Banking on word of mouth

Pulaski Savings Bank

Bridgeport, Ill., is home to both Pulaski Savings Bank and the Bridgeport Art Center, which is housed in a historic 1911 building. Photo by Jim Roberts

Pulaski Savings Bank has been serving the diverse people of Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood for more than 130 years. Due to its dedication to community and loyal employees, the community bank has become a well-known pillar of the city.

By William Atkinson

On Chicago’s South Side, the neighborhood of Bridgeport is known for producing many of the metro’s leaders—including legendary mayor Richard J. Daley—and being an early home for the city’s immigrant residents.

It’s no surprise, then, that Bridgeport is one of the city’s most ethnically diverse neighborhoods. One of the many mainstays of the area is $50 million-asset Pulaski Savings Bank, which has served this diverse population for more than 130 years.

“Bridgeport was a community of first- and second-generation immigrants, blue collar workers banded together by language, religion and the dream of a better life than they were experiencing in their homelands,” says the community bank’s president and chairman, Roger A. Budny.

The community bank and its staff have long-standing, time-tested roots. It was founded in 1890 on Morgan Street and is just a stone’s throw away today. It eventually moved up the block, two doors down from where Budny was born. In 1986, Budny joined the bank as a full‑time employee.

“Serving these loyal people became the center of the bank’s mission statement as it grew,” he says. “It just gives me a good feeling in my heart knowing that I can help people.”

A pillar of the community

Employee loyalty and longevity help make Pulaski Savings Bank well-respected in its community. In the 1950s, a widowed woman living on Social Security attempted to get a loan to purchase a home. The first bank she visited turned her down. She then went to Pulaski Savings Bank, which granted her the loan.

The experience had an impact on the woman’s young daughter, who began working at the bank as a teller when she turned 16. More than a half-century later, that woman, Jane Rogocki, is still with the bank, now as executive vice president.

“We took some photographs for our 100th anniversary in 1990, including several of our employees at the time,” Budny says. “Looking at that photo, which is over 30 years ago, four of the six employees who were in that photo, in addition to Jane and myself, are still working here. And most of those had begun working here long before that photo was taken. We have almost no turnover.”

The community bank’s dedicated staff is one of the reasons it has been able to build and maintain strong customer relationships. “Our employees know our customers personally, and our customers know us and our employees personally,” Budny says. “In fact, many of our customers have their own favorite tellers.”

“We are there for our customers when they need something. We listen and offer a solution that we feel is best for the customer, not necessarily for the bank.”
—Roger Budny, Pulaski Savings Bank

Employee longevity is also reflected in its customers. “We now have customers who are the grandchildren of some of our customers from years past,” he says. “Many of them even recall their grandparents bringing them in as children to open their first passbook savings accounts.”

4 keys to long-term success

Beyond employee longevity, Budny and Rogocki identify four factors in the bank’s continued success, even when its community has continued to evolve over the years.

The first is service tailored to each customer’s needs. “We give our customers what they need and want, while many other banks give them what the bank wants them to have and what the bank thinks they need,” Budny says. “We are there for our customers when they need something. We listen and offer a solution that we feel is best for the customer, not necessarily for the bank.”

Another is education, much of it done one-on-one with customers. For example, staff walk mortgage customers through their options. “We explain the whole process and then discuss what they would be able to afford,” Rogocki says. “We have these conversations before they even apply for a mortgage, so that we know that they understand everything that is involved.”

The community bank also helps customers save money, including avoiding unnecessary charges. If staff see that a customer may overdraw from their account, they will often call and encourage them to come in that day to make a deposit to cover the shortfall. “Other banks would simply allow the account to be overdrawn and then penalize the customer financially for being overdrawn,” Budny says.

Finally, Pulaski Savings Bank provides visible support for the community, from sponsoring student sports teams to supporting fundraisers for local community organizations.

For all these reasons, Pulaski Savings Bank has found that it needs to do very little in the way of marketing itself.

“Because of our unwavering commitment to serving our customers in a very personal manner, and providing them with exactly what they want, we have never had to engage in much marketing,” Budny says. “We succeed in continuing to gain new business via word of mouth. Satisfy someone, and they will tell their friends.”

William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.

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