Fulton Bank launches Diverse Business Program

Stating a commitment to making banking and financing products more accessible to groups that historically have been underserved, Lancaster-based Fulton Bank has launched its new Diverse Business Banking Program. 

The program is designed to meet the needs of minority, women, veteran, and LGBTQ business owners. 

“This program advances our purpose to change lives for the better,” Fulton Financial Chairman, President and CEO Curtis J. Myers said in a statement. 

Myers said on the company’s website that Fulton Bank is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

The basis of the program is Fulton Bank’s Diverse Business Advocates, bankers who have earned a special certification and can provide individualized mentorship, educational resources, and custom solutions to meet the needs of diverse business owners. 

The program’s products and services include the following: 

  • Business banking product bundles. 
  • Flexible approval criteria for loans and lines of credit. 
  • Merchant services. 
  • Payroll and cash management services. 
  • SBA (Small Business Administration) products. 

“We’re building on the work Fulton Bank has long done as a trusted advisor for our customers,” said Joel Barnett, director of Commercial Affinity Banking. “In addition to serving diverse businesses, we want to strength relationships with community organizations so we can connect diverse businesses with the network and resources they need to succeed.” 

The company’s website also promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion among its team members. Chief Diversity Officer Quianna Agent-Phillips said Fulton Bank’s inclusion efforts help forge connections throughout its workforce and foster collaboration among team members. 

Fulton Bank, which has offices in the Lehigh Valley, is a subsidiary of the Fulton Financial Corporation.

International business experts from Berks and across Pa. mobilize to assist business

International business experts from Berks County and additional Pennsylvania counties including York and Lancaster have committed to be part of the mobilization of Pennsylvania Global Business Advisors. 

The collective comprises a total of 25 international business experts serving all of Pennsylvania. They’ve conducted business in more than 60 countries and speak more than 20 languages. 

The mobilization of Pennsylvania Global Business Advisors (GBA), a private sector, B2B advisory board for regional and international companies seeking to expand exports, imports, foreign direct investment, and international partnerships was announced by the Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC). 

GBA is led by program director Wilfred Muskens. The newly appointed Muskens is Honorary Consul in Philadelphia for the Kingdom of the Netherlands and former Deputy Secretary for the Office of International Business Development for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).  

“Global priorities have changed dramatically since COVID, the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and related supply chain disruptions, and no one knows this better than our collective that has done business in more than 60 countries and speaks more than 20 languages,” Muskens said in a statement. 

“What makes Pennsylvania Global Business Advisors truly unique – with nothing else like it in Pennsylvania – is that its members are almost entirely from the private sector, we receive zero government funding and focus exclusively on international trade and investment. We’ve also expanded our reach to include not only the greater Philadelphia area but the entire state of Pennsylvania.” 

Pennsylvania Global Business Advisors will offer international business support and global advisory services harnessing expertise from Pennsylvania businesses and universities that include Fulton Bank and Elizabethtown College among others. Other active partners include the Irish-American Business Chamber and Network, the German-American Chamber, and the Mid-Atlantic Eurasia Business Council. 

GBA will also work in close collaboration with other international organizations in PA, including the Commonwealth’s Office of International Business Development (Department of Community and Economic Development), the PA Department of Agriculture, World Trade Centers in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, World Affairs Councils, bilateral Chambers, Small Business Development Centers and more. Agriculture, finance, health care, life sciences, energy, tourism, logistics and higher education are among the industries to be served. 

Muskens said GBA’s goal is to be a complementary, B2B source of international information and expertise, leveraging but not replacing free and low-cost assistance from state, regional, and federal trade organizations. As well as offering GBA member services where appropriate and useful, GBA will refer companies to those organizations. 

“This exceptional partnership ensures that local businesses can draw on the region’s greatest international minds to build their presence in global markets, and international businesses get easy access to a full range of foreign investment support services,” said CCEDC Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President Michael Grigalonis. 

