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The bank that feels like family

An institution with a deep sense of caring

Institution for Savings in Newburyport tries to be there for its employees in 'good times or bad.' Institution for Savings in Newburyport tries to be there for its employees in "good times or bad." (Globe Staff Photo / John Tlumacki)
By Todd Wallack
Globe Staff / November 6, 2011

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Tom Hopp, 32, joined Institution for Savings eight years ago, and says the Newburyport bank has always gone out of its way to support him. It gave Hopp a $500 gift card when he bought a house, another $500 when he got married, and $500 when he had a daughter. It also threw the couple a baby shower, and gave Hopp several weeks of paid leave when his wife had medical complications. And now, the bank is paying for him to obtain his MBA at Suffolk University.

“As long as I have a job here, I’m happy,’’ said Hopp, vice president for information technology.

Institution for Savings in Newburyport and its Vicinity is the number one small employer in this year’s Top Places survey. Employees praised the 118-employee, 191-year-old bank for its strong ethics efforts to take care of workers.

“We try our best to give them the best benefits,’’ said bank chief executive Michael J. Jones, “and be there when they need in good times or bad.’’

Jones said the bank tries to support the special interests of employees. For instance, if an employee likes to go hiking or play golf, the bank might give the worker extra days off to enjoy those activities, or make sure that runners have time to exercise during long lunch breaks. Jones says he’s confident that workers will repay the bank by working extra hard.

“It really all comes back to us in the end,’’ Jones said. “People really appreciate it.’’

Institution for Savings has also tried to pay better salaries than its competitors, and pays 100 percent of workers’ health care premiums. It offers both a traditional pension and a 401(k) plan with a 100 percent match for employee contributions, up to 10 percent of their income. And it tries to recognize important life events, such as weddings or new babies with cash and gift cards.

The bank is also an unusually stable place to work. Jones tries to promote from within, and can’t think of the last time a manager was fired or quit to take another job. One in four employees have been with the bank for at least a decade.

Jones said he loves to see employees feel confident enough about their jobs to buy a home or car: “It just screams stability.’’

Founded in 1820, Institution for Savings is one of the larger community banks in the northeastern corner of the state, with $1.2 billion in assets. But the bank has been careful not to expand too quickly - it has just six offices - and remains solidly in the black, which allows it to share the wealth with workers. This year, it’s on track to earn $15.7 million.

Institution for Savings is mutually owned, as opposed to being owned by shareholders, so there’s no outside pressure to agressively boost profits. Jones said the bank also donated more than $650,000 to more than 40 organizations last year.

But it’s the treatment of employees that makes the bank stand out. For instance, it surprised mortgage officer Ellin McSweeney with a ticket to England to greet her son, an Air Force sergeant returning from Iraq.

This year, McSweeney, 54, was diagnosed with cancer. The bank arranged rides for her to a medical center for treatment, and provided a laptop so she could check in with clients from home when she couldn’t come into work, she said. It’s also sent her groceries, hired a cleaning service for her home, and dispatched a beautician to give her a manicure and pedicure.

“They’ve been absolutely phenomenal,’’ said McSweeney. “I work for the best company in the world.’’

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.