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M&T Bank Creating Community Markets Team

Mike Keegan of M&T Bank
Jim Levulis
Mike Keegan of M&T Bank

M&T Bank is creating a new community markets team designed to better integrate its branches with the communities they’re located in. The team’s leader is Mike Keegan, the long-time area executive for Upstate New York and New England.

It comes as M&T – headquartered in Buffalo – is in the process of acquiring People’s United Financial, a move that would lead to a combined 1,100 branches spanning 12 states from Maine to Virginia, plus Washington, D.C. WAMC's Jim Levulis recently sat down with Keegan to discuss his new role. 

Keegan: You know, when I think back I've been with the company for 27 years. And I've always been in kind of a community-focused role. So in some respects, this is what was designed, at least for me, as the perfect job. But the reason it was created is the chairman Rene Jones believes fundamentally, that if we're going to be successful, we have to understand our communities, our people have to be engaged in the communities, and you can't be a bank of communities, if you actually don't operate from those communities. So it's that local focus is absolutely essential. And he wanted to commit to it on a corporate wide basis.

Levulis: And from a certain point of view, the pandemic relief programs, we've talked about this in the past, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, led to greater or renewed connections between banks and communities, you know, by directly engaging with business owners so they could keep their doors open and keep their workers employed. Is this idea of a community markets team kind of an offshoot of that at all?

Keegan: I want to say no, but I think there are some parallels, because if you go back to what the Paycheck Protection Program was all about, it started off as trying to help businesses get through the worst of a situation. What ended up happening was that we developed this unbelievable connection with our customers. And it was at a different level. Because if you think about what banks do, they take deposits, they make loans. But in this particular case, this was making sure that they survived, making sure that they had access to capital that was absolutely essential to their viability. And it became very personal. And so even though it was remotely done, calling someone at 11:30 at night, and them picking up and almost crying, because you were calling them and saying, I need a little more information to make sure I get this application submitted. It did cement, in my opinion, exactly what we're talking about when we talk about community banking. Deeply connected to your customers, understanding their needs, and making sure that you're addressing them.

Levulis: So what specifically will you do in this new role?

Keegan: Well, that's still to be defined. No, what I'm going to do in this role is really take what we've built as a community-focused back, and make sure that we leverage it everywhere that we operate, and do it with a sense of purpose so that we're taking the best things that people do, the best ideas. So if we do something really well in Baltimore, why shouldn't we be doing it in Albany, and what we do really well in Albany, we’re making sure that we're importing that across our franchise. And I think it's equally important today, as we're in the throes of acquiring an institution called People’s United, that those very same cultural sentiments, how we show up in the community, how we engage, are brought to them as well and folded in. They're already a very community-centric bank, but making sure that we do it one way, the right way for each community. And at the same time, making sure we understand the unique nature of each of these communities. So it's not a broad brush. This is the way we do it everywhere. It's understanding the nuances of how we operate in Hartford, Connecticut, how we operate in Springfield, Massachusetts, how we operate in Albany, New York. And those differences need to be amplified. And those people need to be empowered so they're addressing the needs of the community and focusing on them.

Levulis: And I want to narrow in and use New York's Capital Region as an example here. One because you mentioned it, and also because you were the regional president for the Capital Region and the Hudson Valley. So how might the uniqueness of this market or how might the work of the community markets team be displayed in this region here?

Keegan: It would be in things like really understanding at its core what this region is made up of. So if you go back 30 years, heavy government centric employment, you know, 27% of the population were employed in various levels of government. And then you look today, and you see life sciences, pharma, you see, technology, nanotechnology, you've seen an evolution. So how we deploy it, is making sure that we understand what the community is all about and making sure that we're focused on not just where they're at, but where they're going. And designing capabilities that customers need, understanding it from their perspective, not necessarily from the bank's perspective. So it's really it's an on the ground approach. It's the regional president Beth Beshaw and her team, making sure that they understand what's going on those communities and coming back to the bank saying, these are the capabilities that we need in order to support the community, not just philanthropy, but products. If you think about underserved communities, do we have branches in the right communities? Are we doing the right things to make sure that we're building trust? So the people have access to banking. Because if you look at the underbanked, is that a level of trust that we need to build with that community to make sure that they can access safe, affordable credit and deposit products, so that they can build wealth? So it's really the full spectrum.

Levulis: Will the creation of this community markets team lead to the bringing on of additional employees or will you be utilizing current M&T Bank employees?

Keegan: It'll be both. So part of the journey on this, and this is really about making sure that we're pulling all generations in our workforce together. So people who are recently out of school, people who are in our management development programs, seasoned veterans, bringing them all together on a community markets team, so that what you are able to deliver is a comprehensive capability to each community and vice versa. So I've got a young gentleman who joined me a few weeks ago, you know, early 30s, was a teacher, went back to grad school. He's helping us look at how we deliver charitable in an equitable way across our footprint. And that'll be part of what we think about in community markets. So it's both. We'll bring people in from the outside to make sure that, you know, we represent what's outside too, because we don't think we have all the answers.

Levulis: You mentioned the acquisition of People's United Financial. So will this team also be rolled out into communities that will now be covered as part of that merger with M&T?

Keegan: It will I mean, People’s has, you know, the funny part about when we talk about People's people, we have to refer to them differently because you end up tripping over words. But when you think about the leadership of People’s United, they serve their communities exceptionally well. So there is a leadership framework in place, what we're going to try to do is to learn from them what's most important in the communities they serve, make sure we allocate and distribute the right capabilities so that they can do their job as well, if not better than they're currently doing it. And then really look forward to how do you want to organize markets so that it's from the customer to the bank, if you think about it is like an outside in. Banks are traditionally designed to manage risk, which we have to do because we're regulated. But the other side of it is, you have to always think about it from a customer and community perspective. You can't build something and say here, you're going to like this or here, you should take it. This is all about understanding the customer and the community's perspective, and making sure those capabilities meet their expectations and needs.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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