NORWAY —  Norway Savings Bank recently announced the promotion of Dan Walsh to President. The New England native has more than 30 years experience, starting his first job in banking while still in college, working in the mail room.

“About as low as you can get on the totem pole,” he quipped.

But once he graduated he stayed in the field, taking a position as a commercial credit analyst.

Fast forward to 1992, when Walsh decided to follow his wife Lynda to Maine to raise their family near her hometown of Westbrook. He secured a job with Casco Northern Bank, which eventually became part of Key Bank. In 1997 he moved onto Coastal Bank, which merged with Norway Savings Bank in 2001. He steadily moved up the ranks of NSB’s commercial lending division, eventually assuming the role of Executive Vice President & Senior Commercial Lender.

And in September of this year Walsh was named President of Norway Savings. He succeeds Patricia Weigel, who was named Chief Executive Officer and Chairwoman of the Board and plans to retire in about a year. Having worked closely with Weigel for years, moving into her old role as senior lender when she was promoted to bank president in 2011, he stresses what an opportunity it has been to follow a similar trajectory, calling her a great leader.

Weigel recalls first meeting Walsh back in 2001 when she joined Norway Savings.

“I came in right in the middle of the merger with Coastal,” she said. “As with most mergers, it was a chaotic time for all of us.  Suddenly we were bringing together two separate and distinct corporate cultures. Dan stood out as someone who valued collaboration, transparent communication, and thoughtful decision making.  His leadership stood out right away.”

Walsh is passionate about the relationships and supports that community banks extend to their customers, a connection that the larger, national banks cannot accommodate. That support has never been more important than this year, as thousands of Maine families and businesses are threatened by not only a pandemic, but a gut wrenching economic halt.

“The community bank is tied to its people,” Walsh said. “The two are dependent on each other. We can do things for our customers that national banks aren’t positioned to.”

The Payroll Protection Program, set up in the wake of the economic collapse earlier this year, is just one example. The federal program sent financial lenders into overdrive as the fallout of COVID-19 brought millions of businesses to the brink.

“Norway Savings has 24 branches, and every employee stepped up to get funds dispersed through the forgivable loans,” he explained. “In an average year we will process around 400 commercial loans. Over just three months, we handled 1,400 applications, distributing $115 million to our clients. We tracked the information our clients had to provide, and in that time we impacted 9,000 jobs.

“Our staff worked days, nights and weekends. It was a company-wide effort, and it helped us too. With branch lobbies closed, many our staff had downtime. We were able to shift those employees to assist with PPP so that they could continue to work.

As Walsh explains it, assisting current and new clients with a nimble reaction is something that national banks just are not in a position to do. The larger corporate lenders were unable to keep up with the demand for aid, the consequence being that small businesses had a hard time getting the right person on the phone, never mind snagging the time to have their loans processed.

“Norway was able to take care of its customer base,” he said. “And then we opened up the program for any small business owner, regardless if they had accounts with us or not.”

Walsh extends his praise for local response to all the community banks that serve Maine.

“I have done a lot in my career,” Walsh said. “And this was by far my proudest moment. To see the impact and hear the response from the community of what it did for them.

“Norway, and all the community banks just did an amazing job. This moment provided real clarity to the value of what local banks provide to their customers.”

Responding to the call of the PPP was not the only way Norway Savings stepped up to help its neighbors. Always at the forefront of community support, the bank regularly donated to 12 food pantries in the regions it serves. It continued to sponsor and support many charitable organizations it has partnered with over the years. And it discovered it had the means to help frontline health care workers as well.

“This was Pat’s [Weigel] idea and it was a good one,” Walsh said. “Like most businesses, Norway Savings has a disaster plan in place. We took inventory of what we had in it. It turned out that we had the kinds of supplies that medical care providers were worried they might run out of – sanitizer, soaps, personal protective equipment. We had a stash of 2,000 N95 masks.”

Norway Savings divvied up the PPE and supplies on hand and donated them to three medical groups, Western Maine Health in Norway, Hospice of Southern Maine in Scarborough and Androscoggin Home Health & Hospice in Lewiston.

“Who would think that a bank would need N95 masks?” Walsh mused. “We didn’t need them in house. It made no sense to hold onto them when so many providers were worried about running out.”

The fall surge of COVID-19 cases is causing Norway Savings to once again close its lobbies to foot traffic and relegate in-person transactions to drive-up’s only, starting this week. But Walsh says all branches will continue to work with  customers as they navigate the requirements of the PPP.

“We want to help small businesses meet the requirements to make their loans forgivable,” he said. “And be prepared for more federal relief from Washington, DC, which is past due. Consumers, businesses, communities: they are hurting and continue to be impacted by the pandemic.

“There is no agreement between the parties, and party shouldn’t matter. So many people need assistance now.”

Walsh notes that Norway Savings is committed to continue helping customers get through the economic upheavals of 2020.

“We want to provide flexibility through this period so they can get back on their feet. If they are having trouble making their mortgage or other loans we will work them. But we need our customers to call us and tell us. That’s the only way we can know if people are in need, otherwise we can’t help.

“We can’t do everything, but we can look at relief options. We may be able to adjust payments or waive fees. This is for consumers as well as businesses. I worry that next year it may be too late for many people to recover.”

Walsh has worked primarily out of Norway Savings’ Congress Street office in Portland. Currently he splits time with the bank’s headquarters in Norway. By the end of the year he expects his schedule to flip, making Norway his primary office location.

“I look forward to meeting more people in the Norway community,” he said. “Isolation has been a challenge. But hopefully the end of our health crisis is in sight.”

But the pandemic has helped introduce community banks to the future and the need for more technology, flexibility and community support. At the top of Walsh’s list of things to tackle is digital banking.

“We need to improve the remote experience for our customers,” he said. “We do a good job; we need to do a better job. Invest in digital banking solutions.

“We also need to continue Norway Savings’ legacy of community support to all the communities it serves. We have been doing that for 154 years and that won’t stop. And one of the silver linings businesses are seeing these days is that working remotely is good for our employees. Working from home has boosted productivity and it works. Immediately, starting last March, at least a third of our work force started working for home. We need to figure out how to make it part of our permanent policy.”

Walsh sees telecommuting not just as a benefit for his employees but the whole state.

“We talk about the ‘brain drain,’ of young professionals needing to leave Maine for their careers. In the future they may be able to be mobile workers for out-of-state companies and enjoy the quality of life that Maine has. We moved here for that reason, because it’s where we wanted to raise our family. If more people can choose to make their home here it will open opportunities for local businesses, for real estate development and a stronger economy.”

For her part, Weigel is confident Walsh is the right choice to lead Norway Savings into the future.

“Dan’s sense of humor is known far and wide throughout the bank. He brings an abundance of energy into the room,”she said. “We volunteer Dan for all kinds of roles and he never disappoints, whether it’s donning the Grinch outfit for the annual Norway Christmas parade, or dressing up as Scooby Doo at the bank’s 150th  all-employee banquet celebration.  He is very well-liked and respected by all.

“Dan is a selfless leader who truly understands the value of  teamwork. He will never take credit for any successes, perhaps one of the most humble people I know. He recognizes the importance of his co-workers and the talents they bring to the bank. He is a big picture guy and values high achievement.”

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