As the national megabanks grow bigger and add new fees, more and more people are turning to smaller community banks for their financial needs. "I think the pendulum has started to swing in our direction," says Heidi DeWyngaert, president of one such institution, the Bank of New Canaan . "We know our customers by name and give them personal service."
DeWyngaert joined the bank a little more than six years ago as chief lending officer before adding president to her title in 2009. She has more than three decades of banking experience, most of it in Fairfield County and some of it with larger banks.
Though many national banks are adding new fees, "we're taking the opposite tack," says DeWyngaert, citing free checking and the recently announced no-fee ATM cards as evidence of their customer-friendly attitude.
The strategy has paid off: Last year was the most successful ever for the bank, which was formed in 2002 and has spun off sister institutions on the same model in Fairfield and Stamford for a total of five physical locations. "We're cautiously optimistic for 2011," says DeWyngaert, noting that demand for commercial and consumer loans is rising. "As a small personal bank, we're able to make a decision on a loan in as little as 45 days."
To meet the increased demand, the bank has become the first institution in the state to apply to the $30 billion Small Business Lending Fund, recently created by President Obama to increase credit to small businesses to drive the economic recovery.
"Interest rates are still at historically low levels," says DeWyngaert. "We have a strong budget plan for 2011. We're successful, and we're available."
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