Bullish outlook: Bank on it

Divina Baratta

In late February, when corporate bank bailouts captured more media attention than the healthcare debate, South Side Bank was busy preparing to open the doors of its new branch at 4520 N. Sheridan Road.

On March 2, it did just that, expanding its chain to 12 total full-service locations covering Peoria, West Peoria, Chillicothe, Bartonville, East Peoria and Washington. In addition, the institution has a mobile bank that travels to large community events.

Although challenged by unemployment and a market of consumers understandably cautious about spending and borrowing, South Side reports that business is up.

“We are extremely pleased to be able to say our core deposit base is very strong,” said marketing director Emma Vandeveer.

Vandeveer said South Side has one of the strongest capital ratios among all banks in the area.

She attributes their success to hard work and a commitment to more traditional banking practices.

“We stayed away from non-traditional, exotic lending products,” she said.

“We deliver solid, competitive retail and business products and services, topped off with consistent top-notch customer service.”     

This traditional approach, she said, has offered the chain some impressive longevity.

South Side Trust & Savings Bank opened its doors in January 1922 in the South End.

The bank, Vandeveer said, endured the test of time and proves, by example, that a bank can persevere in any economy.

Robert Wingert, president of the Community Bankers Association of Illinois, said he is not surprised by South Side’s latest success.

“We have a tremendous tradition of community banking in Central Illinois,” he said.

“And, I think, community banks here and across the country are now more readily recognized as sound alternatives to larger national banks. Account holders know that their funds are safe. And there still is money to lend despite what you hear.”

 Wingert said, however, that all banks are carefully scrutinizing borrowers.

Changes in the lending process have made things tighter in the loan area.

Bank regulators, he said, now examine bank loan records every six to 12 months.

But, he said, community banks, with their more prudent approach to lending and growth, are well positioned for stricter regulatory controls.

Peoria Community Bank has also found success in the market lately with reports of very low loan loss and delinquencies. 

The Morton bank, founded in 1961, and with a bank in North Peoria has a record of doubling its assets every five years. “We’re lending every week,” said the bank’s co-chairman Gordon Honegger, who said he believes this year may be their best one yet.