bank presidents both for the story and for me. As it turned out, both worked for the story.
First, I asked about straight banking matters. Would cards issued by their bank work in Hong Kong?—that kind of thing. All the answers were satisfying.
Then I asked other kinds of questions. Would you sponsor a local softball team? Are you looking to be acquired by a bigger bank?
At Acme, the president said they probably wouldn’t sponsor a team but they might give money to the team.
As for whether Acme was looking to be acquired by a bigger bank, to this day I cannot tell what the president said in answer to my question. It was straight corporate public relations.
At Heritage, the president—it was then Wayne Condon—said the bank would be very open to sponsoring local teams. As it happened, a few days later I went to a University of Nevada Press authors’ reception. I noticed that it was sponsored by Heritage. And they didn’t just give money for the event. Condon and his wife attended in person.
On acquisition by another bank, Condon told me something like, “I’m not going to tell you that if somebody crazy offered us twice the value of the bank that I wouldn’t take it to my board. But that’s really not what we’re about.”
Heritage had a lending library of Nevada books for their customers and they used their south wall for rotating shows of art by local artists. On their north wall hung a collection of historical documents from the career of this city’s namesake, Jesse Reno, one of them signed by Abraham Lincoln. Their interest in the community was plain, and it did not just amount to charitable contributions as part of a “Community Involvement and Social Responsibility” program, as corporate conglomerates call them.
It was really no contest. I’ve been at Heritage ever since. Condon retired, and the president is now Stan Wilmoth, who is also easy to deal with. There have been occasional problems, as at any bank, but they’ve been resolved quickly and easily. The small scale of the bank means I never have difficulty making contact with anyone at the bank. In my experience in dealing with workers at large banks and small, employees at Heritage are clearly happier and more genial. That should be no surprise. Where are people going to be happier working, in a large scale, impersonal corporation where they know a few people, or at a small scale, congenial one where they know everyone?
Heritage has added branches over the years, which makes it more convenient, but it still shows no unhealthy signs of empire building.
During the recession, 11 banks in Nevada have failed. They included both large and small banks.
Oh, and Colonial Bank was declared insolvent by the federal government in August 2009. Heritage is still solid. In fact, last year it absorbed an insolvent bank, Carson River Community Bank.