BERLIN – Taylor Bank. Everything a good neighbor should be.
It’s a slogan few would question, as the financial institution that got its start in downtown Berlin is celebrating a remarkable 125 years in business in 2015.
“We’re a relationship bank, not a transaction bank,” said Ray Thompson, president and CEO of Taylor Bank. “When we bring in a new customer, we expect to be their bank for many years.”
Taylor Bank, the lending institution that opened in Berlin in 1890, is still going strong more than a century later. What started as a small bank in Berlin has now become a regional financial institution with branches throughout Delmarva. It remains a locals’ favorite and has gained a reputation as one of the leading banks in Maryland.
“Taylor Bank is one of the top performing banks in the state, if not the country, in terms of asset quality,” Thompson said.
Taylor Bank was founded by Calvin B. Taylor, a well-known teacher, lawyer and businessman, in 1890. Though many banks were struggling at the time, in Berlin Taylor’s operation worked hard to cater to the agriculture industry, and when crop prices rose, the bank was able to grow. It was soon moved from its first location on South Main Street to its current site on the corner of Commerce and Main streets. When a fire destroyed the building in 1901, Taylor erected the brick building that still houses the bank’s main office today.
The bank made it through the Great Depression, World War II and the closure of Harrison Nurseries, the county’s largest employer at that time. Business gradually picked up, and in 1960, Taylor Bank established its first branch office on 20th Street in Ocean City.
In the years to come branches would be added to north Ocean City, West Ocean City, Berlin, Snow Hill, Pocomoke and Ocean View.
“We’ve sustained 19 recessions and one Great Depression,” Thompson said.
He credits the bank’s survival to its conservative nature and a sharp board of directors made up of many of the area’s business leaders.
“The reason we’ve been able to sustain the economic peaks and troughs is because of our conservative culture,” Thompson said. “We have a very good cross section of talent on our board.”
Board members, like much of the bank’s leadership, serve not just for years but often decades. Since Taylor died in 1932, the bank has had just three other chief executive officers —Reese Cropper Sr., Reese Cropper Jr. and Thompson.
Thompson, a Berlin native who has been with the bank since the 1990s, said leadership changes, though infrequent, had been carefully planned out so that the bank would be prepared for the future.
“It was designed to be forward thinking and to make sure we had the right people to move the bank forward,” he said. “Management succession is a key ingredient to the success of any bank.”
Eastern Shore developer Jack Burbage, who was a customer of the bank’s long before he was appointed to its board of directors in the 1980s, praised Cropper and Thompson for their leadership.
“I’ve been associated with Taylor Bank all my life,” he said. “I’ve watched the bank do well and take care of customers. That’s the kind of bank I want to be associated with.”
Attorney Joe Moore, in his 39th year as a member of the bank’s board of directors, says he too is very proud of Taylor Bank. He’s watched it change with the times while remaining true to its customers.
“We still consider ourselves a local bank,” he said.
Moore joined the board of directors just two years after Hale Harrison of the Harrison Group, owner of numerous hotels and restaurants in Ocean City, and still recalls what issue the bank was tackling then.
“I remember the intense debate about whether we’d get a computer for the bank,” Moore said.
He and Harrison, among the younger members of the board at the time, argued in favor of the new idea.
“Hale and I were out of short pants when we got on the board but we were a lot younger …,” Moore said, recalling some of the community stalwarts at the time who served with him. “They were not really used to innovative ways. Luckily, we prevailed and we became computerized.”
In recent years, increased regulation has been the biggest change the bank has had to tackle.
“Regulation and increased concern about cyber security are two of the greatest challenges facing banks today,” Thompson said. “It takes a lot of resources to do that.”
Taylor Bank now has just under 100 employees dedicated to serving the institution’s array of customers, which include a mix of individuals as well as local businesses.
“We have the number one deposit share in Worcester County,” Thompson said.
The bank has received national attention for its success and has been consistently rated a 5-Star bank by BauerFinancial, the nation’s premier bank rating firm that has been evaluating and rating banks since 1983. Earning a 5-Star Superior rating means Taylor Bank excels in areas of capital, loan quality, profitability and more. By achieving this 5-Star Superior rating for the most recent 100 consecutive quarters, Taylor Bank has earned an even more elite status of “Best of Bauer” Bank. This designation is reserved for those banks that have maintained the 5-Star rating for 25 years or longer.
“Taylor Bank’s achievement is a result of its commitment to community banking and values,” said Karen L. Dorway, president of Bauer Financial. “By focusing on the financial needs of local families and businesses, Taylor Bank has in turn, charted its own path. It is a symbiotic relationship: the more success customers have, the more success the bank will have. It is built on a commitment to each other and is what all banks should strive for.”
Taylor Bank’s recent growth has prompted construction of its first new branch since 1998. Last week, officials broke ground at the site of a new branch to be built in front of Home Depot on Route 50 in Berlin. The building, which should be open by late spring, will reflect the architecture of nearby Riddle Farm.
“We try to do everything we can to reflect the history of the area we’re in,” Thompson said. “We want our buildings to blend in.”
As the bank’s commitment to its clients has stayed strong for more than a century, its leaders don’t expect anything to change with its continued expansion. Even as the area has seen an influx of national bank chains, locals still seem to prefer the personal service they receive from Taylor Bank.
“National banks fill a niche,” Burbage said, “but they’re harder to do business with. They’re not as personal and there’s more paperwork.”
Harrison said Taylor Bank understood the local market and supported its entrepreneurs.
“It’s always been a strong community bank and it’s stayed true to its roots,” Harrison said. “Taylor Bank is almost like a community trust. I hope the bank will be like that for many more years to come.”