Officials from Forest Park National Bank are preparing for its 75th anniversary party on May 15 by reflecting on the bank’s history and future as a community institution in and beyond Forest Park. And by changing its name.
The bank hired Forest Park-based Yearbook Design Studio to redesign the logo, which has shortened the bank’s name from Forest Park National Bank & Trust Co. to Forest Park Bank. That will be reflected when the bank unveils its new logo on May 15.
“Approximately 15 years ago, there were like 12 or 13 community banks in this area and now we’re down to two,” said Jerry Vainisi, board chair and CEO. “You have to adapt to changing conditions.”
As banks in Forest Park, Oak Park, River Forest and surrounding areas have closed or merged into regional and national banks, Forest Park Bank survived, thanks to its customer-first philosophy, understanding its niche, and investment in the community, said Vainisi, whose previous career as the general manager of the Chicago Bears coincided with the team’s only Super Bowl win in 1986.
When Vainisi took over the bank in 1999, he said assets were about $47 million. Over the next 10 years, they more than doubled to $125 million in worth. After he hired Dan Watts as president in 2010, the bank has grown to $250 million today. Watts is a former Forest Park village council member.
To celebrate its success and longevity, the bank is throwing a party for the surrounding communities from 5 to 7 p.m. on May 15 at the main bank, 7348 Madison St. O’Sullivan’s Public House, Starship Subs, Exit Strategy will be among those catering the event, and Yearbook and Jenny Shepherd Public Relations are organizing it.
“We are a 1943 bank in a lot of ways and we’re a 2018 bank in a lot of other ways,” Vainisi observed, adding: “Show me a vibrant downtown area and I’ll show you an area of town that has a bank that’s actively involved in the community.”
Forest Park Bank’s future growth, he said, depends on adapting to future challenges and reflecting on lessons learned from the past. In 1999, when local business leaders and political officials organized the Main Street Redevelopment Corporation, Forest Park National was an integral part of that independent group, recruiting new businesses to the street, offering young entrepreneurs loans, and refurbishing buildings to suit the needs of individual companies. Gaetano’s Restaurant, Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor, O’Sullivan’s, and many more benefitted from the bank’s community involvement. The Main Street Redevelopment Corporation has now been folded into the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce.
“Our customer base is small businesses, commercial real estate and then consumer products.” said Watts. “If you look up and down Madison Street the overwhelming majority of small businesses are customers of this bank in one form or another. We look at character as well as cash flow and credit in our underwriting of loans.”
When the financial crisis hit in 2008, Vainisi looked outward again. He and his ex-wife gave up their total ownership of the bank and issued stock to bring in additional capital, which he said got the bank through the tough time. Forest Park National withstood the banking crisis better than the big banking companies, without funding from the Treasury Department’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.
“When the recession hit, the government came on with all kinds of regulations which they’re now cutting back on some. I’m not saying that they didn’t need to step in and act, which they did,” Vainisi said. “It’s like a lot of things, when something goes wrong, you watch the pendulum swing way over and it eventually comes back to where it needs to be.”
Now the bank plans on opening additional branches in Oak Park and River Forest as it strives to make banking as convenient as possible for customers. It also plans on introducing new financial technology, such as allowing customers to deposit a check by taking a picture with their smartphone.
“We’re using technology to reach not only our existing client base within Forest Park, Oak Park and River Forest and Maywood, but offering those same services to people who have moved away,” said Watts, who also serves as chairman of the Illinois Bankers Association trade group. “Whether it’s children of some of our long-term customers or others, technology is changing everybody’s marketplace.”