American Bank

American Bank

On the surface, American Bank is just like most other financial institutions. It provides all of the usual services (savings accounts, checking accounts, loans). But if you look deeper, you’ll discover some interesting differences.

For starters, although American Bank has customers in all 50 states, there’s no massive network of branch offices. Everything happens within its single location on Tilghman Street in Allentown. Unlike larger banks, it’s 100% locally owned and operated. And it’s the only bank we know of that can trace its roots to turkey farming! 

In the 1960s, American Bank co-founder Fred Jaindl, the late turkey-farming entrepreneur, landowner, and philanthropist, began investing in several smaller banks in the area. In 1976, he became chairman of the executive committee of the former First National Bank of Allentown. By 1989, he’d purchased stock in Sovereign Bank (now Santander), joined its board, and became chairman—where he oversaw a period of tremendous growth.

But Fred had even bigger plans: Just a year after retiring from Sovereign in 1995, he unveiled plans for a new project: American Bank of the Lehigh Valley.

It’s the only bank we know of that can trace its roots to turkey farming!

Along with his son Mark Jaindl (now president, CEO, and chairman) and other local investors, Fred embarked on what was then a novel idea. “We wanted to create a community-centered bank that had a nationwide presence, one that could service customers in the Lehigh Valley and across the United States,” says Mark.

And they accomplished that by turning to technology that barely had a toehold in the financial world: the internet. “At the time, Security First Network Bank was the only other bank in the country using the internet to give its customers access to their accounts,” says Mark. 

Mathematician-philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said, “Every really new idea looks crazy at first,” so it isn’t surprising that some people outside the company were dubious about the concept. “But all of the founders were on board with that structure,” Mark adds. “They saw it as a way to keep costs low and to pass those savings onto our customers.”

Small but Nimble

In the decades since its founding, American Bank has hit many notable milestones, including being named one of the safest banks in America by MSN Money in 2012. But even though it’s received national recognition, American is still, at its heart, a community bank.

“Our management team is located in the Lehigh Valley, our board members own 80% of the stock, and even our call center is in our building — no outsourcing,” Mark says. “That means our customers can be assured of quick turnaround, and decisions will be made right here in
the Valley.”

Chris Persichetti, chief lending officer, explains how that centralization headed off a potentially nightmarish situation for a brand-new client: “We were acquiring a new business customer and, during the complex transition from the former bank to ours, that bank suddenly cancelled the client’s ACH [automated clearing house] account,” he says.

That meant the client (with a payroll of about $250,000 per month) wouldn’t be able to issue new payroll checks until the account was restored—and its employees were expecting those checks in just two days.

“Because we have a single location, everyone we needed to address the issue and help the customer — the lending department, the bank manager, and the deposit operations manager —was immediately available,” says Persichetti. “Their teamwork enabled American Bank to complete the changeover process in just 24 hours, and all the paychecks went out on time. I can’t imagine a large bank being able to pull things together that quickly.”

Empowerment is a key principle at the bank. “Most banks will tell you that they put the customer first,” Mark says. “But we put our staff first. When our team members feel respected and empowered, they’ll work even harder to keep our customers happy.”

And the power to get things done doesn’t reside just with executives. Try to resolve even a minor glitch with a big bank, and you might be handed off to a half-dozen people in the process. But American’s staff of personal banking representatives has a level of autonomy that isn’t often found at more sprawling institutions. They can rectify many situations themselves, saving the customer’s time —and gaining a real sense of accomplishment.

Philanthropic to the Core 

Because of its deep Valley roots, American Bank is also a good corporate citizen. “Our staff volunteers by serving on boards and committees for local organizations,” Mark says. “We’ve helped raise money for many non-profits such as Meals on Wheels of Lehigh County, LifePath and Good Shepherd, and have supplied numerous backpacks full of school supplies for children in the Allentown School District.”

Perhaps its most dramatic assist came about in mid-2017, with the resurrection of Camelot for Children. “Camelot has had a real impact on children of need in the Valley,” Mark says. “Children with cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, Down Syndrome. They provided many social and educational opportunities for those kids —even a summer camp for 50 to 70 children.”

But after 30 years of operation, the non-profit agency simply ran out of money, and was planning to shut its doors.  That is, until American Bank (and other Jaindl-affiliated companies) stepped in. The entities pledged $100,000 toward keeping Camelot alive.   

“Many of our staff members are donating their time and talents to the organization as well,” he says, “and summer camp attendance was about 50% higher than it was last year. It’s gratifying to see Camelot go from being in a difficult situation to prospering.”

What’s Next?

“We’re always looking for ways to improve our products and services,” Mark says. “For instance, we recently established our ‘Positive Pay’ service for business deposit customers; it helps cut down on check fraud and unauthorized electronic debits. And we intend to upgrade our online and mobile banking offerings early next year.

“We’ve always been on the leading edge of banking technology, and we plan to stay ahead of the curve.”

 

Local & National Accolades

Since its founding, American Bank has hit many notable milestones 

2004: Surpassed $500 million in assets, and reached $650 million this year

2011 (and every year after): Rated “5-Star Superior” (highest possible) by Bauer Financial Inc.

2012: Recognized as one of the safest banks in America by MSN Money

2013: Ranked #7 among the top 200 community banks by American Banker magazine

2014: Named #1 Top Workplace in the Lehigh Valley by Morning Call

2018: Recognized by the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce for “Excellence in Business”

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