On the Sunnyside of the Street Tim Sullivan on Community Banking

He graduated from Manhattan College in the mid-70’s majoring in economics and history. From there he chose Fordham University and received a Master’s Degree in Political Science. In 1978 he began his professional career with the National Bank of Westchester in White Plains, soon after acquired by Chase Manhattan Bank. Tim Sullivan remained at Chase until 1992 and held positions as a corporate banker which included making loans to middle market businesses in Westchester and New York City.

imagesHe was promoted to regional vice president and managed 17 retail branches in Westchester and Rockland Counties. Two of those branches were in Tarrytown and one was in Briarcliff. He became the manager of Chase’s Global Credit Training Program during his final two years at the Bank. From Chase, Sullivan moved to M&T Bank as a vice-president of private banking in New York City before spending the last 12 years at Amalgamated Bank as an executive vice-president. In summary, Tim Sullivan has been a banker for 30 years.

He has now been at Irvington’s Sunnyside Federal Bank, in a new position, for a little over 8 months and we recently had the opportunity to talk with the Bank’s new President and CEO. The topic started with the merger of big banks and how these acquisitions impact their customers. "As larger banks that compete in Westchester County merge, the first inclination of those banks is to try and find additional economies. That usually means branch closings or cutbacks in staffing. As one bank goes away there is less competition in the short run. In the longer run community banks move in to fill that void and they have a measure of success," Sullivan said. He noted that community banks attract customers that have usually been disenfranchised by their previous bank. "People always have to ask themselves if they are receiving the same level of service as they were prior to their bank being merged," Sullivan added. That question plays out in assessing the interaction that people have with their bankers. Furthermore customers need to assess whether their bankers still retain the same level of authority they had prior to the merger. "Does the manager of branches have the authority to waive a fee or make a loan? That goes to the issue of whether decisions are made locally. Local decision-making is particularly important in approving mortgages for the purchase of a home," Sullivan said. He went on to add that community banks tend to hold the mortgages they make and because of that they have to spend more time qualifying applications and making sure that the loans are of the highest quality. That goes hand-in-glove with the fact that local banks make investments in their own community. "For Sunnyside Federal we’re doing business in the river towns primarily. We’re prominent in the mortgage market even today where at some banks mortgages are harder to get. We have very competitive rates and provide one-on-one service. On that side we do a very good job at reaching out in our community," he added. Having good service and a stable staff of people has helped Sunnyside to know its customers very well. Human nature being what it is, most people like to deal with those they know and like.

With one branch on Irvington’s Main Street, Sunnyside Federal has assets in excess of $100,000,000. When asked whether the Bank had any plans to open additional branches within Westchester, Sullivan said, "We are always considering opportunities to improve our delivery to our customers. The first way that will manifest itself will be through better use of the internet and through online banking and bill-paying. As to whether or not we will go into other communities with additional branches, we will have to wait and see. We already have a strong commitment to Irvington, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. There are people who are making the trip specifically to see us," Sullivan said.

As its President and CEO, Tim Sullivan’s objectives are relatively simple for Sunnyside Federal. "I want to preserve what’s right about the Bank and make our presence even larger within our community. Another thing is to modernize the Bank by spending money on technology and to offer more products and services to stay as competitive as we can be across the board," he said.

Tim Sullivan is confident that Sunnyside Federal serves an important need in the river towns as an accessible and vibrant community bank. "I tell people to keep checking back with us to see the changes we are putting in place and to let us know how we’re doing," he said. He and his staff are doing everything they can to be an even greater resource to the customers they serve.

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About the Author: Robert Bonvento