Behind the List with Scott Gruber of Tompkins VIST Bank

Lifting small businesses that drive the economy

Operating and managing any financial institution means hard work and dedication.

Whether it’s a large conglomerate or a small, community-based company, making smart decisions and implementing strong business tactics into daily operations are imperative to the prosperity of not only the business, but also to its customers.

One community-based bank that makes a significant impact in the Greater Lehigh Valley is Tompkins VIST Bank in Wyomissing.

Here to answer this week’s “Behind the List” questions is Scott Gruber, president and CEO of the bank.

Lehigh Valley Business: How long has Tompkins VIST Bank been operating in the region and what are its primary services?

Scott Gruber: Tompkins VIST Bank has been a local bank for more than a century. Founded in 1909 as Bank of Leesport, we later changed our name to VIST Bank. We merged with Ithaca, N.Y.-based Tompkins Financial in 2012 but have remained a separately chartered and locally headquartered bank.

This relationship with Tompkins Financial, which has been profitable for more than 61 consecutive years, allows us to have the resources of a large financial institution behind us so that we can provide sophisticated products as well as the personal service and local decision-making of a small community bank. We believe customers value this unique niche.

We have a network of 19 branch offices and business centers throughout southeastern Pennsylvania that provide a complete line of deposit, loan and cash management services.

Our special focus is small businesses, which we serve through a full range of online and branch capabilities. They include small business and commercial loans and cash management services such as remote deposit capture.

Insurance and wealth management services are provided through Tompkins Insurance and Tompkins Financial Advisors.

LVB: What have been some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that Tompkins VIST Bank has encountered throughout its years in business?

Gruber: Like all banks, we were impacted by the Great Recession of 2008. By the way, our parent company remained profitable throughout that period.

Increased regulations that followed the downturn also put pressure on earnings, as did continuing low interest rates. Nevertheless, we have continued to grow loans and deposits thanks to our focus on expanding customer relationships.

Banking consolidation in Pennsylvania presented us with opportunities to grow our customer base. For example, bank acquisitions in the tri-county area resulted in a lack of community banking services there.

We were planning to open a branch in that market, but given the changed circumstances, we accelerated our plans. The result was that we opened not one, but two branches – one in Pottstown and one in Boyertown. Those offices have grown beyond expectations as retail and business customers seeking local decision-making have moved to us.

LVB: How does Tompkins VIST Bank directly stimulate the local economy? How does it get involved with the local communities?

Gruber: We believe that small businesses are the engines that drive the local economy and we’re proud of our reputation for supporting that segment.

In the last several years, we formed an agribusiness group so that we could better serve the unique needs of that customer group. …

In addition to investing in the economy through commercial, retail and mortgage loans, we support the communities in which we do business.

We encourage our employees to become actively involved in their communities. We’re proud that our employees devoted 7,700 hours to community service in 2016, and we expect that number to continue to grow.

Tompkins VIST Bank also has raised funds for specific causes. For example, over the last four years we have raised more than $47,000 for muscular dystrophy, and much of the fundraising efforts have come from a group of our employees.

We also are donating more than $260,000 for the 2016-2017 period to youth educational organizations that qualify under the Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credit program.

LVB: Advancements in technology have been making banking easier for customers, specifically mobile banking. Does Tompkins VIST Bank offer this to its customers, and what are some of its perks? What other technological solutions does the bank offer?

Gruber: To compete effectively, we need to offer the technology that customers of all ages desire. We provide mobile and online banking.

And starting this year, we are one of the few local banks our size to offer small-business online lending. “Lightning loans” features a streamlined online application process that allows customers to quickly apply for an affordable business loan and receive a decision in days or sooner.

The online capability means borrowers can apply for a loan wherever they are, whenever they need it, without having to come into the bank.

LVB: What does the future look like for Tompkins VIST Bank? Does it have plans for growth?

Gruber: I believe the future looks very good for community banks that combine the convenience of technology with personalized service for their customers.

Regarding our plans, we will continue to expand organically, by building customer relationships. In addition, we will look for carefully considered expansion opportunities that don’t impact our community banking value proposition.

Finally, we’ll continue to support and volunteer at organizations that make our region a better place to live and work.

Christopher Holland
Christopher Holland is a researcher for Lehigh Valley Business and blogs on arts and entertainment in the region.

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