By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
Pulaski Bank began in 1922 as a place ordinary people could go to get credit without being intimidated, says W. Thomas Reeves, president of the bank.
The 2015 TORCH Award winner, originally based in a Polish community northwest of downtown, has kept its focus on retail customers as well as small and medium-sized businesses as it grew to 13 bank branches sprinkled across the St. Louis area, with loan offices in Kansas City, Southwest and Mid-Missouri; Wichita and Lawrence, Kans.; Omaha, Nebr., Council Bluffs, Iowa and Chicago.
“That philosophy has lasted through the three generations of the Donius family,” and beyond, now that no members of the family are involved in the bank’s management, Reeves said. Pulaski’s holding company, Pulaski Financial Corp., is publicly traded on the NASDAQ Global Select Market.
Each bank is set up as a “true community bank,” with local decision-making and a local board. Each branch manager or commercial loan officer is encouraged to get involved in the community, “to find out what we can do at the street level to help,” Reeves said.
Branches have changed hours to accommodate small businesses, as happened in the Central West End. The downtown location has been involved with redevelopment of the Old Post Office, the Arcade Building and attracting the Culinaria by Schnucks to downtown. In fact, the Culinaria is right across the street from Pulaski’s downtown branch at Ninth and Olive streets.
Pulaski’s specialty, beyond retail banking, is working on complex redevelopment projects that involve incentives like tax credits and tax increment financing.
More recently, Pulaski worked with St. Louis County, the state of Missouri, the St. Louis Regional Chamber and other banks to develop a business relief fund in Ferguson. The Recovery St. Louis program provides loans with no interest and can include partial forgiveness of the loan principal. It has been expanded to include the South Grand business district in St. Louis.
“We’re here to help,” Reeves said.
Bank lobbies have seating areas with television, fresh-baked cookies and coffee. Reeves says some customers drop in to watch the news and enjoy the refreshments.
Bank employees compete for “banker of the month” and “employee of the month” honors, which includes a reserved parking spot and recognition from top bank officials.
Reeves said the bank hires people who want to be part of a team focused on customer service and community involvement. They work side-by-side with established team members to learn their jobs and absorb the Pulaski culture.
“What we try to do is get the right people who are going to be part of a team,” Reeve said. Community reinvestment “is deeply cultural. We don’t see that as a box to check off. We live it. It’s who we are, and we really live it.”
Like many banks, Pulaski went through some rocky times earlier this century, when the bottom dropped out of the real estate market and a significant development went sour. Reeves said the bank is beyond the retrenching that occurred several years ago. Pulaski, long a leader in mortgage lending in St. Louis, is seeing an uptick in that business, too.
The bank’s “statistics are strong, capital is strong, and we are actively back in the lending business,” Reeves said.
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses, non-accredited businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. To register for this year’s TORCH Awards luncheon on Nov. 13, go to http://www.bbb.org/stlouis/events.