In its century‐old headquarters, situated in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, The Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburgh continues serving its loyal customers by doing what it does best‐‐ exceeding customer expectations. This consistency has its rewards, as the bank has succeeded in not only retaining customers for decades, but has continued to grow and expand.
The historic façade of the building at 209 Havemeyer Street is a sterling indication of what lies within‐‐a bank whose employees share a tradition and dedication to serving its customers. “The Havemeyer Street building dates back to 1907, and was expanded in 1929,” said Vincent Palagiano, chairman and CEO of The Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburgh, during an interview in the bank’s stately boardroom. “This building has always housed the main office,” he went on. “All of our back‐office functions are located here.”
While Dime is the largest bank headquartered in Brooklyn, its growth and expansion has been gradual and purposeful. From Williamsburg, the bank has broadened its service area to 26 branches throughout Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Nassau County, establishing itself in each community through exceptional customer service and a concerted effort to support and meet the needs of residents and local organizations.
Historically, Dime has deep roots in Brooklyn. The bank was founded in 1864, operating out of an office in the old ferry terminal, where Giando’s on the Waterfront now stands, before the bridge was built. “We were formed as a means for the poor to save money,” recalled Mr. Palagiano. “At that time, we were open two hours a day. Over the next 60 years, we were in three different locations, coming up Broadway ‘til we arrived here [on Havemeyer Street].” “Dime is still an institution that serves rank‐and‐file New Yorkers,” said Terence Mitchell, the bank’s executive vice president and chief retail officer. “We basically have a middle class clientele and we try to accommodate all their needs,” he emphasized.
“One of the strengths of the bank is that we know who we are and we haven’t tried to become something else,” said Kenneth Mahon, the bank’s first executive vice president and chief financial officer. “What we do serves the communities well, and also the bank.”
“This is a business about servicing people,” emphasized Mr. Mitchell. “A checking account is a checking account. What distinguishes this bank from the others is how we serve the customer and how we support and serve our communities.
“Another important distinction at Dime is perfectly free checking. Dime is one of the few banks that offer no fee, no strings attached, free checking. That’s pretty much our door opener to bring in new customers,” Mr. Mitchell stressed.
“I think people appreciate coming into the bank and having the teller or manager say, ‘Hi, Mrs. Smith’ or ‘Hi, Mr. Jones,’” Mr. Palagiano said. “While Dime is historically known for personal, customer service, it’s also an institution dedicated to community reinvestment. For that reason, the bank makes a practice of lending in its own backyard” he added.
Lending close to home also helps the bank maintain its bottom line. “We have a saying that you can go on top of our headquarters building and see every loan we have made,” Mr. Palagiano said.
“As a rule, conservatism has guided the bank’s approach to business,” said Mr. Palagiano. While some other banks were making risky investments and overextending themselves, Dime did not.
“Overall, we focus on a few things and we do them well,” he stressed.
“We never got involved with subprime loans, construction loans or out of market lending,” he explained. “Most banks that got into trouble went into those kinds of products. Since most of our deposits come from the five boroughs, we make most of our loans in this area,” said Mr. Palagiano.
At Dime, bank executives keep a close eye on lending activity. Basically, every loan that passes through the bank, he [Palagiano] looks at. “We want borrowers to have reasonable equity in the property they are interested in purchasing, for a good reason. We don’t want to lend them more than they can reasonably afford to pay back,” Mr. Mahon said.
Dime lending officers also watch to see how properties they have loaned money on are maintained. “If problems develop,” Mr. Palagiano said, “tenants stop paying rent and the owner stops paying us, so it’s short‐sighted not to be concerned. Yes, we are protecting the bank’s investment, but importantly, the tenants benefit too. This approach makes for a stronger neighborhood, and ultimately for a stronger landlord as well.
“As New York has grown in population, the number of multi‐family dwellings has increased exponentially, so the main focus of Dime’s lending business will continue to be multi‐family buildings, ranging in size from small (four to six units) to 50 to 100 units,” said Mr. Palagiano.
“In particular, Brooklyn and Queens are strong housing markets that are only going to get stronger,” said Mr. Mahon. “Where Manhattan used to be the harbinger, now all the people who can’t afford to live there have moved to some of the outer boroughs, particularly along the waterfront,” he added.
“The multi‐family market is very strong and it’s only going to improve,” Mr. Palagiano noted, remarking, “The population is continuing to grow, but they are not making any more land in New York City.”
Just as communities grow and change, so do the needs of the people of those communities. With this in mind, the bank has also moved forward to make sure it stays abreast of technology, offering customers all the conveniences they want, such as Internet banking and bill paying.
“Almost every service that’s available at any banking institution, we have,” noted Mr. Palagiano‐‐but without compromising personal customer service.
“While we’re not going to be at the cutting edge of technology, we are committed to providing new and emerging channels and technologies,” said Mr. Mitchell. “As more and more people get smart phones and younger customers start banking, we will have the services they expect. “
“The bank also works to educate its customers about the alternatives to traditional bank products such as annuities,” said Mr. Mitchell. “To introduce people to them [banking alternatives], we conduct seminars off site, usually at local restaurants, and invite a couple of hundred clients.”
Some companies have seen frequent turnover of staff‐‐and management. Not Dime. Vincent Palagiano has been with the bank for 42 years, working his way up to the position he now holds. The bank’s President and Chief Operating Officer, Michael Devine, has worked there for 41 years. Kenneth Mahon has logged 32 years with the bank.
Part of the bank’s recipe for success is its emphasis on promoting from within. With a total of about 400 employees many of who come from the neighborhoods where the branches are located it’s easy to spot and encourage talent. Dime does that by running management training and mentoring programs, which typically groom about 10 people a year (at least half of them already employees) for management positions.
“We believe very strongly in promoting from within. There’s also a sense of family feeling, here. It’s why our people don’t leave. If the bank does well, they all do well, and they understand that,” said Mr. Palagiano.
Another ingredient in the bank’s longevity is its willingness to actively participate in the life of the communities where it is located. “At the corporate level, Dime has helped to support such worthy causes as Brooklyn Legal Services and St. Nicholas Housing,” said Mr. Mahon.
“We rely on our branch managers to tell us what’s important in the community,” added Larry Kinitsky, senior vice president of marketing. “I’m amazed at the number of organizations each of our branches is involved with.”
Ultimately, it’s the relationship with the community that defines Dime, which has shaped its business to take into account the varied requirements in different neighborhoods. “There are very different needs in Boro Park than in Garden City Park,” said Mr. Mitchell. “We have to be aware of that and our programs reflect that.”
The end result of these efforts is loyalty. “A high proportion of clients have been with us for a very long time,” said Mr. Kinitsky. “People stay with us.”