“We’re excited to advance several projects that are already underway including an upcoming trade mission to Ireland, a partnership opportunity with India, a Dutch urban farming endeavor, support of a Canadian manufacturer and services for underrepresented communities including Hispanic-owned businesses.” 

In addition to individual country, cultural and language expertise, other areas of expertise range from strategic planning and market research to more tactical and transactional based services in areas such as international logistics, law, real estate, education and banking. Depending on a client’s individual needs as well as the nature and scope of work, free and fee-based services will also be offered. 

Fulton Bank to shutter South Easton branch

Fulton Bank will be closing its branch at 280 Line St., Easton, according to the Weekly Bulletin of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Spokeswoman Lacey Dean said in an email that the South Easton branch will shutter its doors April 28. Deposits will be transferred to the Easton financial center.

The South Easton location is within 3 miles of four Fulton Bank full-service offices and two ATMs. The other offices, in addition to Easton, are 25th Street; Forks Township; and Palmer.

Four other branches throughout Fulton’s markets are also being consolidated. After they close, the bank will continue to operate 204 financial centers (with four more opening this year, bringing the total to 208 by the end of 2023) as well as online, mobile and phone banking.

“While it’s never easy to close one of our financial centers, it’s sometimes necessary after we evaluate factors including how many customers use the center and how often, as well as whether there are other Fulton Bank financial centers nearby,” Fulton said in a statement.

“We are making these changes to align our services with trends in how customers conduct their banking, including growth in online and mobile banking that is reducing transactions conducted in financial centers across our industry.”

Consolidations like these “enable us to operate more efficiently and invest in new financial services,” while still maintaining a network of financial centers in which to meet with customers.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Fulton honored for aiding low-income homeowners

Fulton Financial Corp., which operates Fulton Bank branches throughout Central Pennsylvania and the Greater Lehigh Valley, was recently recognized by Operation HOPE for providing nearly $1 billion in loans to low- and moderate-income homebuyers over the last seven years. 

Operation HOPE is a non-profit focused on financial literacy and economic inclusion.  

“We’re pleased to partner with organizations like Fulton Bank that understand the importance of home ownership in empowering our communities,” said John Hope Bryant, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE. “We honored Fulton Bank for their commitment to increasing social mobility at our recent HOPE Global Forum, the largest gathering of its kind, dedicated to expanding financial inclusion for everyone.” 

In 2016, Fulton Bank began collaborating with Operation HOPE by participating in the Closing Cost Assistance Program, which provides grants to buyers to help with the up-front costs of purchasing a home.  

Fulton also sponsors Operation HOPE financial wellness coaches in six cities throughout its footprint. The coaches provide free education to consumers, focusing on improving their credit and preparing them for the financial aspects of home ownership. 

According to the organization, Fulton Bank has helped facilitate more than $968 million in loans to more than 5,700 homebuyers under the Closing Cost Assistance Program, and that cumulative total is on track to hit $1 billion in loans in 2023.  

In addition to homebuyer loans, the bank has donated more than $8 million in grants to make purchasing a home more affordable for low and moderate-income buyers. 

“Fulton Bank’s purpose is to change lives for the better, and one of the best ways we can do that is by helping people achieve the dream of homeownership,” said William “Smokey” Glover, executive vice president and director of fair and responsible banking for Fulton. “We are grateful for our collaboration with Operation HOPE, which enables us to provide valuable financial education along with financing. Both elements are critical to set homebuyers on a path to success.” 

A Conversation With: Jeff Scheuren, president and COO of Fulton Mortgage Company

Jeff Scheuren

Jeff Scheuren is the president and chief operating officer of Fulton Mortgage Company, a division of Fulton Bank. He has 29 years of experience in mortgage lending.

LVB: Has the low inventory in the housing market impacted the mortgage industry?

