Eastern Savings Bank is, all things considered, not a very big bank – with a $185 million asset base, no one will confuse it with Bank of America or Wells Fargo. Yet for Lisa H. Griffin, the bank’s newly appointed president and CEO, her financial institution epitomizes that old saying about how it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, but the fight in the dog.
“We are the engine that keeps the community growing,” said Griffin about the bank that has been an Eastern Connecticut fixture since 1915. “We focus on small business and the consumer, and we are intricately involved in our community.”
The bank’s footprint covers Norwich, Norwichtown, Jewett City and Plainfield, and Griffin viewed these markets with optimism and enthusiasm.
“Norwich has a ton of potential,” she continued. “Small businesses are popping up everywhere: Foundry 66 [a shared workspace for entrepreneurs], These Guys Brewing Company and Epicure Brewing are among the exciting places that recently opened here. And there are also kinds of developments in Jewett City, including the Heritage River Village development. And housing is doing well – prices are increasing and housing is hold its own.”
Not unlike the markets she serves, Griffin’s rise to the Eastern Savings’ leadership – she is only one of five women CEOs at a Connecticut bank – is a victory of an under-the-radar achievement. Griffin joined the bank in 2004 after stints at Banknorth and American Savings Bank, where she held the title of vice president and regional manager at both companies. By 2014, she was named executive vice president and chief operating officer, while the bank brought in Kenneth Dyer, a Massachusetts credit union chief, as its CEO.
But when Dyer resigned in April, Eastern Savings’ board initially named Griffin as interim president and CEO. A few weeks later, the bank opted not to look beyond its market for a new leader and Griffin went from interim to actual. Griffin is no stranger to leadership, having also served as vice chairwoman of the board of directors of the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce and as president and director of the New England Financial Marketing Association.
And now that Griffin is in the driver’s seat at Eastern Savings, what are her immediate goals?
“I’m still working on all of that,” she said, with a laugh.
But she acknowledged that there is serious work to be done, especially when the financial woes impacting the rest of the state weigh in on her market. “It seems that Eastern Connecticut lagged behind the rest of the state in the recovery from the recession,” she said. “The state’s economic problems affects everyone – and we are very fortunate that the submarine base [in nearby New London] remains, because that impacts us.”
Griffin also observed data that indicates that Connecticut is losing residents to other states. “You hear about it all over the state,” she said, although she added that she was not aware of a significant population exodus from her market.
Unbeknownst to the wider public, the bank – as well as all community-level financial institutions – deals with onerous regulatory mandates on the banking process that were imposed by the federal government in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. While community banks like Eastern Savings played no role in the run-up to the meltdown – a fact that has been stated repeatedly by regulators – they are nonetheless required to carry the same degree of stringent compliance requirements as the Wall Street banks at the core of the crash.
“This is one of the greatest burdens,” Griffin observed. “We have limited resources – the bank only has 53 people as employees. The regulatory compliance requirements are constantly draining our resources and takes attention away from what we want to be doing. It is a tremendous task to keep up.”
Yet none of the challenges deter Eastern from working to make a difference in the community. The bank has actively supported the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut’s Gemma Moran Food Pantry, Habitat for Humanity, and the American Diabetes Association among other worthy causes.
“We’re so proud of our team,” Griffin said. “We consistently receive comments about ‘being everywhere.’ People see our green [shirts] and our staff out in force at most every local event in our market. It’s part of our very fabric and what inspired our tag ‘because it matters.’ We take that part very seriously, and in a recent employee survey it’s still one of the top two things that matter to them.
As for the immediate future, Griffin and the bank are taking on a new role as landlord. “We are developing the fourth and fifth floor of our Main Street office as a cooperative space to attract new business downtown,” she said, adding that her first tenant on the fifth floor will be Doxcellent, an electric document control software company, and the fourth floor will serve as office space/cooperative space.
Eastern Savings Bank has five convenient locations. Hours vary, but the Norwichtown location offers extended hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Banking by phone is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For more information visit eastern-savings.com; and follow their Facebook page for helpful insight on saving, budgeting, debt, retirement, and other helpful information on taxes, major purchases and creative tools to keep your finances on track. For more information, visit eastern-savings.com.