By Suzanne Laurent firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted Jun 16, 2019 at 6:00 PM Updated Jun 16, 2019 at 6:00 PM
PORTSMOUTH — Piscataqua Savings Bank recently announced its new status as a certified benefit corporation.
B corps are leaders of a global movement by meeting the highest standards of overall performance, transparency and accountability in their communities.
Piscataqua Savings is the second bank in the state to receive the prestigious status and joins well-known businesses such as Stonyfield Farms, Cabot Creamery, Ben & Jerry’s, King Arthur’s Flour and Patagonia.
“I had attended a conference presentation about B Corporations about a year ago, and it struck a chord with me,” said President and CEO Rick Wallis. “Last August, we began strengthening our documents for future generations and became a benefit corporation.”
To become a benefit corporation under New Hampshire law, Wallis said the bank needed to amend its articles of agreement stating it is a B corp. That amendment requires approval by the N.H. Banking Department and is a condition of B Lab Certification. Qualifications for becoming a B corporation are rigorous and comparable to a Fair Trade certification but for the whole business. Wallis had to answer 200 questions and have all the information verified by B Lab. This was finished by February and then voted on by the bank’s board of corporators.
Piscataqua Savings differs from other banks in that it is strictly retail, with no commercial services. And the corporators are bank customers.
“It goes back to right when we were established (in 1877),” Wallis said. “There were a number of citizens within the Portsmouth area that wanted to establish a mutual savings bank, so it was a very philanthropic endeavor that they took on because they got no return for it because they didn’t have any shares in it.
“When you start a bank today, you go and issue shares and you get capital and so forth. They started the bank as actually a window within the First National Bank of Portsmouth, and then broke out and established its own corporation here right in these buildings.”
The corporators are made up of customers of the bank who are active in the community and willing to advocate for and support the bank’s success. Today, there are 63 corporators and from that pool, a board of nine trustees is elected.
“We don’t have directors, we have trustees with a chairperson, Barbara Shea-Smucker,” Wallis said.
The corporators also live within the bank’s market area – about a 25-mile radius – including southern York County in Maine. The bank currently has 10,000 customers.
“There weren’t a lot of things that I had to do or change right up front,” Wallis said. “Being a mutual savings bank, we felt like we were a B Corporation since day one. Our missions and goals are very much in line with what a B Corporation is.”
Wallis said banking is a very much a homogenous industry each providing deposits and loans. He said he wanted Piscataqua Savings to stand out by becoming a B Corporation.
“What I like about it is that it kind of keeps our feet to the fire a little bit,” he said. “We can rest on our laurels that we’re a mutual savings bank and we do well for the community. But this way, it’s kind of a measurement for us. We have to be held to that higher standard of a B Corporation.”
Wallis said the bank will have to be recertified every three years, adding, “I’m already working on the next recertification.”
The bank is undergoing expansion and renovation with elements to become environmentally efficient. Work includes insulating the bank’s Exchange Block buildings that were built in the 1800s, using LED lights and energy-efficient HVAC units. Wallis said he is also looking into renewable energy credits.
“Coming back to why it was important to become a B Corporation is that we want to have customers that align with those same values,” he said. “You hear a lot about social investing and I think that more and more people are being more cognizant of where their money is going and who they’re doing business with. So, we want to make sure that we stay viable, and this is one way that we can try to connect with customers that have equal or like-minded values.”
Wallis also said it’s important to have employees who believe in what they are doing.
“It’s tough in this job market to get and retain people,” he said.
Piscataqua Savings has 46 employees and more than half have been with the bank for more than 10 years.
“We do well by doing well in the community,” Wallis said.
Piscataqua Savings Bank is among the highest capitalized banks in the state. The only mutual bank based in Portsmouth today, Piscataqua Savings Bank is dedicated to serving local individuals and families and has been a cornerstone of the Portsmouth community since 1877. More information is available at www.piscataqua.com.