"Culture is something that grows in a milk carton after it is in the sink for three days" some bank CEOs say.

Betsy Cohen, CEO and chairman of Jefferson Bank, a $700 million super community bank in Philadelphia, has a different definition: "Our corporate culture values individualism, but requires a sense of common purpose." She says Jefferson Bank operates like a family, in which there is a certain amount of rivalry and competitiveness among family members, but also a sense of common bonds. Individualism is valued, but a commonality of task and direction is required.

Betsy makes a significant time investment in the development of a cohesive and clear corporate culture. She is committed to employee retention, in recognition of the relationship between employee retention and customer retention. This requires a certain amount of corporate flexibility, both as professional goals change and as life cycles and life events intervene.

The Right Stuff

In order to achieve such retention, Jefferson Bank has a clear vision of the right type of employee for the company. "We value problem-solving skills. This requires senior management to exercise its own problem-solving skills on a continuing basis and thereby set an example of these skills, and the attitude that all of the problems are there to be solved."

Jefferson Bank is a young institution. It is only 20 years old, founded by Betsy and her husband, entrepreneurs who have been in the banking business for 25 years. Their distinctly entrepreneurial approach to the business allowed them to recognize early on that the banking industry continuously redefines itself and, therefore, that successful initiators must be ready for future changes.

Betsy and the bank's president, Harmon Spolan, have done an outstanding job in building a super community bank under the shadow of the large Philadelphia and New Jersey banks while, at the same time, outdistancing their smaller competitors, other start-ups, and small community banks in the Philadelphia marketplace by creating a distinct identity for their company.

"We are in a professional service business. It would cease to exist without a customer who continues to drive our corporate philosophy." In other words, being customer-driven means serving as the customer's business adviser, believes Betsy.

"One of the ways we add value is to sometimes see customers' problems more objectively than they might see them themselves and exercise the problem-solving skills we have developed, she says."

'Family Atmosphere'

Jefferson bankers look out for their customers beyond the basic banking business. They attempt to help the customers by filling a broad range of needs they might have, such as new business opportunities, expansion targets, etc. The bankers can accomplish this only with in-depth knowledge and understanding of the customers' goals, objectives, and markets within which they operate.

Jefferson's success is attributable in great part to its cohesive corporate culture and "family atmosphere." About 90% of the officers have been with the company for at least five years. They understand the Jefferson way of nurturing customers and sustaining relationships through good times and not so good times.

Similarly, within the bank, a sense of security arises from an environment where solutions are sought rather than individuals to scapegoat. Both reflect management's commitment to a relationship orientation with customers and employees alike. The result? An efficient, profitable organization with long-term customers and long-term employees.

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