Warm flames glow in the fireplace on a crisp winter afternoon, as the shadows dance over the scenic artwork displayed on the walls. A television hanging nearby broadcasts the day’s programming. You are greeted by name as you grab a homemade cookie before seating yourself on a comfortable armchair.
It’s a scene reminiscent of living rooms across America. The kicker, however, is that you’re not even home yet – because this is actually the lobby of Gateway Bank in Gainesville.
“When we built the bank I told the designer, ‘I want this to feel like my study at home,’” said Danny Gilliland, Market President at Gateway. “So we’ve got the homemade cookies, the TV and the fireplace. I wanted it to feel like a place you could sit and read a book. I actually had a customer tell me that one time.”
It’s a far cry from the sterile, impersonal environment seen in most banks. Yet for the past four years, Gateway Bank has prided itself on modern banking with a homespun atmosphere. Its products and services span personal and commercial banking, residential loans, wealth management *, online banking options and more, just like bigger financial institutions. However, Gateway Bank has its own advantage – a personal touch that goes beyond cookies.
One of three Gateway Banks, with nine branches in the state of Florida, the Gainesville, Alachua and Ocala banks have its own board of directors, and decisions on all loans and other transactions are made locally. This is especially helpful for business owners who need credit or other assistance; a local representative, as opposed to a corporate manager in another state, is far more likely to understand the circumstances surrounding the owner’s needs.
“If you’re dealing with somebody at Gateway Bank, you’re either talking with the decision maker, or the decision maker is in the office next door – not in Charlotte or Atlanta,” Gilliland said. “We’re going to do the underwriting locally and make the decision locally. We’re going to know their business at a ground level so we can understand if they have a credit hiccup or extenuating circumstance. We’re going to know them because we’re involved in the community, and they are our neighbors. We go to church with them and our kids play little league together.
That understanding nature is evident in every employee hired at Gateway Bank. Gilliland first and foremost looks for people who are not only willing to interact with other people, but who truly enjoy it. He explained that he can teach someone about banking, but it takes a special person to want to help people and establish a personal connection with people. And through that personal connection, customers are better served.
“Functionally, banking is banking. My checking account doesn’t look much different from the bank down the street,” Gilliland said. “It comes back to people taking care of their friends. You make friends; you take good care of your friends. It’s that simple. That’s what we do. We don’t try to sell them something they don’t need. We try to understand what their needs are.”
Paige Hale is the bank’s branch operations manager for the Gainesville and Alachua branches. She joined Gateway Bank four years ago with more than 33 years of banking experience.
“Our customers were ready for a locally owned and operated bank. We take pride in giving the best hands-on service and getting to know our customers personally,” Hale said. “We feel building a relationship and offering great service is what makes our bank special. Instead of giving out a toll-free number, our customer will get somebody they know when they call us. They can call any of the branches with any issues and the problems will be resolved personally and in a timely manner.”
Personal touches aside, Gateway Bank also provides solid financial stability because of its association with the other Gateway banks in Sarasota and Daytona. The banks combine to represent roughly half a billion dollars in assets. This gives Gateway Bank the strength of bigger banks – an important quality in today’s unsteady economy. When taken as a whole, they are in the top 10 percent of all banks headquartered in the state of Florida when it comes to overall financial strength. It also allows the company to support local causes, as it did with the March of Dimes and the Heart Walk in 2012—not to mention countless other not-for-profits supported by the employees.
As far as Gilliland is concerned, financial strength and product offerings alone don’t make happy customers. He firmly believes that a good “new old-fashioned” personal touch is exactly what makes banking work in these hectic times.
“One of my favorite shows is “The Andy Griffith Show.” I can have as bad a day as you can imagine, but I go home, cut that TV on and the whistling starts and the world is okay,” Gilliland said. “In this fast-paced world, I think we’re all looking back to when people were really appreciated and there was a real connection, whether it’s your bank or anywhere else. I think we all sort of want that.”
*(Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. member FINRA/SIPC, not FDIC insured, not guaranteed by Gateway Bank and subject to risk and may lose value, not a deposit, and not insured by a government agency. Raymond James is not affiliated with Gateway Bank.)