Five Questions With: Sandra J. Pattie

Sandra J. Pattie is retiring in May from her position as CEO and president of BankNewport. She has served nine years in this leadership role – the first woman in the bank’s history to do so – and a total of 37 years at the bank.

PBN: What are your proudest moments at your time at BankNewport?

PATTIE: There have been many. First, I have been with BankNewport for 37 years and since 2012, I have had the honor of serving as the first female CEO in BankNewport’s history. I would also include the expansion of our brand recognition and expanding our physical footprint into Providence County, positioning us as a true statewide bank. I am so proud of our outstanding financial performance, which has supported our growth.

I also had the pleasure of presiding over BankNewport’s 200th anniversary in 2019. Our yearlong celebration included awarding 200 $1,000 micro-grants to the smallest of nonprofits. Receiving their feedback on the amazing impact our small grant was able to make on the constituents they serve was truly heartwarming.

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Our now 202-year history as a successful mutual bank is an accomplishment shared with every CEO who has preceded me, and now, as I move into retirement, a proud history that I pass on to Jack Murphy, our incoming president and CEO.

PBN: If you could do anything differently over your time as bank CEO and president, what would it be and why?

PATTIE: I look back on all of the accomplishments of my team with pride. Over the past nine years, we have achieved so much – physical growth of our footprint, introduction of new business lines and digital technologies, strong earnings, amazing financial education and volunteer support of the nonprofits that serve our communities, the development of our team members, and I could go on.

There certainly have been difficult times when projects didn’t run as smoothly as hoped, or where I had to make decisions knowing that people weren’t going to be happy with my actions or directions. But I wouldn’t change anything! I do believe everything we deal with in life is a moment to learn, even if what we learn is simply to not repeat what we did.

PBN: What are the biggest challenges facing community banks such as BankNewport going forward?

PATTIE: The competition to gain customers’ “share of wallet” is fierce. Even customers who believe they are fully banked with us probably are not. We perhaps all carry two or three credit cards, most likely not all from our primary bank. Our mortgage may be with an organization (notice that I didn’t say bank) that offered one-eighth of a percent lower rates when we were shopping for a mortgage. These are just examples of how financial relationships are fractured.

Competition forces tighter profit margins on all products, even while banks need to add expensive, best-in-class digital offerings to maintain our customers. And competition today isn’t just from traditional banks and credit unions. Many online fintech companies start as a single service, such as student loan refinancing, and then expand into personal loans and mortgage financing, and even checking products. Even branded prepaid cards such as Starbucks are competitors for that share of wallet.

PBN: What long-term impacts do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the way the industry operates as a whole?

PATTIE: I think the pandemic has been a game-changer for all businesses and employees.  As consumers, our expectations have changed as we moved to a digital means to do just about everything, from our grocery shopping to our banking. The more digital exposure we have to a broader spectrum of online experiences, the higher our expectations, whether it be banking response times; the quality of responses, whether they be live, digital chat or other; as well as the offer of solutions beyond the immediate item at hand.

Employees working from home need to be exposed to innovative ways to collaborate and build skills beyond their primary task. Many career decisions are made by talking to co-workers and learning what they do, and then deciding the direction you wish to pursue.  We will need to continue to strike a balance between flexibility that comes from working remotely and the ongoing connection among co-workers.

PBN: You started and rose through an industry that typically does not have many female leaders. Do you see changes in the industry regarding gender equity, or does more need to be done?

PATTIE: As an industry, more has to be done to recognize there are gender inequalities. I have often said that Rhode Island, and New England as a whole, has been open and welcoming to women leaders, especially in the banking industry. But it continues to take proactive work by everyone to ensure women have the opportunities to move forward. As our industry changes, women have to ensure they are seen and heard.

As a mentor, I encourage women to network inside and outside of the industry, and to take on new challenges. Being a lifelong learner and believing in your ability and taking pride in your own achievements is so important. And women have to learn to say no, not to new opportunities, but to those requests that may consume time and energy and not add value.

Most importantly, women have to believe in themselves. I speak from my own experience – a graduate of the Community College of Rhode Island and a night Friar at Providence College, who began working part time as a teller, now retiring as CEO from a $2 billion high-performing bank!

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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