With new leadership recently installed, First County Bank plans to maintain a “steady as she goes” approach — only more so.
“When they established us here in Stamford 168 years ago, it was decided to not consider First County as an investment bank, but as something that would work in partnership with the community,” said Robert J. Granata, who in August was promoted from president and chief operating officer to CEO. “Our board and senior management remains committed to that view, and will continue to do so for generations to come.”
“Our approach is to be a trusted adviser to our clients,” added Willard Miley, who was promoted from executive vice president to president and COO. “We want our customers to come to us for everything and anything, whether it’s banking or not.”
The moves were first announced a year ago following the decision by then-Chairman and CEO Reyno (Rey) Giallongo Jr. to retire in August 2019. What he left his successors is an institution with assets of more than $1.5 billion, over 220 employees in 16 branches, a thriving philanthropic foundation — and, they say, plenty of opportunity.
“Rey was a fantastic leader, mentor and friend,” Granata said at the bank’s 3001 Summer St. headquarters. “His leadership was superb in evolving technology throughout the organization and ensuring lasting relationships both internally and externally.”
“One thing I personally appreciate is that he challenged me and others at the organization as well,” Miley said. “I came up through the retail side of the bank, and when I became senior vice president (in 2002) he challenged me to take on new responsibilities and additional roles, to expose myself to other aspects of the bank. It’s because of that that I — and many people here — have achieved what we have.”
Miley and Granata both spent time at larger institutions before joining First County, in 2002 and 2007, respectively, but said the opportunity to work at a smaller, community bank was more appealing.
“First County Bank was in my sights for a long time,” Granata said. “The small banking environment focuses on community. It isn’t about making quarterly earnings and getting your EPS to a certain level on an ongoing basis. Here we focus on making decisions for the long haul.”
The pair began working together about seven years ago when they took over First County’s strategic planning from an outside consultant.
“We worked with the senior management team to improve accountability and foster a climate of ownership by the senior team,” Granata said.
That most of his experience had been in finance and operations, and Miley’s in retail banking, “created a great partnership and perspective for the organization,” Granata added.
First County aims to continue competing — and, according to Granata, sometimes surpassing — the services offered by larger rivals.
“About two years ago we established a chief digital banking officer (Karen Kelly) on our senior team to evaluate, develop and implement our technological products,” he said.
Miley noted that the bank also has a “digital ambassador” in each of its branches. Those staffers, who go through a certification program designed by the bank, are fluent in what First County offers in that sphere and helps employees and customers with their functionalities.
Even so, “branches will remain an important part of our business for as far as I can see into the future,” Miley said. “Branches remain a very important piece of our business. Going forward, we want to get the right combination of digital and physical banking together.”
While there are no immediate plans to open new branches, Miley said First County is “always looking for those opportunities.”
Granata also inherited the presidency of the First County Bank Foundation, which last year awarded 130 grants worth about $650,000 and has given more than $9 million since launching in 2001.
He noted that throughout this month, the bank is inviting members of the community to help the First County Bank Foundation distribute CommunityFirst Choice grants by voting online for their favorite of 14 participating nonprofits. The organization receiving the most votes will receive a $5,000 grant, with the remaining nonprofits receiving funds based on votes received.