James W. Blake is CEO of Brockton-based HarborOne Bancorp Inc., parent company of HarborOne Bank, with branches in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The company is waiting to close on its acquisition of Coastway Community Bank in Warwick.
Blake has been CEO of HarborOne Bancorp since 2016 and of HarborOne Bank, formerly HarborOne Credit Union, since 1995. He also was president of HarborOne Bancorp from 1995 to 2017 and president of HarborOne Bank from 1995 to last spring. He also currently serves as secretary of HarborOne Bancorp, and as clerk for both HarborOne Bancorp and HarborOne Bank. From 1993 to 1994, he was chief operating officer for HarborOne Bank.
Prior to that, Blake served as senior vice president of retail banking and marketing at Mechanics Bank in Worcester from 1986 to 1993. He has served on the Community Depository Institutions Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. He also served on the board of the Massachusetts Credit Union League from 1998 to 2012.
Since 2011, he has served on the Signature Healthcare Executive Business Council and the YMCA Foundation. He has been director of Massachusetts Development Finance Agency since 2016. In addition, he has been a director of HarborOne Bancorp and HarborOne Bank since 1995. He also has been a director of the Connecticut Online Computer Center since 2003.
PBN: Since HarborOne agreed to acquire Coastway last spring, what changes have been made at Coastway to incorporate it into the HarborOne system?
BLAKE: Actually, Coastway remains independent currently. We announced the signing of a definitive merger agreement back in March and expect to close the transaction in the second half of 2018.
That said, we’ve been hard at work over the last several months putting in place the technology, operational infrastructure and staff training to provide a seamless transition for Coastway customers. We have some great new tools like instant debit card reissue in the branch, the ability to open accounts online, and, through our mobile app, the ability to instantly freeze a debit card if it’s lost or stolen, and then reactivate it if it’s found.
For our small-business customers, we’ve got a wide range of products and services to meet their credit, cash management and operating account needs, and they can take advantage of a variety of business education programming through HarborOne U, our education division. As we continue to roll out new products and services, our Rhode Island customers will be able to take advantage of those as well.
PBN: What made Coastway an appealing acquisition for HarborOne?
BLAKE: Coastway was a natural fit for us for many reasons. First, they are a great bank with very loyal customers and a strong reputation. Second, it was obvious from our initial conversations that we share a very similar corporate culture grounded in a shared set of values and beliefs, from our focus on delivering outstanding service to our commitment to community.
Finally, the geography made a lot of sense. We’ve had a commercial lending team in Providence since 2015, so we already have Rhode Island customers there and are familiar with the market. Our southernmost Massachusetts branch is in Attleboro, so going south of the border to expand the franchise made sense.
PBN: What was HarborOne’s strategic thinking in deciding to open a Boston office this year?
BLAKE: We’ve known for many years that Boston was in our future, and we firmly believe that we’ve got a real strategic advantage in both the expertise and how nimble we are with our Boston team … very similar to what we’ve been able to offer in Providence.
It took us some time to get to the point where we were ready and able to deliver in Boston, and we’re there now and ready to go. The other piece of it was location. We found a great spot that puts us in the middle of the action and provides for expansion opportunities when the time comes.
PBN: HarborOne has said it has tripled its commercial lending business in the last three years. What do you attribute that to?
BLAKE: We’ve made the right investments in resources to effectively grow the business, and we’ve actively managed our balance sheet to enable the growth. Over the last few years, we’ve added an experienced, service-oriented group of lenders from around the region that were the key to accelerated growth. The expansion of our experienced Rhode Island team with the addition of Coastway’s lenders puts us in a great position to continue to grow.
PBN: How does the Providence area’s housing market compare to that of the Boston area?
BLAKE: There are more similarities than differences. Economic indicators such as homeownership rates, pricing movement and median income are pretty comparable. This isn’t surprising given that the markets are, effectively, geographically contiguous. The types of products, services and rates offered in both markets are very comparable.
The average home price in the Providence market is just under $200,000, while HarborOne’s average loan is around $250,000. This should make for a smooth transition and integration of Coastway’s residential lending activities into the bank’s wholly owned mortgage subsidiary, HarborOne Mortgage LLC.
Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Blake@PBN.com.