Scheuren: The low interest rate environment, low inventory of existing homes for sale, and high cost of construction for new homes are driving high demand and high prices in today’s housing market. Homes are selling quickly, often with multiple offers above asking price. So, the entire process is accelerated. We need to work alongside borrowers at a pace that will enable them to compete for the few houses that are for sale. Fulton Mortgage Company is helping its customers to be more competitive, prequalifying them so they are prepared to shop with confidence and can bid on homes in this fast-paced sales environment.

LVB: What are the challenges for mortgage lenders with housing deals going through so fast?

Scheuren: With refinance transactions, appraisal turnaround has worsened due to the sheer volume that appraisers have to complete. Depending on how fast an appraisal is needed, the fee the appraiser charges can go up. In some cases, this has to be absorbed by the lender if it is more than the normally disclosed amount. In addition, it becomes an ongoing challenge to prioritize the pipeline when refinance transactions make up a large percentage of applications but you have homebuyers who need to be put in front of the line to be able to compete on a purchase contract. We must be nimble to manage the pipeline and balance a number of different priorities.

LVB: Are interest rates still low?

Scheuren: Rates have come off the lows seen last year, but they are still very low by historical standards. The Federal Reserve continues to provide additional liquidity in the market by purchasing mortgage-backed securities, keeping rates low.

LVB: What is your mortgage advice to someone looking to buy a new home?

Scheuren: Be thoughtful before making an offer and be careful not to accidentally get in over your head. Bidding up a sales price does not mean the home will appraise for that amount, and additional cash may be required to complete the transaction. In this highly competitive market, with so few houses available, many purchase contracts are being written without contingencies like a home inspection. When sales are “as is” and problems come up after the purchase, they will be your responsibility.

As always, before you even start looking for a home, work with a mortgage lender to get pre-qualified so you know how much home you can afford. Look for a mortgage lender with a wide range of programs, from those designed to help first-time homebuyers to more specialized lending such as mortgage lending for medical professionals. That breadth of experience can help them find the right solution for you.

​​​​​​​Fulton Bank partners with national association to serve changing housing market

Lancaster-based Fulton Bank is set to train its employees to meet the housing needs of underserved areas in the midstate through a partnership with a national mortgage banker association.

The National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America (NAMMBA) and Fulton, announced this week that they would be working together as part of Fulton Bank’s commitment to workplace culture and diversity.

NAMMBA will support the bank’s strategy and offer focused training, new hire programs and leadership development, with the goal of developing a more diverse mortgage workforce and tackling housing needs in underserved communities.

“By taking this step (Fulton) is broadcasting their intent to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace that reflects the communities they serve,” said Tony Thompson, founder and CEO of NAMMBA.

The Atlanta-based association provides programs and initiatives to introduce minorities and women into the mortgage industry.

According to NAMMBA, 75% of all first-time home buyers will be women, millennials or people of color over the next five years and the three largest diverse borrower groups (Asians, African Americans and Hispanics) generated more than $292 billion of purchase opportunities last year.

Fulton is a $26 billion financial-holding company with over 200 financial centers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Washington D.C. Jeff Scheuren, president of Fulton, said that the bank’s partnership with NAMMBA aligns with the company’s goals and provides an additional way to support and develop its mortgage team members.

“This initiative will build on programs we offer across the spectrum of mortgage lending, including those focused on underserved communities and first-time homebuyers,” said Scheuren. “It also aligns with key pillars of our Fulton Forward initiative to enhance our communities through affordable housing and homeownership.”

Loan requests for multi-family and industrial are strong in the Lehigh Valley

It’s simply too early to tell what the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be on construction projects in the Lehigh Valley, but banking executives from at least two major lenders in the region are reporting that, as far as construction loans are concerned, some things haven’t changed. 

