"Watrustology" is a word Katy Wagnon made up about two years ago.

This word (pronounced WAH-trust-ology) is meant to encapsulate the philosophy of what it means to be a part of Washington Trust Bank in Spokane. But the definition is intentionally loose.

"We didn't want to create a set of talking points and say, 'This is what you have to say every time,' " said Wagnon, the public relations and communications manager for the $5.6 billion-asset bank. "We really wanted everyone to have their own experience with it and talk about it in a way that it is impactful to them."

Definition on display
Washington Trust says when you see the “WTB Crew in Blue” out in the community, that is Watrustology in action. Here, employees read to students at an elementary school.

Despite the ambiguity, you can get a sense of what the word means through examples. For instance, a couple of years ago, Washington Trust decided to give away Christmas trees in Boise, Idaho. A mother approached a bank volunteer at the giveaway with a heartwarming story. Her family had struggled financially that year and could afford either presents or a tree for Christmas, but not both. The children were allowed to choose, and they picked a tree so their parents could also enjoy the holiday. But with the free tree from Washington Trust, they could now afford to buy gifts.

"We don't have to do that kind of thing," Wagnon said. "It's just super important to our leadership. It's a philosophy from the top down that we are only as strong as our communities."

After years of hearing similar stories, Wagnon decided to put a name to that philosophy, and the idea of Watrustology was born.

Culture is key at Washington Trust, just as it is at many of the 75 banks that earned a spot in our ranking of the Best Banks to Work For. Having a custom word to describe that culture helps fuel conversations about it, and Wagnon said she believes allowing employees to personalize the meaning also fuels a sense of empowerment and enthusiasm.

More Best Banks to Work For coverage:

To Emily Burgess, a regional sales team leader and branch manager, Watrustology is partly about her ability to engage with the community through volunteerism. She has helped out with the bank's random acts of kindness, where employees go out into the community and do something surprising and nice for strangers. One time she was buying concessions for a couple at a movie theater when the woman told Burgess that her husband was suffering from cancer and the trip was a way to take a break from the stress.

Burgess recalled that the woman said to her, "You just showed us how amazing this community is."

Burgess said the way the bank encourages its employees to come up with ideas and then run with them also falls under the umbrella of Watrustology. Last year Burgess read in a magazine that volunteers were needed for holiday celebrations in downtown Spokane, and she saw an opportunity for Washington Trust to give back.

The bank ended up participating in different events, such as giving away gloves and paying for ice skating, in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Two in a row
Peter Stanton is the chairman and CEO at Washington Trust, which has been part of our ranking of the Best Banks to Work For for two consecutive years.

"Watrustology is about the ability to continually give back within my community," Burgess said. "There is the empowerment to go after what you are most passionate about, and that can change at any moment."

Management embraced the idea of Watrustology when Wagnon approached them about it. It was launched internally in November.

Peter Stanton, the bank's chairman and chief executive, and John Heath, its president and chief operating officer, even shot a goofy video to promote the idea of Watrustology. In the video, a science experiment results in a blue concoction, a nod to the bank's colors.

"The way I look at the word is that we just have a really great understanding of what it means to be a community bank and be at the heart of the community while still treating employees well," Wagnon said.

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Jackie Stewart

Jackie Stewart covers community banks and mergers and acquisitions for American Banker.