By Holly Riddle
“When you talk about a real, true, community bank based in Central Pennsylvania, you can’t replicate this story,” said John “Jack” M. Infield, President of Centre 1st Bank, in a recent conversation with Happy Valley Industry.
Infield, born and raised in State College, has been involved in banking for more than four decades and, it is clear in speaking with him, that he has connections. From area banks to Happy Valley’s changemakers to influential figures in Penn State athletics, as well as State College Area High School athletics (Infield’s wife Ann, was a track and field cross-country coach there, and was inducted posthumously into the Centre County Hall of Fame earlier this year), Infield knows his community — and it’s that in-depth knowledge and wealth of connections that have helped him and the rest of the bank’s leadership raise the bank from humble (even drastically bad) beginnings to a leader in not only the county, but the country.
A community bank truly owned by the community
In 2016, Mark Merrill, Old Dominion National Bank’s current CEO, texted Infield during a Penn State football game and made him an offer he could not refuse. That bank, started nine years earlier, needed a new life. It had a mere $40 million in assets and was losing a hundred thousand dollars a month. In 2016, getting a charter to start a bank was virtually impossible hence this was a chance to obtain one.
“Our thought was to set the bank up, get the charter from Charlottesville, move the operational headquarters to northern Virginia and develop multiple markets, with a separate division in Central Pennsylvania called Centre 1st Bank,” Infield described.
Merrill and Infield hit the ground running. From 2017 until today, the two have raised roughly $140 million in capital for the company. During their first capital raise, they met with 150 people in Central PA and all but one person purchased stock. Centre1st Bank prides itself on being a community bank truly owned by the community and today there are over 170 shareholders that live here in Happy Valley. Since opening in 2019, the Centre1st Division has amassed $230 million in deposits and $330 million in loans.
From the beginning, Infield eagerly pursued and listened to the feedback of the Centre County community. He explains, what we learned was there was a disconnect in the overall banking experience. People were reduced to being regarded as a number and relationships had become viewed as merely a source of fee income. According to Infield, the coveted community bank model had been replaced with larger, regional and national names and locally sourced funding was no longer supporting local projects. Centre County needed a financial partner who believed the success of the community was equally as important as the success of the bank. Observes Infield “With the backing of the local community, the growth of this concept for Centre1st has been realized.”
What is the secret to rapid success?
So, what is the secret to Centre 1st Bank’s rapid success? Infield chalks it up to a few factors, including community relationships and putting employees first.
“Community banks are the lifeblood of the community,” he noted, pointing to all the bank’s State College-based shareholders, as well as the relationships he has built over the decades in this market. These relationships Infield has established within this community provide a core of local supporters who believe in what he and Merrill are doing. This local support has helped Centre1st become one of the fastest-growing community banks in the country since 2018.
“At Centre1st we are more than just a bank and you are more than just a transaction” explains Infield. “We are partners in finance and community. We are family, and this is home. When you visit our location, you will be greeted with warm smiles you have likely enjoyed before as we have thoughtfully cultivated the best community bankers that Centre County has to offer. We believe in an employee comes first motto since if you have the best employees who enjoy what they do, your customers are satisfied, and your business thrives. Those combinations lead to shareholder return and in this case, our shareholders are owners who believe and support what we are doing.”
Looking ahead to the future
As Infield said, “We’re building a high-growth, high-performance bank” So where is Centre 1st headed too next?
Currently, the bank’s retail branch is located on North Atherton Street, in the building that was home to Nittany Bank, another local success story. The corporate office is in the Shaner Monticello Building in Williamsburg Square. Both facilities are courtesy of relationships Infield has with the Freidman and Shaner families and to date, have served the bank well.
Infield mentions the next move will be to establish a single-function headquarters in the Centre Region. At the same time, Centre1st continues to look at opportunities within the broader Pennsylvania marketplace in South Central PA and Northeastern PA again leveraging Infield’s past successful relationships to expand the bank’s PA presence.
Whatever expansion lies ahead, though, the spirit of Centre 1st remains clear. These are the people who can get things done — for both Happy Valley businesses and individuals alike.
“Many of the larger Regional and Money Center Banks have a difficult time working within a community environment and they run their business in a vertical vacuum without understanding or concern for what people need. I like to call it the “box mentality’ and that is if what you want fits in this box of what we can do, it works. Yet many times that result has nothing to do with what the customer really needs, or the community can benefit from” Infield says.
He added, “I want [people] to think of [Centre 1st] as being a true community bank owned by this community. Our door is open, and our purpose is to service our customers, shareholders and community. By doing so, we all prosper. This success allows us to open our doors and say Welcome Home.