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‘Those Little Assistances … Which Only Banks Can Give’: A Q&A with the CEO of the Oldest Community Bank in the U.S.

April 30 — Washington Trust, the oldest community bank in the United States, has 21 branch locations in Rhode Island and one in Connecticut, as well as multiple mortgage, commercial lending and wealth management offices located throughout Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. BankNews’ contract publications editor, Kristin Rulon, spoke with Washington Trust’s Chairman and CEO, Ned Handy about what it’s like to be part of the oldest community bank in the nation.

What can you attribute to Washington Trust’s success as the oldest community bank in the U.S.?

NH: Much of the success and longevity that has given Washington Trust its distinction as the nation’s oldest community bank comes from 218 years of community engagement and a culture that has been developed over so many years based on the values of customer experience, strength, continuity and organic growth.

How has your mission statement evolved over time? What core values do you still carry with you today from the original statement?

The group of businessmen who started the Bank in 1800, created it to support people’s dreams by serving as a financial advisor, as well as a good neighbor. In original language drafted by its founders, Washington Trust’s mission was to provide its community with “those little assistances … which only banks can give.” That very language holds true today, but in many ways has come to mean so much more. We are here to help our customers find the solutions that best support their ambitions – you could call it solution oriented optimism. Preserving the bank’s heritage and those core values puts us in the role of gatekeepers to that history, something we take very seriously. We work to reasonably grow the bank to not only honor its history and legacy, but to benefit future generations of customers and employees and continue to assist and serve our communities.

Do you have anything (picture, bank note, etc.) from the original location of Washington Trust? If so, where?

Washington Trust has an archive of historical artifacts from our past that we keep in the town of Westerly, R.I., where the bank started. Among the most noteworthy artifacts are the original bank notes, the first currency ever to include the likeness of President George Washington. Ahead of the bank’s opening in August of 1800, Amos Doolittle, an artist and engraver from New Haven, Conn., was commissioned to create the bank’s first notes, which included a profile of George Washington with his name inscribed above. One of the original notes in the bank’s archive is signed by John Quincy Adams.

What does it mean to you to be a community banker?

Community banking means much more than simply providing a service. To Washington Trust it means being a part of the fabric of the community, understanding the health and needs of that community and being available and approachable to all. We are cognizant of the history and connection Washington Trust has to the economic well-being of our communities. Not only are we an employer of choice in those communities, we also make it part of our mission to use our talent and resources to help meet the needs of our neighbors. At the heart of it all is an employee volunteer program for which 85 percent of Washington Trust employees volunteer each year. That’s what it means to truly be a community banker.

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