“No two days have been the same since I started, and I love that,” McFadden says.
“I’m at my best when I’m figuring things out, solving problems,
and establishing processes and procedures.”
December 14, 2022 – It took Chris McFadden about 10 minutes to realize Union County Savings Bank was where she belonged. That’s how long it took Chairman and CEO Joseph Yewaisis to demonstrate his conviction and commitment to the community bank headquartered in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
“Joe was so transparent about the bank’s challenges and his vision for its future,” recalls McFadden, the bank’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, about her first conversation with Yewaisis. “He had such passion, which is how I enjoy business. I have to be passionate about my work. We realized our objectives were aligned and that we would make a good team.”
Since then, Yewaisis, McFadden and a new leadership team have charted a course for the 139-year-old Union County Savings Bank that includes a suite of new products and services. The bank, known for its great CD and loan rates, also has increased staffing and begun renovations to modernize its two Elizabeth buildings.
McFadden came to UCSB in March, soon after Yewaisis took over the community bank. The two collaborate on bank opportunities and strategy, while McFadden manages day-to-day operations and runs the bank when Yewaisis isn’t in the office.
“We are truly partners in running the business,” Yewaisis says. “Before making decisions, we talk things through. I respect Chris’s opinion because she’s smart and she works as hard as I do, which is at a relentless pace.”
Since McFadden’s arrival, automated processes have replaced time-consuming and expensive manual ones, and by year’s end, new digital tools should vastly improve convenience for existing customers while attracting new ones.
“I’m just one small part of a team that’s trying to steer the ship,” says McFadden, who prefers discussing the people around her who make these advancements possible. She notes that most of the senior management team were already at the top of their fields when they came to UCSB, a small community savings bank with $2 billion in assets.
“People ask why we would want to take this on at this stage of our careers, and well, we are all passionate and we love the challenge,” says McFadden, who previously had C-suite positions at NVE Bank in Englewood and Banco Popular North America. “It’s really exciting, laying the foundation for something that will hopefully be around for another 139 years.”
With her vast experience in community banking, McFadden is uniquely qualified to handle anything that comes her way, and that takes pressure off of him, Yewaisis says.
“She’s been a CFO or controller for the past 25 years,” Yewaisis says. “With that seasonality and experience comes an even temperament because she’s seen all economic cycles, all transactions. Nothing’s going to surprise her.”
McFadden is helping bring the bank into the 21st century without losing the sense of tradition that comes from being in the same city for 139 years. Online and mobile banking, remote bill-paying, debit cards, a network of fee-free ATMs and money transfers with Zelle will be available within months, while customers can continue using passbooks, walking or driving up to an outdoor teller window and visiting branch representatives they’ve known for decades.
In a world of no-contact, almost sterile banking services, Union County Savings Bank treasures the personalized service that has made it vital to generations of customers.
“It’s important to us to maintain our commitment to all of our customers and the city of Elizabeth,” McFadden says. “I walk around outside and see a great city with many small businesses and dynamic people. We are the only bank headquartered here, and we value that connection. We’ve made a commitment to renovate our buildings and stay right here, supporting the community as we have since 1883.”
The bank’s original headquarters at 61 Broad Street is undergoing a $1 million remodel that will modernize and refresh the branch. The current headquarters at 320 North Broad Street, where UCSB has been based since 1957, is scheduled for a $4 million transformation to begin in the spring. During renovations, daily branch operations will be available as much as safety allows.
This effort to keep the doors open comes from McFadden’s respect for the community and the dedication of the bank’s 52 employees, each of whom has an important role to play in the success of the bank, McFadden says.
“It takes a special kind of person to work in our environment — a community bank with some very lofty goals that we’re trying to achieve in a short time,” she says. “It’s a very fast-paced and demanding environment, one in which you wear many, many hats. You really have to jump in with both feet, and you can’t be afraid of change. It sounds cliche, but it really is like a family. We enjoy working together and we have fun; you’ll often hear laughter in the office.
“It’s rare in a finance role to have the opportunity to interact directly with customers, but in community banking, especially here at UCSB, I talk to customers and people in the community every day,” McFadden says. “It’s very fulfilling to speak with a customer, find a solution and have the authority to implement it on the spot.
The community bank environment suits McFadden, who embraces innovation and the variety her job offers. “No two days have been the same since I started, and I love that,” she says. “I’m at my best when I’m figuring things out, solving problems and establishing processes and procedures.”
Yewaisis, who calls McFadden “the best CFO I’ve ever worked with,” says she’s at ease in any environment and moves from one challenge to another without missing a beat. He especially appreciates her quiet confidence, a character trait that complements his more exuberant management style. “We’re the perfect combination,” he says.
When she joined the bank in mid-March, McFadden was focused on selling $270 million in securities and meeting deadlines related to the bank’s March 31 year-end. Soon, however, priorities shifted to operations, including implementing an automated accounts payable system to replace the manual process of typing, signing and snail-mailing checks. “For a $2B bank that’s very time-consuming,” she says.
“I’m now focusing on writing policies and implementing infrastructure throughout the accounting and operational areas that will lay the foundation for how we operate going forward,” she says.
Perhaps the biggest operational shift is a major change to the bank’s business model, which had been based on managing investments which earn a slim margin after paying out the bank’s bread-and-butter CDs — known for higher-than-average rates. Recent interest rate changes, however, have led to compressed margins.
“We’re looking to isolate the bank from interest rate risk,” McFadden says. “That requires us to bring on more products, new customers and a lower-cost deposit base. For example, lower-cost savings accounts, business accounts that typically carry larger balances, and fee income that is unaffected by interest rates.”
This shift also means better service for the bank’s large and loyal customer base and new customers attracted to the additional products and services. All of these changes, from operational to physical, are being approached with the community in mind, McFadden says.
It’s the one thing she keeps coming back to.
Union County Savings Bank, which will celebrate its 140th anniversary next year, is FDIC insured, with $1.9 billion in total assets. To reach us, visit unioncountysavings.com or call (908) 354-4600. If you’re interested in joining our diverse and dynamic team, you can learn more by visiting our Careers page.