Booming with Branches

JosephineMoran_770

Josephine Moran helps grow Columbia Bank through modern brick-and-mortar branches

By Judith Sears

After serving 15 years in management positions at several megabanks, Josephine Moran was well prepared to lead the active retail banking activities at Columbia Bank, a $4.5 billion-asset community bank with 45 branches in Fair Lawn, N.J. Her current calling as a community banker arrived last year with an opportunity to join Columbia Bank, which serves 10 counties in New Jersey.

As Columbia Bank’s executive vice president and director of retail, Moran’s oversight stretches over both retail operations and wealth management services. Even as the bank provides a full array of digital banking options as well as a call center, its retail strategy puts a major emphasis on brick-and-mortar storefronts to deliver banking and investment services. With three de novo branches planned, the bank is thoughtfully expanding rather than reducing its branch network.

“It was a great opportunity to be very involved with enhancing Columbia Bank’s retail banking and wealth management strategies,” says Moran, who eagerly accepted the challenge to serve as the bank’s executive vice president and director of retail.

A strong advocate for retail branches, Moran says that the retail branches “provide customers of all ages and lifestyles an important option.” Although 40 percent of customers may do most of their banking online, that leaves 60 percent who still want to walk into a branch. In addition, 75 percent of new accounts are opened in a branch.

Columbia Bank

Fair Lawn, N.J.
josephine_building
Assets: $4.5 billion
Retail locations: 45
Employees: 570
Founded: 1927
Website: www.columbiabank
online.com

“You can’t ignore that,” she says.
Thomas Kemly, Columbia Bank’s president and CEO, says he strongly believes business customers also still prefer to do much of their banking business with a bank that has ties to the community, and branches help demonstrate such community-based connections. Business customers are also more likely to use a bank’s consultative services in person rather than online, Moran says. “They want to know their banker is there to service their needs and help them grow their business.”

Opening in Oradell
Columbia Bank’s branch network serves three distinct markets: affluent north New Jersey, industrial central New Jersey and diverse south New Jersey by Philadelphia. Earlier this year Moran and her team successfully opened a new branch in Oradell, N.J., which attracted nearly $20 million in new deposits during its first month in operation. Oradell is in affluent Bergen County, close to New York and home to a bustling economy.

But the success in Oradell didn’t happen easily or automatically. Columbia Bank already had customers from Oradell, but no retail presence. As always in retailing, location was a critical factor, and the branch is prominently perched on a downtown corner intersection. In addition, megabanks were closing their branches in the market, creating an opening for a dedicated community bank.

Team Approach—Josephine Moran talks with her colleagues about the Columbia Bank’s recent branch opening in Oradell, N.J. Successfully opening a new branch requires help and hard work from every operational department at a bank, Moran says. Above, from left, are Columbia Bank employees Mark Proudman, senior vice president – administration; Paul Vicente, senior vice president – sales manager; Skylar Dennerlan, retail intern (sitting, facing away); Moran; and Christine Plewa, retail banking administrator.

Team Approach—Josephine Moran talks with her colleagues about the Columbia Bank’s recent branch opening in Oradell, N.J. Successfully opening a new branch requires help and hard work from every operational department at a bank, Moran says. Above, from left, are Columbia Bank employees Mark Proudman, senior vice president – administration; Paul Vicente, senior vice president – sales manager; Skylar Dennerlan, retail intern (sitting, facing away); Moran; and Christine Plewa, retail banking administrator.

“We saw an opportunity to conduct business in an area where we could really have an impact, both from a financial services standpoint as well as from a community standpoint,” Moran says.

The Oradell branch itself was carefully designed for sleek function and efficiency. At 2,000 square feet, the branch has a compact footprint yet an open, welcoming feel with glass walls and a lounge area with digital rate boards, where customers mulling investment decisions can relax with a cup of coffee. A technology Discovery Center provides iPad demos of the bank’s online services, and a smart ATM handles deposits and cash withdrawals. Wealth management offices are in a separate but nearby area.

“Our strategy is to provide a very appealing environment for the customers, including our older customers and millennials—anyone who’s looking for state of the art,” Moran says.

Contemporary service
The Oradell branch operates with a lean staff of 5.5 employees, each of whom serves every customer in a universal banker multitasking service model that Moran considers essential to the branch’s success. Customers who seek out physical locations do so primarily for “solutions and consultative services,” and today’s bankers must be well prepared to answer a barrage of questions and handle a multitude of consumer and business banking situations, she says.

“We have employees who are really engaged with this,” she says. “They’re welcoming it. They’re totally customer service driven.”

Opening the Oradell branch was a big undertaking, Moran acknowledges. Planning took nearly a year, during which Moran worked with a dedicated project manager to keep tabs on many approvals, inspections and vendor meetings. The branch opening process affected each of the bank’s operational teams—marketing, administration and facilities management—and required their total support and expertise, she says.

The key to retail success today, Moran believes, is strategically locating branches where a bank can profitably offer the consultative services customers seek. “Don’t open a branch just to cash checks,” she advises. “The transaction piece is seemingly going away. But, for servicing the community itself, it’s important to have brick-and-mortar.

“People are still going to come into brick-and-mortar for advice.”


Judith Sears is a writer in Colorado.

Retailing Rules

Josephine Moran, executive vice president and director of retail for Columba Bank in New Jersey, cites five
principles for contemporary branch success:

  1. Location is pivotal. A high-profile retail spot generates foot traffic, energy, buzz and customers.
  2. Put universal bankers everywhere. Service employees must be nimble and knowledgeable to
    address customer needs quickly and efficiently.
  3. Include technology. Just because it’s a branch doesn’t mean it shouldn’t provide digital services.
    Let the customer choose his or her options, right there in the branch.
  4. Be an advisor. Complement banking with financial advice. Offer profitable investment services, including
    perhaps business advisory services. Offer the high-value expertise that people come to a branch for.
  5. Be a destination. Create a well-branded environment where people want go and where they also want
    to stay.
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