Long before white settlers came to live in the Upper Valley in the mid-1700s, the Native American Chief Mascommah hunted and fished all along the Connecticut River Valley eventually settling in Northfield, Massachusetts. The name ‘Mascoma’ appears in many places throughout the Upper Valley, so it must have been a logical choice for the founders when Mascoma Bank was established 122 years ago in 1899 as a mutually-owned bank.
How has this Upper Valley institution maintained its community and local-first banking principals amidst so many technology, economic, and social changes over more than 100 years? According to current President and CEO (and former Norwich resident) Clay Adams, Mascoma Bank was intentionally designed to be locally owned and to support community philanthropy, and the bank has simply stayed true to its original mission. It is this community-first philosophy, along with solid strategic planning, that has helped Mascoma Bank weather many financial storms that have forced other banks to close or merge.
Adapting to new technologies has also helped the bank grow and change with the times. Clay notes, “One thing I’ve said consistently since I’ve arrived is that technology investments are absolutely critical,” says Clay. “We need to serve our customers’ needs where, when, and how they want to bank.” New financial products and tools constantly emerge under the banner of ‘fintechs,’ (financial technology companies) like mobile banking applications and simplified online banking services. “Community banks have not made the investments in technology that we should have, and traditional providers serving banks are not innovating as fast as the rest of the market.”
Clay became President and CEO of Mascoma Bank in January 2017, succeeding long-time President Steve Christy. After serving on the bank’s Board of Directors for five years and holding CEO roles at regional businesses like Simon Pearce and Resource Systems Group, Clay was ready to step into a new leadership challenge. “Growing up, I held a lot of leadership positions through high school and college. I naturally gravitated toward that aspect.”
Clay contributed to a number of organizations early in his career, and realized he was missing the top-level leadership experience. As his experiences evolved, Clay stitched together a ‘quilt of leadership models’ to inform his approach. “I’ve picked up different ideas about leadership by reading a lot of history and serving on boards with other leaders. All leaders have things they’re good at and not so good at.” Among the many skills required to be a successful CEO, Clay brought visioning, strategic partnering, and working with nonprofits, government, and business sectors to the Mascoma Bank Community. “I had great familiarity with the institution and the regions we serve, and we have a great group of employees I can rely on for the day-to-day operations.”
In keeping with its local-first philosophy, Clay helped the bank continue its journey toward becoming a Certified B Corporation, which is a legal commitment to consider the impact of decisions on employees, customers, the community, and the environment. Companies balance the ‘triple bottom line,” giving people, places, and the planet equal priority. “The Board had been discussing B Corp Certification for a couple of years, and we pushed it over the goal line. We felt we’d already been acting as a B Corporation since the bank was started by a group of citizens from Lebanon that pooled their money and didn’t expect a return. We grow our capital and give back to our communities. The B Corp mantra is ‘best for the world’ so making it official is a nice way to validate what we’ve been doing for 122 years.”
Indeed, significant funds have been contributed to Upper Valley organizations: $2 million in 2020, and more than $8 million over the past five years. In Norwich, Willing Hands, Upper Valley Trails Alliance, Norwich Library, The Family Place, and Montshire Museum have all received funding averaging $5,000 each for programs, equipment, capital campaigns, and events to support their operations and services.
“Keeping money local contributes to a virtuous cycle of job creation, philanthropy, community involvement, and local business ownership. Amazon is not going away and there are great benefits to that business, but it is also nice to have local institutions that are unique to and familiar with the Upper Valley.” The pandemic has inspired additional contributions by the Mascoma Bank Foundation to support childcare, racial equity, affordable housing, and nonprofit organizations that rely on visitors. “Philanthropy drives a lot of the behaviors at the bank, not just in terms of the money we want to give away, but in how we conduct all of our business; it’s a lot easier to work harder and longer when you’re doing it for a higher purpose.”
With 28 branches stretching across northern New England, Mascoma Bank’s community betterment impact is significant. It also reaches far beyond the Upper Valley because of a unique award from the US Treasury in 2020. In recent years, the $170 million New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) allocation from the US Treasury has allowed the bank to help stimulate business development in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods. The bank has awarded NMTC Funds to develop the Nashua Performing Arts Center, a hotel in Burlington, a steel fabrication operation in Berlin, NH, and several other projects which are still operating despite the pandemic.
- Finding Our Stride
- Montshire Museum of Science
- Norwich PTA
- Norwich Public Library
- StoneLedge Stables
- Student Rescue Project
- The Family Place
- Upper Valley Community Grange
- Upper Valley Trails Alliance
For Clay Adams and the more than 370 Mascoma Bank employees, community service is both a personal and professional ethic. Currently, Clay serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Montshire Museum of Science, Alice Peck Day Hospital, Ford Sayre Memorial Ski Council, and Vital Communities Corporate Council. Each year, Mascoma Bank employees provide hands-on help from building projects to mentoring students and helping seniors through the Bank’s paid Volunteer Time Off program.
For 122 years, it’s been a win-win situation for both the bank and the communities that it serves, says Clay. “As the bank grows and is more profitable, we return more money to the community. This is one of the most meaningful parts of being with a bank dedicated to making a difference.”