Bangor Savings Bank optimistic about local economy after year of pandemic recession lending

As Bangor Savings Bank enters the new summer, its executives have expressed optimism about the future of the Bangor region’s economy, especially after a year when the bank’s primary focus was on issuing bonds. loans to help businesses survive the worst health crisis in a century.

The bank has published its 2021 annual report report Monday, showing how much it has expanded its footprint in Maine and New Hampshire over the past year, including through a $ 35 million merger with Damariscotta Bank & Trust that has extended its reach into the midcoast.

Of the $ 2.94 billion in loans made by the bank in fiscal 2021 (which ended March 31, 2021), some $ 600 million came from nearly 8,000 loans from the Personal Protection Program. paychecks for small businesses in northern New England. It provided an additional $ 1.71 billion in residential mortgage loans as Maine real estate sales and prices increased.

The bank is particularly proud of its PPP loans, a program established by the CARES 2020 Act signed by former President Donald Trump to help businesses pay their employees amid the recession induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Bangor Savings Bank issued nearly 1,000 of these loans after business owners who had difficulty obtaining loans elsewhere were referred to the Bangor-based bank.

“It has helped businesses get to the other side of the pandemic,” said CEO Bob Montgomery-Rice. “And now you can see it, we’re about to do it. ”

As vaccination rates rise, there are early signs of an economic recovery in the state. Merchant and debit card transactions have returned to pre-pandemic levels, said Montgomery-Rice and board chairman Bob Strong. Payroll data shows employers are adding jobs, with the numbers really starting to budge in the spring.

Some indicators may take longer to move.

Demand for business loans is showing early signs of resurgence, but it will take longer to get back to full steam, Montgomery-Rice said. He said such a lag is typical of any crisis – people want absolute confidence in the state of the economy before investing. Start-ups are also slowly picking up, but more in southern Maine than in the Bangor area.

“I’m optimistic seeing the number of people talking to our lenders,” Montgomery-Rice said, “because a loan just doesn’t come tomorrow. ”

In addition, the inability to find workers continues to be a significant issue inside and outside the Bangor area, Montgomery-Rice said, with many of the bank’s customers considering employee access. as a much bigger challenge than access to money or the pandemic in general. .

Maine has seen one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic, allowing businesses to fare better than in parts of the country more affected by COVID-19. And now he is one of the highest vaccination rate in the country.

Of the bank’s more than 1,100 employees, 86 percent are vaccinated, Montgomery-Rice said. While he doesn’t require employees to be vaccinated, he does offer paying $ 500 to all employees who get vaccinated, a policy that Montgomery-Rice said had encouraged many employees.

That $ 500 is nothing compared to the money they save with fully immunized staff, Montgomery-Rice said. Less expense associated with pandemic protocols would be required, he said. There is also less risk of an outbreak in any of the bank’s 65 branches or four commercial offices.

Most of the hundreds of workers based at the bank’s new waterfront headquarters in Bangor have returned to the office in recent months as mass vaccinations are somehow allowing a return to the workplace before the pandemic.

For Montgomery-Rice and Strong, the waterfront campus project saw the bank invest in infrastructure, especially technological, essential during the pandemic.

Everyone working at headquarters had laptops when they were sent home in mid-March 2020, Strong notes. Devices would soon have a hard time coming through in the midst of significant national demand.

While 700 worked from home, 40 or 50 remained on campus, interacting with each other in masks. The sprawling campus has also made social distancing a simpler task.

“I feel fortunate that we made this investment,” Montgomery-Rice said.

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