LoBello to leave banking after 45 years

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE Joseph LoBello has a straight-ahead philosophy that explains his approach to banking: "You can't have a healthy bank if you don't have a healthy community."

That explains why in his time at PeoplesBank, first as its president and CEO and then as its chairman, LoBello has made sure the bank and its staff were involved in charitable organizations in the areas and has been "very philanthropic."

The Longmeadow resident is going to retire this month, closing a 45-year chapter in his career. He spent the first 28 years of his banking career with the Third National Bank of Hampden County and then joined PeoplesBank in 1991.

During his tenure, LoBello saw PeoplesBank increase its capital pool in excess of $100 million, create over 100 jobs, open nine new branches and acquire its new headquarters in Holyoke over-looking the Holyoke Mall and Interstate 91.

In an interview with Reminder Publications, LoBello said he has seen two major changes that have affected the banking industry. First, the deregulation of banks in the late 1980s opened a variety of options to consumers. Insurance companies and brokerage businesses were now offering banking products. This increased competition in banking.

The second change was the advent of increased technology and the new products and services it could offer customers. LoBello said the trick was for banks to learn how to balance technology with customer service.

"Banking is a relationship business," he explained.

The American banking industry was unique when compared to those in Canada and the nations of Western Europe, LoBello said. While those nations are served by a relative handful of very large institutions, this country had up to 16,000 banks many of them small community-based banks.

Now LoBello said the number of banks has decreased to about 7,000 in the last decade. There used to be 15 - 20 community banks in Western Massachusetts and now there are only seven or eight, he said.

Larger regional or national banks have bought up the local banks in a wave of mergers over the past 10 years, he explained.

"Hopefully, they all won't disappear," he said. He added he expects to see further consolidations in the future.

PeoplesBank is the last largest mutual bank in Hampden County a business governed not by shareholders, but by a board of depositors. Other banks that were once mutual banks have switched to a stock-based format, he said.

The advantage of having a community-based bank in an area is "community banks tend to lend in their own backyard," he said. He believes a locally based bank can offers customers greater service and can be better corporate citizens.

LoBello said that while he intends to spend time with his granddaughters and try to improve his golf game, he would stay busy with civic activities. He is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame Board of Trustees and is a member of the Springfield Riverfront Development Project and said he would continue his work with both groups.

Keeping to his philosophy of supporting the community, LoBello won't be having a bank-sponsored retirement party. Instead, he asked that any funds allocated to a celebration be donated to The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.