Based on the number of construction loan applications Peoples Security Bank and Trust Company (PSBT)  is receiving these days, multi-family (apartment) and industrial projects are most popular today, and that’s really nothing new, according to Jeffrey Drobins, Lehigh Valley market president. Headquartered in Bethlehem, PSBT is an independent community bank serving 14 counties in Pennsylvania, including Berks, Lehigh and Northampton counties, as well as Broome County in New York, through 29 offices.

“Multi-family projects have been popular for quite some time,” Drobins said. “In March, the market briefly paused, but starting in early summer, the bank began to see requests for new projects, many that have been in planning for the past year or two. Rising rental rates, low vacancy, population growth, and affordability (as compared to major metro regions within driving distance for employment) continue to make these projects attractive to the developer community.”

Industrial projects have been arguably the most attractive for a while, he said, adding that COVID-19 really has had no impact on industrial projects. 

There’s been no slow down at all, he says.

“Rising rental rates, low vacancy, and limited land availability for new construction make these projects the most attractive to the developer community,” Drobins said. “The increasing demand for e-commerce, access to quality highway infrastructure, access to quality labor, and our strategic location within reach of 40 percent of the U.S. population within a six-hour drive will continue to drive the attractiveness of this asset class for many years to come.”

Joe Feilmeier, commercial market president for Lehigh Valley with Fulton Bank, agrees: “Currently, we’re seeing the most continued construction loan demand for multi-family buildings and industrial projects. We’ve seen volume drop for retail and office space requests, as many of the businesses that would serve as tenants driving those projects are riding out the current market volatility and delaying their own plans.”

In 2019, Lancaster-based Fulton Financial Corporation consolidated all affiliate banks under the Fulton umbrella into one bank – Fulton Bank. This included Lafayette Ambassador Bank in the Lehigh Valley. Fulton Bank currently serves a five-state footprint.

John M. Hayes, executive vice president with New Tripoli Bank, said his bank is seeing a lot of activity with respect to loans for residential construction. “Right now residential construction is really heating up,” he says, “primarily because there is no inventory for sale in the Lehigh Valley.”

The growth includes single-family housing, multi-family units and residential rental properties. “Nothing is happening on the commercial side (when it comes to construction loans) with the exception of residential rental housing. That is a very hot segment of the market right now.”

To quantify what New Tripoli Bank is seeing regarding the Lehigh Valley residential market from another perspective, Hayes says mortgage loan applications at his bank have experienced a surge recently too. “Our mortgage pipeline for the last three months is more than double what it historically is,” he says.

Founded in 1910, New Tripoli Bank operates three locations in Lehigh County, in New Tripoli, Claussville and Upper Milford Township. 

In terms of the types of projects that PSBT might be shying away from these days, Drobins says the bank’s approach to what it does has changed little due to the pandemic.

“Hotel and restaurant financing, even in the non-COVID-19 environment, is challenging,” he says. “These segments have high failure rates, are capital intensive, and collateral is specialty use. Like most lenders, Peoples Security Bank and Trust Company typically lent cautiously into these segments and will continue to do so. I don’t think you’ll find a lender today actively looking to lend into any of these segments.

“The fallout from COVID19 is largely unknown still,” he says. “We are currently managing the bank in a conservative manner so we are fully prepared to deal with any issues which may occur in late 2020 and into 2021. Certain projects like hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, I suspect may be delayed or may never move forward. Particularly, new hotel construction I would expect to be on ‘pause’ for quite some time.”

Hayes says that all businesses have been impacted by COVID-19 and many are operating more conservatively when it comes to financial decisions. “It’s been very difficult and businesses, by and large, are holding on to capital. They’re not buying new equipment. There’s concern about what the rest of the year will look like with respect to the pandemic.

A slow down ahead

Fulton’s Feilmeier also expects the construction arena to slow down for a while. “Construction projects may take several years to come to market,” he says. “Some developers who were in advanced planning stages are moving ahead. 

