Highland Park banker strives for small-town feel in era of mega-banks
Highland Park Bank & Trust president Sandra McCraren in front of the bank at St. Johns Avenue and Elm Place. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 17, 2013 12:57PM
HIGHLAND PARK — Bank president Sandra McCraren wants customers to feel the security of the $19 billion Wintrust holding company when they do business with Highland Park Bank and Trust.
But if their banking doesn’t have a small-town feel, she’d be disappointed.
The bank’s contributions to the community recently earned McCraren and the bank the Len Cobey Award from the Downtown Property Owners’ Association.
Q: Is community involvement especially important for a bank like yours, which is trying to set itself apart from the national name banks?
A: We definitely have to differentiate ourselves. We all have (Certificates of Deposit). We all have checking accounts.
But I like to think that our level of service is really special. We know people. We know their kids. We know their dogs. Whether you have $50, or $500, or $5,000, you are our customer and you are special. We did a Shop Local/Bank Local promotion during the holidays and we went around to collect items from each of the businesses. We put together a $5,000 gift basket and we raffled it off. We did that because we knew it was good for the community. It’s good to shop local. It’s good for the tax base of Highland Park.
Q: Highland Park already had about 13 banks when Highland Park Bank and Trust arrived in 2002. What about Highland Park made it attractive?
A: Wintrust’s belief is that there is a segment of every community that believes in local, hometown community banking. What we have created is the ability to have this larger engine facilitating a smaller community bank style. (Wintrust) doesn’t want a customer to come in and say, ‘I have a problem’ and hear, ‘Oh, for that problem you call this 1-800 number.’ The beauty of Wintrust is that we have multiple charters and each community has its own bank. So not only can we serve the individual and help sponsor the school PTOs and Fun Fairs, we also can take care of the more sophisticated needs that our residents and business owners have.
Q: Do you attribute your bank’s growth at least in part to your community-oriented philosophy?
A: We’ve done well. I don’t think of it as building the bank, but as building relationships. I know it may sound a little cliche but it’s true. With those relationships come a lot of things: Confidentiality, trust, respect, service. We are doing it with a smile and with a sense of responsibility. I think that really came through, even during very difficult economic times. We are a very traditional bank. We don’t take a lot of risks with things that might be detrimental to the financial stability of the organization.
Q: You have maintained your role as Wintrust’s “franchise specialist” along with your other responsibilities. What does that entail?
A: I have this very unique niche in franchise lending. I fell into it 27 years ago. I have developed really great relationships with the McDonalds Corporation, Yum Brands, Papa Johns, Panera Bread. We lend fanchisees money to do remodels, or maybe buy another store or buy equipment. It is a very unique piece of the portfolio. We do a lot of research on the type of metrics we use for that type of lending.