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Updated: June 3, 2019

Simsbury Bank’s Geitz puts ‘community’ in community banking

Photo | J. Fiereck Photography
Martin J. Geitz  President & CEO, Simsbury Bank Size of organization: 70 employees; $500 million in assets Education: Bachelor’s degree, Johns Hopkins University; MBA, Cornell University Johnson School of Management Previous job(s): Continental Illinois National Bank; Fleet Boston Financial Group; Cigna Bank; MassMutual
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Martin J. Geitz loves the connections associated with running a community bank — from having a hand in all departments to providing a hand to local communities through loans, donations and volunteerism.

For Geitz, president and CEO of SBT Bancorp Inc. and Simsbury Bank, joining the lender 15 years ago was the “best decision of my life.” He’s overseen roughly 250 percent growth in earnings, assets, net loans and core deposits at SBT, which had $507 million in assets at the end of March.

He’s also proud of the bank surviving the “hurricane” that was the 2008 financial crisis.

“We prospered and we’re one of the top-performing banks in the state of Connecticut,” he said, also proud of recognition for the bank’s work culture.

The bank, seen as a safe haven during the crisis, was flooded with deposits and, as a result, needed capital to maintain its “well-capitalized” standing with regulators, he said. Because capital markets for small banks were closed, the bank borrowed $4 million in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money in 2009.

In retrospect, Geitz regrets not taking more TARP money to grow the bank faster through the acquisition of troubled banks and assets and branches they sought to sell.

“We still did OK,” he said.

The bank’s ability to withstand the recession and grow since then, also made it an attractive acquisition target. Geitz’s most recent big move was agreeing to a $71-million buyout by Middletown’s Liberty Bank, a deal currently awaiting regulatory approval.

Community oriented

Geitz cut his teeth at big banks, starting in 1981 as a banking officer with Continental Illinois Bank & Trust Co. in Chicago for three years, then FleetBoston Financial Corp. in various roles spanning 16 years. He was then recruited to Cigna to launch Cigna Bank & Trust Co., where he developed and implemented the business strategy to integrate banking capabilities in the retirement-benefits business. He later joined MassMutual in Springfield to establish a savings product division to help people manage retirement income.

Career-wise, his time at the insurers exposed him to community banking.

Starting at Cigna, he reached out to former Fleet colleagues running community banks in Connecticut for insights he might employ leading a $100-million asset bank that was a small part of a large insurance company. He found they had similar business development, service and balance-sheet management issues. More importantly, he found their descriptions of leading community banks appealing.

“What they did during the day … was a lot of why I got into banking in the first place — it was very customer-focused, very close to the customers,” Geitz said.

He got that at Simsbury Bank, where he went next, in 2004. He became active in community organizations — an important part of the job and key to the bank’s success — and saw up-close the local businesses, people and volunteers who make a community tick.

“In Simsbury, I see that whole other world and it’s a great world,” Geitz said.

Longtime Connecticut attorney Coleman B. Levy called Geitz a “great community banker.”

“He gets involved, he just doesn’t write the check, but he and his employees and his organization become involved and they’re participants and that’s what’s critical,” said Levy.

For its size, Simsbury Bank did a tremendous amount for the community, Levy said.

Geitz said Simsbury Bank prioritizes giving for organizations “that are really important to the quality of life in the community … where $500 or $200 or $1,000 is really important and makes a difference to them.”

It also makes larger contributions, including to the Hill-Stead Museum and Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center, summer home of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s Talcott Mountain Music Festival.

The venue has enormous potential, said Geitz, who sits on its board, which has worked to increase programming and plan future phases to make it year-round, “which would be great for Simsbury, great for the Farmington Valley and Greater Hartford.”

Geitz and bank staff also work with Junior Achievement, among others. Geitz was inducted into Junior Achievement of Southwest New England’s Business Hall of Fame in 2017.

Similar philosophy

Geitz expects continued community support when Liberty Bank completes its acquisition of SBT this fall.

“They have the same philosophy and they recognize how important both individual participation as well as financial support are for all those smaller organizations that make the community strong,” Geitz said.

Simsbury wasn’t looking to sell, but was the last shareholder-owned bank headquartered in Hartford County available for anybody, he said. Liberty also liked Simsbury’s commercial banking business, which focuses on manufacturing, service and construction companies, he said.

Geitz called the deal fair to shareholders, good for customers who can tap more products and lending capacity, and good for Simsbury’s roughly 70 employees, most of whom are expected to remain post-merger.

Geitz, 63, will stay as executive regional director. The Simsbury name will go away.

Levy called it a testimony to Geitz that he’s remaining with Liberty and not being asked to leave.

“Integrity,” Levy said when asked the first thought that comes to mind about Geitz.

“Martin is compassionate, he’s understanding, he’s an excellent banker,” Levy said. “He’s just a good guy.”

Geitz is married to Brenda, an academic adviser at Manchester Community College. They have three grown children, 26, 28 and 30. One, Alexandra Geitz, appears in the credits of the new “Apollo 11” documentary as she works at the National Archives and helped compile NASA films and images seen in the movie.

“My proudest accomplishment is clearly my family, and Brenda and I are both proud of our kids,” Geitz said.

On the job

Guiding business principle: Trust is the best foundation for long-lasting business and personal relationships. It is built by being fair and truthful and having a little humility.

Best way to keep your competitive edge: Listen to customers and employees; keep up with business news and, especially, macro trends in demographics and technology.

Proudest accomplishments: Shared with my wife of 37 years, our three wonderful children; shared with the Simsbury Bank management team, six consecutive years as a Top Workplace.

Goal yet to be achieved: Convincing the other six members of our Congressional delegation to join Rep. Jim Himes in supporting legislation to ease the unnecessary regulatory burden on community banks.

Favorite part of the job: Interacting with people — customers, employees and community — and doing things that result in the kind of organizational culture that cause people to want to work here and do business with us.

Least favorite part of the job: Dealing with the regulatory overreach and compliance burdens designed for the nation’s largest banks yet applied to community banks.

Personal touch in your office: Family photos

Judgment calls

Best business decision: Avoiding risky commercial real estate loans before the 2008 financial crisis that caused significant distress to many Connecticut community banks during the Great Recession. Simsbury Bank had almost no loan problems following the financial crisis, which allowed us to focus on growth.

Worst business decision: Not raising more capital after the financial crisis to take advantage of potential bank acquisition opportunities.

Biggest missed opportunity: Prior to the financial crisis, we were actively pursuing expansion of our investment services business. We put those efforts on the back burner after the crisis due to other banking opportunities and because our models suggested that it would take five years for investment in creating a wealth management capability to yield a return. Now, 11 years later, I wish we had made that investment.

Best way to spot trends: Be active in the market, listen to customers, read a lot of different information sources.

Next big move: Work with Liberty Bank to make our merger with them a success for our shareholders, customers, employees and communities.

Your pet peeve: Meetings that don’t start and end as scheduled or lack a clear agenda.

Personal side

City of residence: Glastonbury

Favorite way to relax: Cooking, golf, movies, reading, gardening

Hobbies: Travel planning

Last vacation: Barcelona and southern France

Favorite movie: “The Godfather”

The car you drive: Lincoln MKZ

Currently reading: “Grant,” by Ron Chernow

Favorite cause: Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center

Second choice career: Travel planner and tour guide.


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