Dime Bank celebrates 150 years in business

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Norwich — Giving back to the community is perennial for Dime Bank, whether it's donating computers and chairs to Norwich schools, co-sponsoring Westerly's 350th Anniversary Celebration, organizing volunteer opportunities for "Blue Crew" employees, or donating money to Safe Futures, New England Science & Sailing, and more through its foundation.

But in celebrating a milestone anniversary this year, bank executives decided to have a little extra fun: Dime Bank donated 150 turkeys to the Gemma E. Moran Food Center and gave customers 150 pairs of tickets to the minor league baseball team in Norwich.

In June 1869, the state legislature approved the charter of Dime Savings Bank of Norwich — so named because customers could open an account with just 10 cents — and the bank opened for business on Sept. 27. Sixty-three customers opened accounts that day, depositing a total of $1,000.

Assets reached $800 million in 2016, and the bank now has about 35,000 customers, 160 full-time employees, and 12 branches, ranging from East Lyme to Westerly and as far north as the newest branch in Colchester.

As a mutual bank, Dime Bank is owned by depositors and has no shareholders.

When President and CEO Nick Caplanson talks about the past, present and future of Dime Bank, he focuses on the importance of getting out the message. That message, he says, is that Dime is a local bank where customers can get the same services and technological features they could get from the major national banks.

"A lot of business has become less personal over time, and this is still a very personal thing and a very local thing," Caplanson said.

One venue where he shared this message recently was at a Business After Hours the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut hosted Wednesday evening, which the CEO said drew about 150 people.

Director of Marketing Bob Fraleigh said a traveling historic exhibit about Dime Bank is spending a few weeks in each branch. It includes coin-collecting banks kids used in the 1930s-'50s, minutes for the first meeting in 1859, and a special quarter given out for the moon landing.

There's also a bank survival kit — with a candle, matches and smelling salts — in case someone got stuck in the bank vault. Caplanson chimed in that the vault door at the Broadway branch weighs more than 2,000 pounds.

Dime Bank also launched a "Chalk It Up" campaign, for "Chalk it up to our experience," with artistic chalk drawings layered in videos of testimonials from commercial customers.

In one, the owners of Paddy's Beach Club in Westerly talk about the bank's flexibility in working with them after Hurricane Sandy.

In another, Zest Pastry co-owner Gabriella Withrow said that when she needed money for equipment and installation, a Dime Bank employee came to her spot in Stonington's Velvet Mill and "had complete faith in us. He listened to our story and said yes. They were able to understand what our goals were and where we wanted to take the business."

While Dime Bank's only branches are local, it has loans in 28 states. Caplanson said diversification is necessary because if he's just relying on what's going on in southeastern Connecticut, "it's going to be tough."

"We're just not a business-friendly state, and thank goodness for Electric Boat in southeastern Connecticut; that's a really bright spot for us," he said.

Along with Connecticut-specific issues, Caplanson said that federal regulations put in place after the financial crisis have been "incredibly burdensome." He would also welcome some clarity on banking procedures for legal cannabis businesses.

As for the future of Dime Bank, Caplanson said part of the first-floor footprint of its 290 Salem Turnpike headquarters will probably be repurposed at some point, a common trend as customers become less reliant on brick-and-mortar banking.

But some things will never change.

"Times change but values don't," Caplanson said. "The values here today are basically the same values as 150 years ago."

e.moser@theday.com

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