UniBank reaches $2B milestone as community-oriented bank in Central Mass. Paycheck Protection Program loans

Kevin Holmes, CEO and founder of Advantage Trucking in Shrewsbury, said getting CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program loans for his business was a “lifeline” last summer.

During the pandemic, Holmes said he was able to get PPP loans for Advantage Truck Leasing, a branch of his company, through Whitinsville-based UniBank, which is now the largest bank headquartered in Central Massachusetts with 13 branches in the region.

Holmes has been a UniBank customer since 2007. He said he has his home mortgage with UniBank as well as several capital lines and finances some of his company’s vehicles through the bank.

“Calls came to us from UniBank and from Michael Welch not to see what they could do financially — they called to see how our families were, how we were, and then they would ask, ‘Is there anything else we can do to help you through this?’ ” Holmes said. “They have that community-minded understanding of the human perspective.” 

UniBank CEO Michael Welch said he is humbled by the faith, trust and confidence local business owners in the region have in UniBank.

“We’re helping regular folks,” Welch said. “The small family business, the single practitioner. This is our story and our community.” 

Holmes said the PPP loans, which are federal loans processed by banks, were an essential for his business and said UniBank’s guidance through the loan application process helped him get Advantage Trucking through the pandemic.

Business with 500 or fewer employees qualified for the first round of PPP loans between March and August 2020, and businesses with 300 or fewer employees qualified for the second round of loans after the new year. 

As the effects of the pandemic on businesses wind down, UniBank is celebrating a significant milestone: passing $2 billion in assets.

Welch said he feels “more than ecstatic” about the bank reaching this mark.

“Two billion dollars is one of those milestones in the banking industry. As a kid from Worcester, I love it,” Welch said. “It took us roughly 140 years to get to $1 billion. It’s taken us 10 years to get to $2 billion.”

Over the pandemic, UniBank processed over $154 million in PPP loans to over 658 businesses, a feat that helped push the bank over the $2 billion mark in assets.

UniBank has been in Whitinsville for over 150 years, and Welch said no other banks in Central Massachusetts can claim this sign of dedication to the community.

“Where companies are headquartered is where the jobs, the action and long-term sustainability will be for the organization,” Welch said. “In our case, as a community mutual bank and being the largest bank headquartered in Central Mass., it reflects our commitment to Central Mass. We’re not one of those outside super regional banks that may or may not stay or supply jobs here. We’re headquartered here, so this is our home.

“Now at $2 billion, we’re not going anywhere. We’re here for the next 150 years.”

Holmes said UniBank’s role as the biggest bank in the region yet a local organization makes a difference in its quality.

“They’re large enough to be that large bank but small enough to be that community lender, and really understand what it’s like to give back to the community,” he said.

Liora Stone, CEO of Precision Engineering in Uxbridge, said she likes working with UniBank for the same reason as Holmes. Stone said she partnered with UniBank 28 years ago when both the bank and her company were smaller.

“Over the years we’ve grown with UniBank, and they’ve always been a good partner to us because they market themselves the way I market to my customers,” she said. “We’re small enough that senior leadership are close to the customer and they understand the customer. For UniBank, they’re in the community, they understand the community and its needs, and senior leadership meets with decision makers at their customer sites all the time.

“They’re small enough to be able to do that but large enough to be able to handle complex needs that growing companies have.”

Welch said the success of UniBank comes from experience, expertise and diversified offerings. He said the bank focuses on its mission before anything else.

“I’m a big believer that money will follow mission,” he said. “It’s been our unwavering commitment to give back to the community, and I think that attracts certain people.

“The beauty of all of it is they call me on my personal cellphone. Or they’ll call the head of our small-business banking team on his personal cellphone. That’s the beauty of where we are. We’ve positioned ourselves with people where they can just call us.”

Stone said UniBank has been a partner with her in growing her business. UniBank helped her with her PPP loans over the pandemic, and Stone said the process was simplified by the existing relationship she has with the bank.

“Because I’ve got a long-term close working relationship with them, it was quite easy,” Stone said. “They already had all the backup documentation. They already knew who we were, how long we’d been in business. We have a history with them.”

Stone said she has worked with larger banks in the past and does not experience the same level of personalization and hands-on care as from UniBank.

“With a larger bank, they’re not as invested in the community as UniBank is, because they’re more regional in nature,” she said. “There’s a very different relationship with a small community bank, especially one like UniBank that works really hard at maintaining those relationships because they really try to understand their customer but they’re also very invested in helping the community succeed.”

Welch said good banking is about longevity, relationships and governance, noting that UniBank’s board of directors all come from Central Massachusetts. 

“Organizations that continue to grow and continue to have success are going to have stability in key leadership roles,” he said.

While UniBank is able to serve the community through commercial loans, residential loans, PPP programs and mortgages, Welch said he knows the success of the bank comes from coordination with his team.

“In harmony, small things grow,” he said. “That’s really been the story of the bank.”