Hometown Heroes
First Savings celebrates 90 years of being a trusted financial guide to the communities, local businesses and customers it serves
by Sharon A. Shaw

“Do I have enough money to retire? How do I plan for a new baby, a marriage, a divorce—these are the questions people have every day,” says First Savings’ president and CEO Fred Schea. “We can help them through these financial issues. They need a trusted financial guide.” The bank offers free checking, insurance, investment management, retirement planning and commercial and personal lending, among its many other services.

This year First Savings Bank is celebrating its 90th anniversary of serving the local communities, their members and businesses. 

“Some things are basic—respecting your customers, knowing your customers and listening to your customers. These are vital to any business,” says Schea. “We have grown by doing exactly that. Ninety years is a milestone in any organization’s life. Few have a duration that long. We are thrilled to have been in the community for 90 years; it is a credit to our directors, our employees and our customers who have supported and continue to support us.”

Another of the reasons Schea cites in its longevity is First Savings’ fiscal strength. “We keep our focus on meeting the needs of the community and remaining a strong financial institution. We maintain significant capital to sustain us through difficult economic times. … You don’t remain in banking long if you cannot maintain strong capital.”

Following this strategy Schea fully expects First Savings to be around for another 90 years. “We will continue to be fiscally responsible in order to meet the financial needs of our customers and the communities we serve.”

“We offer a set of products that have changed to meet the increasing diversity of the communities we serve,” he says. “We don’t bank like we did 10, 20 or 90 years ago.” The bank has kept up with technology, offering customers the ability to participate in online banking, make remote-capture check deposits and enjoy other modern conveniences. He also believes it is the relationship the bank—and its many representatives—develops with its customers that have contributed most to its success.

“At big banks things must fit into boxes,” says Rick Miller, First Savings’ new chief lending officer. “They are more automated—not people oriented. Big banks have taken people out of the equation. They have more locations but are not flexible in crafting products for the communities because they serve so many.”

While First Savings Bank has been growing—it has three locations in the greater Doylestown area, bringing its total number of branches in Bucks County to 11—its commitment remains to serving these local communities. In addition to these branches it also has three insurance offices, three investment offices and one administration, insurance and loan center in the county to serve its customers’ needs.

It is important to note that First Savings is a mutual savings bank, not a shareholder-owned bank. Instead it relies on a board of directors to provide its sense of guidance. “Our charter dictates that we help the community,” Miller says. “Public banks and stock banks simply do not feel that way.” Miller knows this first hand. During his 26-year career in the business, he has worked for local banks that were eventually bought by larger institutions. “Decisions were taken away from us. The acquiring bank dictated how decisions were made and how we delivered services. … I wanted to get back into a community-minded, smaller institution that delivers its products and services in a personalized way.”

He chose to join First Savings because he likes having personal contact with his customers. “As banks get bigger, it affects their ability to deliver. Smaller community banks do a better job of understanding their customers’ needs, a better job of crafting products and of developing strong relationships because they have a vested interest in the community.” 

As chief lending officer it is Miller’s job to ensure that local businesses—the backbone of most communities—are receiving the financial support they need to grow and thrive. “To me business is all about relationships,” he says. “I get to know customers’ needs and help in a financial way. Our job is to understand what a business needs and then craft products and services that meet those needs accordingly and deliver them in a way the customer trusts.”

Among the many needs for which First Savings offers products are its financial planning services. Susan Fisher, Certified Financial Planner™, vice president and trust officer, approaches her clients’ financial planning needs with a holistic approach. She says that her first task with any client is to help them identify who they are and what goals they have. “Money is just a tool to help them get there,” she says.

Answering these questions requires getting to the root of how they feel about money. For many it is tied to some fear: What if the roof needs to be replaced and how will they send the kids to college, care for aging parents or fund their own retirement? Fisher helps ease clients’ fears with a risk-management plan that lets them go from out of control to in control and making plans to move forward.
The recommendations she offers include budgeting, creating an emergency fund, retirement and college savings and purchasing adequate insurance. First Savings provides all these serves to its customers. Fisher also facilitates more complex legal options that many people have not considered: the creation of a will and living will, establishing a power of attorney and designing a trust that will provide for the children of a first marriage, the care of a special-needs individual or establish rules for managing the finances of an older adult. “Everybody needs a financial plan,” she says.

Fisher acknowledges, though, that her industry has a reputation for being intimidating to women, but she encourages them to be a full-fledged partner in planning their financial future. “Women live longer, are more likely to be caretakers and, despite society’s best efforts, still earn 80 cents on the dollar compared to a man,” she points out. “So if a woman is going to live to be 92, take time off to have children and care for aging parents all while making less—that triplicate puts her behind the eight-ball.”
Fisher’s other area of specialty is as a charitable planner. She is a certified gift planning associate who assists both donors and their selected nonprofits with structured or planned giving. Her experience with establishing donor advised funds, charitable gift annuities, charitable trusts, bequests and scholarships at a public foundation and at a Main Line university brings to her donors a wealth of knowledge that can minimize taxes and maximize the impact of their gift to their chosen nonprofit.

First Savings recognizes that a community is more than businesses and residents. “It is our responsibility,” says Schea, “to support the fire companies and EMS squads that protect our property and our people, the cultural organizations that preserve our heritage and the social ones who support people in need.” By maintaining its emphasis on the communities, local businesses and customers, First Savings is certain to be supporting these organizations for another 90 years … or more. 

Visit www.firstsavingsonline.com to learn about First Savings locations in Upper and Central Bucks County.

Kim Billingsley is a freelance photographer based in Doylestown.