It’s a trend that’s bearing out at the national level. A June survey by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) found that 61% of contractors saw a project canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 48% had a project that had begun before the pandemic put on hold. The survey does note that some of this delay can be attributed to supply chain disruptions, with one in four firms citing construction materials shortages caused by lockdowns and trade disruptions as the cause of project delays.

Based in Arlington, Va., AGC represents more than 27,000 firms, including some 6,500 general contractors, and 9,000-plus specialty-contracting firms, according to the organization’s website. More than 10,500 service providers and suppliers are also associated with AGC, all through a nationwide network of chapters.

In the end, Feilmeier points out that loan applications for construction projects are really no different than other financing requests. “In the current environment, banks in general are carefully reviewing all financing requests,” he says. “Fulton Bank continues to provide construction financing and has consistently supported customers in many industries through a variety of economic cycles.

“While the market is in a difficult place right now, we are still pursuing projects, and we continue to find ways to help our customers. The pandemic will eventually end, and the economy will recover,” he says.

Drobin says: “The Lehigh Valley developer community is very resilient and we’ve seen them work through and come back from very tough economic challenges, so I would expect them to adapt, pivot and persevere coming out of this pandemic,” he says.

Fulton Bank to close 4 Lehigh Valley, Berks County locations by January 2021

The Board of Directors of Fulton Bank approved plans to consolidate 21 financial centers, four of which are located in Lehigh Valley and Berks County, into nearby locations by Jan. 8.

Among those slated to close are two locations in Lehigh Valley and two in Berks County:

  • Bethlehem Township Financial Center, 3301 Easton Avenue, Bethlehem
  • Grape Street Financial Center, 1323 Grape Street, Whitehall
  • Century Boulevard Financial Center, 2747 Century Boulevard, Wyomissing
  • Highlands at Wyomissing Financial Center, 2000 Cambridge Avenue, Reading

Fulton will close four more locations in central Pennsylvania. In each case, Fulton Bank has another financial center within about one to three miles, said Steve Trapnell, vice president and senior communications consultant for Fulton Bank.

Fulton Bank, like many financial services institutions in the Lehigh Valley, said the closures are part of a company-wide effort to operate efficiently and invest in new financial services to meet evolving consumer habits while maintaining a network of physical financial centers. The bank is consolidating its locations, Trapnell said, to align services with trends in how customers conduct their banking, including “growth in online and mobile banking that is reducing transactions conducted in financial centers across our industry.”

“While it’s never easy to close one of our financial centers, it’s sometimes necessary after we evaluate factors including how many customers use the center and how often, as well as whether there are other Fulton Bank Financial Centers nearby,” Trapnell said in an email to Lehigh Valley Business.

Fulton Financial Services, parent company of Fulton Bank, expects financial center closures will reduce annual pre-tax operating expense by approximately $7 million, beginning in the first quarter of 2021, according to a recent regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In connection with the financial center closures, Fulton Financial Services said in its SEC filing that it expects to incur pre-tax costs of approximately $11.5 million. Costs will consist of $6.5 million in write-offs of premises and equipment, $4 million of lease termination charges and $1 million of future cash expenditures in connection with employee transfer severance, which are expected to be recognized in the third and fourth quarters of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021.

Fulton Bank handles $900 million in PPP loans

Approximately 4,000 Fulton Financial Corporation customers across Pennsylvania received more than $900 million in funding through federal CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program, including hard-hit nonprofit organizations whose mission is to serve others.

“When we got the PPP it allowed us to hire the entire staff back [and restore] critical programs serving the community,” said David Fagerstrom, president and CEO of the Greater Valley YMCA in Allentown.

Throughout its service area more than 10,000 loans worth nearly $2 billion have been facilitated by Fulton, officials said.

The CARES Act, or Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, signed into law on March 27, aimed to offset financial hardship due to business and organization closures and the resulting income loss due to the pandemic.

Greater Valley YMCA provides meals to children of who receive National School Lunch Program free and reduced lunch services.

“Some schools were serving lunches, but no one was serving suppers,” Fagerstrom said.

