Old-fashioned customer service at Kentland Federal Savings & Loan Association

“On one side of our balance sheet, you see real estate mortgages, period. And on the other side, you see CDs and savings accounts, period.”
—James Sammons, Kentland Federal Savings & Loan Association

Kentland Federal Savings & Loan Association, ICBA’s smallest member, pleases customers the old-fashioned way. CEO James Sammons explains how.

By Ed Avis

Many community banks compete with giant institutions by trying to match their technology and services tit for tat. When the big bank down the road offers a smartphone app or video ATM, community banks follow suit.

Not so Kentland Federal Savings & Loan Association in Kentland, Ind.
“On one side of our balance sheet, you see real estate mortgages, period. And on the other side, you see CDs and savings accounts, period,” explains CEO James Sammons, the fourth generation of the Sammons family to run the institution, which was founded in 1920 in northwestern Indiana’s rural Newton County. “We have no checking accounts, no ATMs. And there are just two part-time employees here besides myself.”

Kentland Federal Savings & Loan Association

Kentland, Ind.
Assets: $4.7 million
Retail locations: One
Employees: Three
Founded: 1920

Kentland Federal Savings has $4.7 million in assets, making it the smallest ICBA member. That doesn’t seem to bother Sammons one bit. “We feel that this size is right for us,” he says. “It’s allowed us to serve our niche well. I’m dealing with third- and fourth-generation investors and mortgagees. There are customers here whose folks took out a mortgage with my granddad.” Kentland, a town of about 1,800 residents, has two other banks, one with about $150 million in assets and one with about $80 million. Compared with Sammons’ bank, they are behemoths. How does Kentland Federal Savings & Loan compete?

By giving its customers exactly what they want and nothing more.

“I look at the interest rates being offered by the two other banks, and I always match or go a little above in the case of investments, or a bit below in the case of mortgages,” Sammons says. “And we don’t hit people with a lot of upfront costs or things like that. I can do that because I don’t have nearly as much overhead or other extraordinary costs as my competitors do. We try to do the customer right on their investments and their mortgages, and I earn a meager living. Everyone’s happy.”
As far as services that customers do not receive—ATMs, online banking, smartphone apps, checking accounts—maybe they don’t need them. Kentland customers don’t have to worry about forgetting a PIN or wearing out an ATM card. When customers walk in to make a deposit, a withdrawal or a mortgage payment—Sammons estimates 75 percent of the bank’s customers pay their mortgage in person—they get a chance to socialize for a few minutes.

Time-capsule banking
Customers at Kentland Savings & Loan experience banking like their grandparents did.

The bank is housed in the same building it was founded in almost a century ago, and the original vault still secures the money. The marble along the counters hasn’t changed, nor have the terrazzo tile floors in the restrooms.

When customers come into the bank, they’re probably greeted by Sammons or his mother, Mary Jane Sammons, who is one of the two part-time employees. And if they call the bank, it’s likely Sammons himself will answer. “There are a lot of people who like that,” he says. Perhaps most surprisingly, everything is done on paper. You make a withdrawal; Sammons records it on the ledger card. The only thing he uses a computer for is to submit his reports to the government.

“I’m dealing with third- and fourth-generation investors and mortgagees. There are customers here whose folks took out a mortgage with my granddad.”
—James Sammons, Kentland Federal Savings & Loan Association

The bank’s stated hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, but Sammons shows up at 7:30 a.m. and stays until 4 p.m. most days, longer if a customer asks him to. “If someone calls and says they have to make a withdrawal but they can’t get here until 4, I’ll make that work,” he says.

Despite the bank’s diminutive size and flapper-era procedures, it maintains solid numbers.

“Liquidity and capital ratios continue to exceed OCC thresholds and have remained stable in the 25 years of my employment,” Sammons says.
The bank’s strength goes back generations. “My grandfather always told me that in the ’29 stock market crash, we were the only bank in the county that didn’t close its doors. Our customers didn’t rush in to withdraw their money. They trusted in Granddad and the way we operated.”

All in the family—CEO James A. Sammons (left) with his father, James E. Sammons. The younger Sammons is the fourth generation of the family to run the bank.

Value of ICBA
Sammons says ICBA membership has been a worthwhile investment. He most appreciates the organization’s lobbying efforts, especially because he has to deal with essentially the same regulations as a bank 10 times his size.

“I look into and learn from the seminars and webinars ICBA offers when there’s a new regulation that’s passed that’s germane to the institution,” he adds. “And we’ve used some of the vendors they’ve partnered with over the years.”

Unlike many bank presidents, Sammons says he’s not concerned about growing bigger. The bank is nearly at its historical high point in assets, and he doesn’t see much need to expand.

“Any extra growth would bring on the need for extra products, and that would be more of an investment in people, time and education,” he notes. “Until we need that in order to survive, we’ll probably look to stay at this size.”


Ed Avis is a writer in Illinois.

comments powered by Disqus
Top