Helmick: Merger Bolsters, Expands Offerings at Farmers

CANFIELD, Ohio — Nov. 1 was a big day for Farmers National Banc Corp. the holding company for The Farmers National Bank of Canfield. Along with completing the merger with The Cortland Savings and Banking Co., the company’s stock price during the day’s trading hit an all-time high of $18.87 per share.

The significance of the price wasn’t lost on the company or its president and CEO, Kevin Helmick.

“There was a point in time when our stock price all-time high matched the founding year,” Helmick says. “So that was fun.”

The merger, announced in late June, is the sixth acquisition for Farmers National Bank in six years. It increases the company’s assets to more than $4.1 billion and its wealth assets to more than $3 billion, making it one of the largest community banks in the state.

“We have talked about being better together for a number of years,” Helmick says. “We’re well aware of what Cortland Bank and Farmers means to our communities and just bringing them together to strengthen all of our stakeholder positions.”

The merger expands business scale and operating leverage for Farmers, he says, which will translate into more products and services for customers. With greater assets to cover the company’s expenses, such as health insurance and technology, Farmers can do more for customers and the community, he says.

“We are believers, and I firmly believe, that we are here to serve our communities and not forget the small business,” Helmick says. “Small business is so important to our economies, not only in the Midwest, but more specifically Northeast Ohio [and] where we serve in western Pennsylvania.”

Farmers employs just shy of 500 and will likely increase total employment to just under 600 per the merger, Helmick says. The company is working to “minimize any employee impact as much as we could” with the merger. Farmers regularly has 20 to 30 openings and isn’t immune to the staffing challenges facing most businesses, he says, but the company has welcomed many of Cortland Bank’s employees into the fold.

“Even if we had to move some people to different roles, a lot of them have worked with us and landed with Farmers,” he says.

At the administrative level, the former CEO of Cortland Bank, Jim Gasior, and former chief operating officer Tim Carney are taking executive positions with Farmers. That’s important, he says, for stakeholders as well as Cortland’s employee base knowing that their leadership is coming over too, Helmick says.

And while the merger creates some duplication across the organization, “We tried to reposition those folks as we’ve grown and we have opened positions as much as we possibly can,” he says.

“Where that didn’t work out, people can choose to take a severance,” he says. “In this job market, it’s been amazing to see, there have been a number of people that have been able to leave and take other opportunities. And we miss those folks, but really we think a lot of the associate interruption or disruption has been minimized.”

Farmers is reviewing branch network overlap in the North Lima and Niles markets and has notified any employees who would be affected by potential office closures, he says. Within the next year or so as the branches are configured, those employees “will have other positions within Farmers,” he says.

“We’ll be visiting those decisions here in the next 30 to 45 days,” he adds.

At the customer level, the biggest change coming to Farmers is its expanded legal lending limit, which is just north of $50 million, Helmick says. The merger also brings more wealth management products to Cortland customers, such as trusts, and personal and commercial insurance.

“Our trust company is now $1.7 billion in assets,” he says. “We have attorneys and accountants and [chartered financial analysts], and we have some really well credentialed folks there that the Cortland customer base will organically have access to.”

And the headquarters of the Farmers insurance division is in Cortland, he notes, the result of the 2016 acquisition of the former Bowers Insurance Agency Inc.

Cortland customers may also benefit from commercial lending products, including small business loans of under $400,000 “that so many businesses need … relatively quickly,” he says.

“If somebody sees a truck and they want it, they need to get funded because that truck’s going to be gone to somebody real quick,” Helmick says. “What we’ve been able to do is have decisions back in 24 to 48 hours and funding within a week or two, so that person can go out and buy that truck.”

With the merger, Farmers now has as many branches in Wayne County as in Mahoning County, and is eager to serve more customers in the western part of the state. The company also has locations in Portage and Cuyahoga counties, Beachwood, Strongsville and Hudson.

Locally, the Cortland Bank location at the corner of U.S. Route 224 and Tippecanoe Road in Boardman will be converted to a Farmers branch. The company is also planning to install an Interactive Teller Machine, or ITM, at the corner of 224 and Market Street, which will allow customers to do some video conferencing with the Farmers call center.

Farmers is also building a new lab branch in Canton, similar to the one at 4538 Boardman-Canfield Road. Lab branches allow Farmers to showcase new financial technologies, test them and get customers familiar with them, he says. Helmick expects that branch to be open late spring or early summer of 2022.

“That’s going to help serve our regional headquarters, which is more of a wealth management and commercial business hub,” he says. “So we’re really excited about the expansion and the growth over the years, not just from an employee account, of course, but from the ability that we can service our customers and what impact it’s had on our shareholders too.”