At a time when America’s financial world was in turmoil, Joe Murphy’s parents were banking on a better future with Country Bank.
It was 1988, the height of the savings and loans crisis — a financial collapse of the banking industry some say was comparable to the Great Depression — when the Murphy family took over Country Bank, a small community institution based in the Carmel area of Putnam County.
Shareholders had sold all their holdings to Murphy’s parents, allowing the couple to call all the shots on what happened next.
Yet, even as this was all happening some three decades ago, Murphy — now president and chief executive of Country Bank — said his parents never considered the possibility of owning a bank.
“I think it was just an investment opportunity,” he said. “They just saw it as an investment to diversify their own business holdings and such.”
As time went on, the Murphys hired a banker to help run day-to-day. Soon, branches sprung up in places like Woodlawn in 1994, Riverdale in 1996, and even Scarsdale to the north and Manhattan to the south by the end of the ‘90s.
A few years later, Country Bank moved its headquarters to Manhattan.
As a financial institution, Country Bank’s ultimate mission is to give its customers a sense of familiarity and community when it comes to handling their money, Murphy said. Even in the Bronx, which feels far more urban than suburban, that philosophy holds true because each location has “all the things that give you a community feel, but you’re in the city,” Murphy added.
Murphy himself joined the team just 20 years ago after spending time in real estate and hotel operations. Through the years, he’s learned ways to keep up with technology in order to compete with bigger banks and give people a more human experience when it comes to customer service.
“If you call our bank, you can call any branch and talk to any manager,” he said. “You’re always going to get a live voice.”
The bank prides itself on its 55 employees, which helps create a rather strong ratio when it comes to the number of customers each represents.
“Our staff knows our clients well on a first-name basis,” Murphy said. “That’s a big thing, and that’s what community banking is about.”
With an accessible website and an app, technology has helped Country Bank grow its customer base in a way that wasn’t possible before.
“It’s just allowed us to compete more effectively in locations where we don’t have a branch within two or three blocks of a customer,” he said.
Getting customers is still a challenge for community banks, but to find them no longer necessarily needs bricks-and-mortar locations, Murphy said, since a lot of banking can be done through a smartphone or computer.
“In today’s day and age with technology and stuff, this is not nearly as much of an issue,” he said. “You don’t need to go to a bank branch every day, or every Friday to cash your check anymore. You’ve got all of these technology features that come into play and make a transactional branch a bit obsolete.
“I think branching today is really about branding, marketing, opening accounts, and customer service.”
Country Bank continues to be a family affair of sorts as members of Murphy’s family plays a role in everything, from sitting on the board of directors, handling finances, or working in marketing.
“I think family operations offer a lot of … benefits that you’re not going to get in a cold, institutional environment,” he said. They’re “much more compassionate.”
And believe it or not, working so closely together doesn’t turn the office into the worst part of Thanksgiving dinner, with Murphy calling the interactions “smooth sailing.”
“We all know how to do our own thing without getting in each other’s way,” he said. “We all play to our strengths.”
Looking back on the last 30 years, Murphy said he still can’t believe his family is operating a bank.
“In our wildest dreams, we never imagined we’d be doing what we’re doing today,” he said, “and doing it well.”
The disbelief also stems from how much the financial world has shifted during all this time, whether it was the dot-com bubble, the housing crisis, and even the economic fallout after 9/11.
“We’ve survived all these different recessions through thick and thin, and we’ve grown and prospered,” Murphy said.
As Murphy and his family look ahead to the next 30 years, there’s not much that they want to change right now.
“I think we want to grow at a safe and sound pace as we have,” he said. “I think we want to just continue to improve to serve that we serve and expand the communities.
“Do I want more branches? Not really. But if an opportunity comes up, that’s nice.
“I’d say to try to continue to adopt and embrace technology and the change there, just for the purposes of delivering faster services or solutions to our clients, but not at the expense of our human interaction.”