Writing a Small Bank’s Next Chapter

Marco Bernasconi Jr.
President and CEO, North Brookfield Savings Bank
Age: 52
Industry experience: 34 years

After 27 years working with community financial institutions at technology provider COCC, Marco Bernasconi wanted to take the skills he had developed over the years and get back into community banking. Bernasconi had started his career at Chelsea Groton Bank in Connecticut and then worked at the FDIC for a year before joining Southington, Connecticut-based COCC.

When he learned from Donna Boulanger that she planned to retire as president and CEO of North Brookfield Savings Bank, one of COCC’s customers, Bernasconi got into the mix to succeed her. He joined North Brookfield Savings Bank as president in April 2021 and worked for a year alongside Boulanger, taking over as CEO when Boulanger retired in April 2022 after 14 years leading the bank. North Brookfield Savings Bank has about $350 million in assets and eight branches in Worcester, Hampden and Hampshire counties.

Q: What about North Brookfield Savings Bank attracted you to the role?
A: This is a very well-run financial institution, well-capitalized, rich with product, rich with culture in their history. It had a real good foundation, and working with them through a number of years [at COCC], I thought it was an opportunity to take my skills that I’ve learned, focus on the culture, bring forth a number of efficiencies with technologies and capabilities that this organization and others throughout the industry just don’t take advantage of.

There’s opportunity to bring my skills for what I call the personal digital approach, where we delight our customers in-person as well as through the digital channels, or a blend of the two of them. Banking is transforming, so I thought it was a real opportunity to bring my skills forward in this next chapter of banking. It was a real opportunity I thought as well for growth. Being in North Brookfield and leveraging my skills in a cooperative model – whether it’s payments, data analytics and the like – I can bring other institutions together with North Brookfield, leverage technologies together, drive down the cost and serve our customers differently.

Q: What are your goals for the bank?
A: My goals are to continue to evolve the talent and grow the organization – not necessarily add more bodies, but train people up, pay them more and serve our customers as the banking industry changes. I want to focus on efficiencies – how do we transition the bank from a traditional style and really leverage our technologies and process efficiencies moving forward. Not work harder but, if you will, work smarter. We can’t grow the organization from $350 million to $650 million and just double our employees. We’d go nowhere fast.

We have a fantastic image, but I want to continue to complement that. Highlight all the services we have, highlight all the community involvement that we have – but it’s the next generation of image. How are we involved in the technology space? That’s going to attract Millennials and different individuals to our community banks. I’ve been on a number of CEO panels, a number of podcasts, really highlighting our image and our brand a little differently.

Q: What are some keys to interest younger talent in working at a small community bank?
A: For financial institutions, particularly North Brookfield, we’ve got to be real contemporary. When we talk about digital, for me, it’s not digital just to the end customer. It’s digital organizational-wide. Our tools and our solutions and the offerings that we work with need to be contemporary, need to have that type of focus, in order to bring in newer talent to our organizations. We need a real focus on our benefits as well. We’re just starting to explore that. That’s for everyone, not just Millennials. The marketplace has changed, and individuals’ needs for different benefits from their organization have changed – what do we need to have to serve all of our different demographics and age groups.

Q: What feedback have you heard so far from the existing staff about the changes?
A: The feedback I’ve gotten is they really like being part of a collaborative environment, giving input, making changes, failing fast – we’ve made some changes and said, “OK, let’s retool and do something else” – but that invites more and more questions and invites more and more creativity that gets more synergies together as we move forward. Certainly, people were leery with a new person coming in – different style, different attributes between myself and Donna. They’re really excited about the opportunity to be vested in and be part of my vision of the next chapter of banking.

Q: What are some opportunities that you see in the bank’s market?
A: I think there’s opportunity for us to really focus on commercial lending. A little bit of C&I, but CRE for sure. I think there’s an opportunity for us to focus on mortgage lending and serving our communities. I do think there’s opportunity for North Brookfield Savings Bank to go deeper into Central Mass., focus on potentially going into Connecticut and perhaps Rhode Island. We’ve got to serve this community, but I think there’s a real opportunity for us to expand a bit. I think Worcester is a real attractive market. Some would argue it’s overbanked; I’d argue let’s get in the game and show our service, our high touch, our personal digital model, and be contemporary and involved.

Q: Would you do that by expanding the branch network?
A: Assuming there’s opportunity there, we’re looking at that. I do think there’s opportunity for some lending offices that we can leverage in that capacity. We’d certainly expand in the right place – a small, contemporary branch. I’m leaning towards more of a lending type of facility. I’d like to have some lenders in those markets. We’ll leverage our digital strategy there as well.

Q: What about an acquisition?
A: We need to grow. So, our objective is we need to be over the next three to five years at $500 million, $600 million, $750 million. Certainly, we’d like to work with an organization on a merger opportunity. We formed a mutual holding company as of Jan. 1, so there’s some opportunities there. But definitely, we need to grow.

Bernasconi’s Five Favorite Family Traditions

  1. Spending time at the family’s house on Cape Cod
  2. Boating
  3. Deep-sea fishing
  4. Going to the beach
  5. Cooking together and going to restaurants