Contrarian strategy

Big banks have a lobby. Western Reserve has a parlor.

Big banks have a mission statement. Western Reserve doesn’t.

And those aren’t the only differences.

At Western Reserve, customers can sit in a nice chair and chat with a teller. They can get a free drink out of the refrigerator or have a fresh cup of coffee brewed for them.

Ed McKeon, president and CEO of the Medina-based bank, has taken a contrarian strategy to bring service back to the banking industry.

“There’s a mission statement here, it just isn’t written down,” says McKeon. “If you take awesome care of the customer, you can let the chips fall where they may, period. We all do business with people we like. If customers like you, then you don’t have to do anything else.”

The bank’s living room-like appearance is meant to put customers at ease and take away the intimidation factor.

“You can sit down with our tellers, which is very inefficient,” McKeon says with pride. “The whole industry is driven by the efficiency ratio. Banks are cutting costs — their people — and increasing their fees to get more efficient per dollar of earnings. I want to have the least efficient bank in town.”

Western Reserve’s efficiency rating may not compare to that of its publicly traded rivals, but customers seem to like it. The bank has grown from $62 million in assets in 2001 to $92 million now — and is projected to be more than $100 million by the end of the year.

A big part of that is the emphasis on service and finding good employees. McKeon found out what the area’s average teller pay and added 15 percent to 20 percent to it.

“Tellers are the lowest-paid positions in the bank, yet they touch more people in a day than an executive could touch in a month,” says McKeon. “I don’t want turnover. I want the same people year after year.”

Larger banks promote multiple checking accounts, insurance and investments, and are always pushing other products. Western Reserve essentially has one type of checking and savings account.

“Nobody cross-sells anything here,” says McKeon. “I came from an environment where we were trying to sell the customer something else before they could get through the door. Customers cross-sell themselves when they are happy. They send all our business to us.”

The bank doesn’t sell insurance or investments, either.

“The normal commercial bank has over 100 products,” says McKeon. “If you go to a branch and ask about a couple of their less normal products, they can’t explain them. How in the world are you going to sell me the latest greatest mutual fund and be good at it if you don’t even know your own products? We keep it simple.”

McKeon wants every customer to feel like they are the most important customer the bank has, regardless of account size. He does this by hand-writing a note to each new customer that has all of his contact information on it, including his cell phone number.

“Sometimes someone with a $100 savings account may do something that makes a big difference,” says McKeon. “We eat the big banks alive, but they don’t care. They don’t even know we’re here.

“There are 12 big banks in our market, and we’ve gone from nothing to the second largest in the market.” How to reach: Western Reserve Bank, (330) 764-3131 or

Little things matter

Ed McKeon, president and CEO of Medina-based Western Reserve Bank, knows that little things can add up.

Take, for instance, the fellow he would see in the parking lot having a smoke while he sat in his pickup truck. McKeon waved every time he saw him and eventually struck up a conversation with the man and got to know him.

Turns out the man’s wife is a controller for a company that kept seven figures of money in other banks, and the company was unhappy with the complete lack of service.

“She told the owner of the company that they needed to talk to us,” says McKeon. “They moved to us just because we took care of a guy in a pickup truck outside our bank.”

Another time a customer called at 7 p.m. on a Friday because she was over her credit card limit and couldn’t get her car back from the repair shop. McKeon debited the woman’s savings account the $200 and drove it down to her so she could get her car.

“Our strategy is pure and simple: Take care of the customer. It’s not exotic stuff, but banks don’t do it. It’s the small stuff that matters.”