Alden State Bank has “outstanding” 1999

ALDEN – For Alden State bank, 1999 was “an outstanding year.” As of Dec. 31, total assets had increased to over $101 million from nearly $88 million in 1998. Net income also increased by nearly $200,000, making ’99 “as good as we had planned and expected,” said bank president Blain Russell.

He attributes the banner year in part to the opening of a Bellaire branch in the fall of 1998.

“We felt it was necessary to service customers that had banked with us from Bellaire. It’s only 11 or 12 miles, but it’s still a hardship for some to make the trek,” Russell said. “Twenty-five percent of our total depositor base had Bellaire zip codes; it was a way to provide better service for those who had patronized us. We ended up getting $17 million in new deposits as a result. It was a very good investment for us.”

Three years ago the bank opened a new computer center “to put all operations under one roof.”

“Especially with so many people settling in this area who are used to top quality service, we felt we needed to make that commitment to enhance our systems,” Russell said. “We’ve been investing for the last five years.” Within the next year or two, ASB will invest an additional $500,000 to $750,000 in technology.

“We want to offer Internet banking and other things that bigger banks offer. There are a lot of really great things out there that are going to allow us to continue to operate and expand for the next 20 years,” Russell said.

Also contributing to ASB’s success is its knowledgeable and loyal employees.

“In October we trained the entire staff–from the couriers to the president–on our loan products so they can be conversant with customers,” explained lending officer Debbie Weiss.

Russell, who has been with the bank since 1974, credits much of the bank’s success to low turnover.

“The continuation of long-term employees has been the secret to the success of this bank. There is a group of five or six of us that have been here since the ’70s. Most of our adult lives have been spent here in this bank–there must be something to it,” he said. “It gives customers satisfaction to see the same employees.”

Customers also derive satisfaction from the bank’s philosophy of fairness and respect.

“Our bank tries to get a good, steady return, but not to the detriment of the customer. We try to keep fees lower than our competitors. We’re still a small community bank, and everyone has an honest shot here,” said Russell.

Alden State Bank is expecting to increase assets by $10 million this year. In addition to opening a new mortgage center on the second floor of the Bellaire branch office and moving forward on the new computer system, Russell says the bank is “going to fine tune our operations a little so as not to strain resources.”

If past success is any indication, his strategy should work. Local hero and bank founder, Fred Aemisegger, earned the respect and gratitude of Farmers and Merchants Bank depositors early in the 20th century when he saved them from Great Depression losses. According to Russell, the bank never closed during the Depression.

“We were one of the few banks that didn’t have a run on it.”

In the late 1940s, Farmers and Merchants became Alden State Bank. Aemisegger’s first two employees, Guy Dean and Kenny Smith, served the bank until their retirement in 1987 and 1989 respectively, and both remained on the bank’s board until their deaths only a few years ago.

As for the next century, despite recent buyouts of local independent banks, Russell is very confident.

“We’ve positioned ourselves extraordinarily well for the future,” he said. BIZNEWS

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