It is not their products and services staff describe when talking about what makes Piscataqua Savings Bank unique, but rather the value they place on building relationships with customers that last for generations. Their emphasis on relationship building, however, does not begin with people at the age of 18 when they are considered adults. It in fact begins with babies and small children too young to sign their names at the Kids’ Bank at Piscataqua Savings Bank.
“We will even open an account for babies before they are born,” said CEO Rick Wallis, who is only the 11th president of Piscataqua Savings Bank since it was founded in 1877.
Celebrating its 25th year in operation, the idea behind the Kids’ Bank is to provide children of all ages, especially younger ones, with the opportunity to bank, save their money (with no fees), and earn interest just like any adult. It is more than a concept, though, as kids can actually conduct their banking business during regular business hours or at their very own separate teller window every Saturday morning.
“Saturday mornings can get very busy,” said Deposit Operations’ Michelle Jenkins, who worked at the Kids’ Bank when it first opened. “In the beginning, there would often be a line of kids and a lot of loose coins—it was and still is a lot of fun.”
Kids can not only bank there, they can work side-by-side with staff. “Those are some of my favorite memories,” Jenkins added. “The Kids’ Bank is such a special and fun experience for kids.”
While the Kids’ Bank is fun for kids—they especially love the nearly 100-year old antique coin counting machine—it reflects perhaps the most important core value at Piscataqua Savings Bank. “We are like a family here and treat our customers like family,” said Wallis, whose own son Ben had an account as well as worked with Jenkins at the Kids’ Bank as a child. “It’s almost a little like ‘Cheers’ here where ‘everybody knows your name.'”
He said it is this sense of familiarity he and the entire staff at Piscataqua Savings Bank want to cultivate within all their customers—whether they are 9 or 90 years old. “For children, it is important they learn the value of saving as well as the value of creating relationships in the community with a financial institution,” he said. “Kids really do not learn about financial responsibility in school, so we are filling a void.”
In addition to the specially designated teller window, the Kids’ Bank provides kids with gifts and their very own printed passbooks to help them keep track of balances. It also features a variety of interactive activities on Piscataqua Savings Banks’ website.
“Kids have fun, but they are learning about money without even realizing it,” added Wallis.
According to Joan Gile, executive vice president/operations officer, staff take pride in customizing what they offer growing children (and parents). “Teens need checking accounts and debit cards, while parents need assurances everything is going to be okay when their kids go off to college,” she said. “Wherever kids go to school or may be visiting for a semester, they can still bank at Piscataqua Savings Bank anywhere around the world—that provides parents with peace of mind.”
For younger children, however, the entire Kids’ Bank experience may be defined by a massive stuffed bear known as B.A. Saver, who sits right next to their designated teller area. Serving as mascot for the Kids’ Bank, B.A. Saver ‘protects’ all the money invested by the kids.
“We actually had a real stuffed bear in the lobby of the bank back in the 1950s,” said Pat Elkins, executive assistant to the president, who has enrolled all her grandchildren at the Kids’ Bank. “We are not sure where the idea of a bear came from, but it is an image that has helped shape our caring and concern for children for many decades.”
This institutional caring and concern can be traced back to a communication found in the archives at Piscataqua Savings Bank that is dated January 28, 1925. In the letter, which is addressed to a child in Newcastle, NH who had been born, E. Curtis Matthews, vice president and treasurer, wrote:
Your parents will find enclosed a Savings Bank Book which is presented to you with compliments of the Officers and Trustees of the Piscataqua Savings Bank. As the pass book shows, the sum of $1.00 has been credited to your account with us in commemoration of the joyful occasion of your coming into the world. It is not so much the idea of our giving you the one dollar as it is in the belief that in starting your Bank Account now we are putting you on the right road for success in years to come.
“The Kids’ Bank may have started in 1990, but families have been our focus for generations,” said Wallis, who in part attributes this singular focus on Piscataqua Savings Banks’ mutuality. “We are not stock held, so we do not answer to the needs of shareholders.”
Citing herself and Jenkins as but two examples, Gile said another differentiating factor in how Piscataqua Savings Bank conducts business is the longevity of its staff, many of whom have worked there for decades.
“We know the people who bank here—their kids, their kids’ kids—and they know us,” said Gile, who also provides tours of Piscataqua Savings Bank for middle school age kids. “We know who these people are and we’ve known their families for generations. We are unlike any other bank. We are different.”
In describing the future of the Kids’ Bank where more than 1,000 kids currently conduct business, Wallis said he envisions adding more resources for parents, especially for those with teens who want to save money for college.
“It speaks to our mission, which is to help individuals and families achieve their financial goals, while supporting the communities where we live and work,” he said. “The Kids’ Bank is important, because it helps us develop relationships with kids we hope last for the rest of their lives.”
The Bank celebrates their 138th anniversary this year, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Kids’ Bank. Many customers have been with this unique institution for generations—seems like Piscataqua Savings Bank has a pretty good handle on the relationship thing.
Rick Wallis, President/CEO
Piscataqua Savings Bank