A talk with James Anthony, CEO of MVSB

James Anthony, CEO and president of Martha's Vineyard Savings Bank. — Geoffrey DeMeritt

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank CEO James Anthony about how he ended up here on the Island, what he sees as the role of a small local bank versus a large national or multinational bank, the role of technology, and ultimately how a bank can best serve our community.

James, what’s your background?

I started my professional career as an engineer, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering, and a professional engineer’s license. Working as an engineer helped me realize that a special alchemy happens when people are part of creative and motivated teams, which inspired me to go back to school and earn my master’s in business administration. I then spent a few years as a consultant, studying the successes and failures of a variety of companies across many different industries. That experience confirmed that people are the key to successful communities, and that I really enjoy financial services. I was hired by a small bank on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and ran that bank as president and CEO for over a decade. After that, I led the turnaround of a much larger bank. After accomplishing my goals at that institution, I started a registered investment advisory. The opportunity to join Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank was a perfect match for me professionally and personally. Having been on the Island for some time now has confirmed that; not only for me, but also for my wife and our two daughters. We are very lucky to call Martha’s Vineyard our home.

What’s banking going to look like in five years?

Banking is the business of safeguarding and exchanging the things that our clients value, which is an extension and reflection of their core values. This has been the case for 1,000 years. The mechanisms for exchanging and storing value are changing, heavily influenced by technological innovations, but the fundamentals of the business are unchanged. To stay competitive, Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, much like any business, must listen to its clients and innovate to meet their evolving needs. Our customers want a trusted advisor who can help simplify their financial lives. To earn that honor, we need to be fast, secure, private, convenient, reliable, and insightful.

How does a bank strike a balance between having an economy of scale and providing personal service?

The assumption that a bank has to be huge to be efficient or to “find economies of scale,”as you put it, is in my opinion, false. I believe we can grow at a reasonable pace, continually refine our practices, find efficiencies, AND never, ever, sacrifice the close relationship we have with our clients. One of our core values is being “passionate about our craft” — not our “job” or our “work,” this is our chosen “craft.” Our team is passionate about serving our clients and our community. Often personal high-quality service means quick and efficient transactions, however, inasmuch as “economy of scale” may suggest that we would sacrifice a close personal relationship with our customers, we will choose personal high-quality service over scale.

Can technology actually provide a bank with an economy of scale?

Oddly, recent history has shown that technology can provide economy without scale. Modern technology offers our customers convenience, security, and speed that rival even the largest banks. Again, inasmuch as “economy of scale” may mean the bank would save money by sacrificing quality service, we’ll choose service every time. As part of our craft, we strive to continually improve and make every process more efficient — and technology can go a long way to support and increase efficiency. We invest in technology to amplify the effectiveness of our personal interactions, not automate them.

Do customers even need a physical bank building anymore? If so, what will a branch office look like in, say, 10 years?

It’s hard to say what a bank office will look like in 10 years, but two things seem certain: Branches will be 1) less focused on exchanging paper (including bills), and 2) more focused on collaboration. I believe that we will always require a physical space to have person-to-person conversations. Being able to go to the bank and talk over an issue or a challenge with someone our clients trust is critical to the way we do business. In fact, that point was driven home when a local author asked if she could include her experience with Sharon Simonin, our assistant branch manager in Vineyard Haven, in her upcoming book. The passage and the book resonate with the power of personal interactions — they are so critical.

Can you foresee a time when virtually all bank functions are done online … on mobile devices?

Many of our customers are already using the Internet and smartphones for fast, easy, and secure access to their accounts and to execute transactions. Certainly more and more transactions are being completed online and with smartphones every day, but when it comes to advice, planning, and solving problems, knowing that you are working with someone you trust is very, very important. This is why we view technology as a means to simplify our clients’ financial lives, sweep away the transactional noise, and amplify our personal interactions.

How important is it that you’re the only bank based on Martha’s Vineyard?

Being Island-based is incredibly important to our team and our institution. Our involvement in the community is deep. Our understanding of our clients is vibrant, and our relationships with them are enriched because of our institution’s Island roots. So it’s not so much that we are the ONLY bank based on Martha’s Vineyard — we are Martha’s Vineyard’s Bank.

Can a local bank adequately offer customers sophisticated services like financial planning?

Absolutely. Our team is made up of highly experienced financial professionals from a variety of specialties. We employ the gold standard of financial planning tools, have access to a limitless array of investment assets globally, provide insightful performance reporting, and partner with highly specialized experts across the broad spectrum of investments. Our client-first mindset and capabilities assure a sturdy foundation that strengthens with each passing day.

How big a role does trust play in a customer’s relationship with a bank?

Our relationships with clients are 100 percent about trust. Customers choose us because they trust that we will keep their funds secure, that we will keep their financial information confidential, that we will deliver on our promises, and the reliability of our advice and guidance. We think about how to maintain and build trust every single minute of every day. Without trust, nothing else matters.