Farmers & Merchants Bank doesn’t see itself as just a financial institution.
An integral part of its work in the community is education, according to Dean Withers, president and chief executive officer of the Timberville-based bank.
Farmers and Merchants has programs to help teach financial literacy to students in grades K-12, and it also tries to educate customers on the ins and outs of finances.
If someone was denied a loan, for example, bank employees would explain why and how to improve financial standing, Withers said.
“If you have an educated community, an educated customer, you have less problems in the future,” he said. “You have less bankruptcy, less foreclosure and people who are financially sound are generally less stressed. … They make better customers.”
Founded in 1908, Farmers & Merchants is one of Timberville’s oldest institutions — in fact, it’s been around almost as long as the 130-year-old town.
Farmers & Merchants started when 14 men, mostly Timberville residents, pooled together $10,000 of their money. Most of the investors were farmers or merchants, hence the name of the bank.
The bank opened to the public in August 1908 and sold stock to a $25,000 value. It now holds about $550 million in assets and operates nine branches, including locations in Harrisonburg and Shenandoah, Page and Augusta counties.
Despite the growth, the bank has remained true to its roots, officials say.
“[When] people come in, we call them by name,” Withers said.
Larry Caplinger, executive vice president, said employees truly develop relationships with customers that last over many years.
“You become part of what they do,” said Caplinger, whose entire professional career of 40-plus years has been at the bank. “It’s just interesting to see people grow and see young people start new businesses and see them take off and do well. It’s very rewarding.”
One of Farmers & Merchants’ key strengths is the local control exerted by shareholders and board directors who live in the community, officials say.
“Often [with] your large banks … decisions are made miles and miles away,” Caplinger said. “That gives us an upper hand to truly be sensitive to what our community needs.”
Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or firstname.lastname@example.org