Hatfield sees cooperation, <br>progress ahead for the state

WILLIAM F. HATFIELD, the head of Bank of America in Rhode Island, says the state has plenty of business opportunities. /
WILLIAM F. HATFIELD, the head of Bank of America in Rhode Island, says the state has plenty of business opportunities. /

As the head of Bank of America in Rhode Island – the country’s largest bank and second in the state by deposit market share – and as a person who has worked for financial institutions in the state since he started his career a quarter-century ago, William Hatfield can appreciate the Ocean State in the larger and up-close contexts.

PBN: What is your view of the state’s economy?

HATFIELD: I see the economy today in Rhode Island as being fairly good. As I look around and talk to various clients and people who are active in the business community and leadership roles in the state, I’m hearing some very good things about [businesses’] opportunities to grow and add customers – sometimes within the state, many times outside the state. … As we look forward, I think there is frankly pretty strong opportunity for Rhode Island to distinguish itself.

PBN: Why do you think that?

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HATFIELD: I think there are some resources in the state that are very significant and that I think would compare favorably to many communities across the country. I think of some of the institutional strengths that we have in this community and some of the basically innovation platforms that exist here and the knowledge base that we have here, and to the extent that we fully utilize them, we are going to see some dividends.

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PBN: Are there things that Bank of America can do in Rhode Island that are different than what it does today?

HATFIELD: Bank of America has made it very clear that Rhode Island is a very important market to our company. We have invested quite heavily over the last several years. We say that from an employment perspective, from a philanthropic perspective, from an overall business investment perspective. That investment is made because we feel there is strong potential here. To the extent that we succeed as a community, that is the ultimate goal of Bank of America in this market or in any market we operate in. We are making the investment, we can see the return, and we see the opportunity in front of us.

PBN: Can you quantify that investment?

HATFIELD: One specific investment was the contact center that we constructed in East Providence. Shortly after Bank of America acquired Fleet in 2004, we announced the contact center. Today we are employing approximately 1,200 people in that location, [following an initial investment of $60 million]. … In the philanthropic space, in 2007 Bank of America will make commitments in excess of $2.5 million to nonprofit organizations within the state borders. That compares to a number of just under $1.8 million in 2005 and a smaller number going back to 2003 prior to Bank of America coming in. Another example is our investment in community development, which falls into the buckets of affordable housing and economic development. Looking at that particular area, Bank of America set a goal to invest about $1.4 billion between 2005 and 2008 in that area, and to date we have invested about $1.2 billion. Included in that would be about $300 million last year alone in the affordable housing area.

PBN: You sound bullish on Rhode Island. But there are a lot of folks who have questions about the state’s business climate.

HATFIELD: I see the economy being pretty good. I see the business climate being pretty good. That being said, there is real opportunity in front of us to just make it better. … We need to stimulate more job growth, we need to stimulate more economic growth, and we need to deal with some structural budget issues. …

PBN: What can the business community do about the structural deficit?

HATFIELD: It can come to the table and really be part of the discussion. The private sector and the public sector really have to come together and be creative in the solutions that we need to focus on. Going back to a Bank of America example, when we built our contact center here. That really was a function of the private sector and public sector coming together and focusing on an opportunity and coming up with a solution that made sense all around.

PBN: Do you have any thoughts on the creative solutions needed to solve the budget crisis?

HATFIELD: Not that I’m prepared to talk about right now. I will say there is some very good dialog going on right now in various parts of the community around coming together and focusing in a creative way on the solutions that we need to come up with. There are going to be some hard decisions. There will be compromise. But we’ve got to do it. We need some transformational change.

PBN: What single change would have the most significant positive impact on the state’s business climate?

HATFIELD: I believe that if we as a state can put our financial and fiscal house in order, that provides the best opportunity for the business climate to thrive. … That is going to put us on the right path from an economic development perspective, put us on the right path from a sustainable social program perspective where we are using recurring revenue to support recurring programs. That is the foundation we need to really leverage the economic opportunity that is front of us.

PBN: Are you optimistic about that happening?

HATFIELD: I’m going to be at the table. And I’m an optimistic guy. •

Interview: William F. Hatfield
Position: Bank of America Rhode Island president, market executive for U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management
Background: Hatfield began his career with Industrial National Bank (since folded into Bank of America) 26 years ago and has stayed with the company through the various mergers since then. He became president of Bank of America in Rhode Island when the bank completed its acquisition of FleetBoston in 2004. He was named head of U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management earlier this year when Bank of America bought U.S. Trust from Charles Schwab.
Education: B.S. in applied science, 1978, Boston University; MBA, 1980, Suffolk University
Residence: Barrington Age: 51

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