I think there's no question that we've...the fact, for example, that we were opened on Wednesday...the really big banks, like
Bank of America
, they were not open until Friday and then they were open only in a very limited way.
There were branches in New Jersey, for example, that weren't open at all for many, many days after. In our case, we've had branches in every community open from Wednesday. We may have been one of the banks that actually had services when others did not and there's no question that local people are coming into our branches because they're open and the bank across the street is not.
So, for the first time, we've been providing coffee and donuts and we've invited people to come in and plug in their cell phones and whatnot. The people that work at our bank are really community-oriented and many of them come right from the same communities that the branches are in, so that makes it easier for people to work together.
A lot of investors really like your bank because it's got a great, generous dividend. How secure is that dividend and do you see any changes in it, in the future?
Well, we are very, very committed to our dividend, as has been the case for a long time. The reality is that we can't foretell the future, so the rules that govern the dividend...that were set in 2009...we're meeting all those rules. We're not concerned about our standards or the ways in which we can meet our dividend but the rules may, obviously, change, so we can't dictate what the rules will be. Under the rules, as they're currently defined, we're fine with our dividend and we're very pleased to be able to continue paying our dividend at the level it's at.
Your bank has been growing pretty steadily. Do you foresee that you may acquire another bank to keep that growth going or making other moves?
I'd say that it's definite that we're going to acquire banks. Back in 1993, we made the decision to become a public company, with the expectation that we would do deals and, lo and behold, we've done, very successfully, many deals. We've now completed our eleventh deal and we will expect to do deals into the future.
The one change that exists today is that there is a very clear-cut, regulatory need to get qualified prior to a deal, when you're going to go over 50 billion dollars. We're entertaining possibilities of doing larger deals that would push us over the 50-billion dollar mark and as a result, that would be highly creative for shareholders but it would also be very demanding for the bank to meet the explicit requirements of being a SIFI (Systemically Important Financial Institution), so that is something that we're working on.
Written by Debra Borchardt in New York.
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