Small bank has served the same area for 108 years

Barbara Hootman

Black Mountain Savings Bank had a lot of candles on its birthday cake last December when it began its 108th year of doing business in the Valley.

If its blinds are open, president Wendell Begley’s office door grants immediate assess to the bank’s final decision-maker.

“Finances and kids are the important things that demand personal attention,” Begley said. “I stop what I am doing and listen. People want to know that there is someone on site who can make a decision. I put in around 50-55 hours a week at my desk, and Meredith (Begley’s daughter) who is secretary-treasurer of the bank is logging in just as many. ‘Bankers’ hours’ is an offensive term to me and most small-bank presidents.”

The bank began as Black Mountain Building and Loan Association, incorporating Nov. 30, 1908 and starting business three days later. Its first president was Walter L. Dougherty (Begley is the eighth president, having led it for 44 years).

“Black Mountain Savings was founded to serve the financial needs of the people of the Swannanoa Valley, and we continue to do that to this day,” Begley said. “Most importantly, all of our banking decisions are made in Black Mountain by local folks, not faceless individuals. No one ever gets an answering machine, a toll-free number or has to wait on a ‘call-back’ decision from someone outside the bank. The buck really does stop at my desk.”

With six banks, including the credit union, Black Mountain is one of the most competitive banking communities in North Carolin, Begley said.

“In the past three years, at least 20 percent of each of my days is devoted to compliance and regulatory issues that I must address,” he said. “We don’t have various departments with department heads that I can pass this off too, and I feel it must be handled by me. Contrary to what many people think, the Begleys nor the board of directors own any part of the bank. The depositors own the bank, and we are responsible to them.”

Tom Sobol has been the bank’s board chairman since 2007. He’s been a member of the board for 16 years. His primary responsibility is to conduct and facilitate the meetings. Roger Hibbard has served as a board member since 2007, something he is proud of because of the way the bank does business.

“The bank is ‘neighbor helping neighbor’ at its very best,” Hibbard said. “First and foremost, it is owned by its depositors, not stockholders. Any operating gain accrues to depositors. The bank pays a competitive rate to its depositors in order to extend mortgage loans at a competitive rate. Management of the bank is ‘home grown.’

“The management team and directors live and work right here in the Swannanoa Valley. We are your neighbors and treat you accordingly, considering health concerns and negative life events in our banking relationships. The bank’s directors are highly skilled professionals not afraid to ask tough questions and to ensure that the bank is operated in compliance with banking regulations and the highest ethical standard.”

Begley joined his father (Marcus Begley) at Black Mountain Savings Bank as a teller in 1972 and took his place as president in 1979. Throughout the 44 years that Begley has served the bank, the most important aspect has been the one-on-one relationships with people.

“I used to perform all the bank’s appraisals for residential lending,” Begley said, “In my first 18 years at the bank, I probably went inside 1,500 local homes performing appraisals. Also, I used to do all the bank’s accounting and prepare the bank’s annual tax returns. Now I spend much more time producing various FDIC required monthly reports to be given to the bank’s board of directors.

“Today Black Mountain Savings Bank personifies ‘relationship banking,’” Begley said. “Keeping up with the regulatory requirements takes away from relationship banking, and I hate to see that happen. I resigned serving on the Buncombe County School Board to which I had devoted 25 years, of which 10 were serving as the chairman of the board. There just wasn’t enough time to keep doing it.”

Begley was recently appointed as one of the directors of the North Carolina Bankers Association (established in 1897). The association is the professional trade organization that provides advocacy, leadership and support for members banks.

Black Mountain Savings is a FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) insured “mutual” savings bank operating in North Carolina. It serves about 1,300 depositors and borrowers.

The bank has six employees. Most people know them by their first names.

Begley hired Sonya Grindstaff 29 years ago when she was graduating from Owen High School. The teller line is staffed with Linda Haynes (24 years employment), Cortney Kidd (10 years) and Grindstaff. They bring 63 collective years of experience to the customers. Begley’s two daughters, Meredith Begley and Kannah Begley are also long-term employees, with 21 and 8 years of experience respectively. Both are third-generation family members who work at the bank.

With the board’s permission, Meredith will step into her father’s position if anything happens to him.

“I’ve told everyone who will listen that I’ll have to be carried out because I love what I do and have no plans for retirement,” Wendell said.

“Black Mountain Savings Bank is all about helping those who are the strength of our community,” Hibbard said. “It helps men and women of average means who work hard every day and need and deserve a helping hand.”