It offers virtual educational programs for children and it operates essential worker day-care services. The “Here for You” child care program for health care and emergency responders was offered through the Y operating with a special exception waiver during the coronavirus peak. Before the mandatory governor’s shutdown order, Greater Valley employed about 493 people.

Before receiving PPP funding, employment numbers sank below 50 during drastic measures taken to ensure the Y would not close for good.

“With all the Y’s closing – child care and membership services – [these] combined are about 80 percent of our business,” Fagerstrom said. “When the physical plants closed our income went down to almost zero.”

Once PPP funding was received Greater Valley YMCA rehired its entire staff, brought back needed services, provided meals and increased virtual education offerings to children.

“You always hope your business relationships are less clinical and more personal – it certainly felt more personal with this,” he said.

An established long-time relationship with Fulton, along with the bank’s expertise in working with nonprofit organizations created a quick, seamless application process from lender to Greater Valley YMCA, Fagerstrom said.

Not long after filing its PPP application Fagerstrom received a phone call from Fulton with news that the Y had received funding.

“In our wildest dreams I would not expect our guy at our bank [to] call us at 5:40 p.m. on a Friday. That call was a little thing, but it made a big difference to the Y. It was a relief for [our] people,” Fagerstrom said.

Building from the ground up

PPP allowed Greater Valley to expand virtual educational programs to offset the shortened academic school year, especially critical for youngsters who need extra support ahead of entering kindergarten in the fall.

“When all the staff came back one of the things we quickly did …was Webex classes with the 2, 3 and 4-year-olds to keep them learning, reading and on track with their ABCs,” he said.

Joseph Feilmeier, market president for Fulton Bank’s City Line Plaza in Bethlehem, said the response of Fulton’s team to the CARES Act helped area nonprofits continue to operate and minimize the long-term impact on the region’s economy.

“Our mission [was] to build a process from the ground up in a very short period of time to serve our clients. It was really all hands on deck,” he said.

More than 600 Fulton employees took on new assignments doing work that was outside their normal responsibilities to help “stand up a program where there wasn’t one,” Feilmeier said.

“For the not-for-profit piece, we encouraged our employees to reach out and find the underserved organizations we could help and support, Feilmeier said.

Boosting nonprofits

Jared Mast, executive director of Greater Easton Development Partnership said Fulton worked “around the clock” with other community lending organizations to help area nonprofits and businesses financially weather the pandemic. A Fulton staff member contacted him on a Saturday to confirm information on the PPP application to keep it moving.

“Without [the PPP] it would have limited our ability to keep on staff. Essentially they were staying as close to the front lines of this as possible,” Mast said.

GEDP oversees the Easton Farmers Market, the Easton Public Market, PA Bacon Fest and other fundraising programs as well as Easton Main Street Initiative and Easton Ambassadors.

“When this started to change the way business could be transacted [we arranged for] curbside pickup for folks who wanted to shop at the [Easton Public] Market,” Mast explained.

GEDP collaborates with businesses and other nonprofits to nurture Easton’s economic vitality, including Easton’s West Ward neighborhood.

A forgivable PPP loan allows GEDP to continue its work in the community.

Match making

He said GEDP has distributed about $5,000 in gift cards that could lead to roughly $20,000 in revenue to personal care salons, among the most economically hard hit businesses in Pennsylvania.

PPP has allowed GEDP to create a “match making” technical assistance program to help businesses move to ecommerce platforms and develop digital marketing plans as a result of Covid-19.

“Relationships that provide different kinds of value, not just lower interest rates or checking account fees,” are important, Mast said.

On a side note, Fulton is part of a $50,000 commitment over six years, along with People Security Bank, PNC and Highmark Life insurance, to build other funders that focus on youth, resident and small business neighborhood improvement initiatives.

“It’s a longer term community commitment we appreciate [having] with Fulton,” Mast said.