Patrick Ryan, chairman of the board, and James Hyman, president and CEO of Hopewell Valley Community Bank, stand in the Pennington branch Oct. 7, 2009. (Staff photo by Myles Ma.)

By Myles Ma

Ten years ago, Pat Ryan made a drastic career shift. He went from working as an Anheuser-Busch distributor to becoming the founding chairman of Hopewell Valley Community Bank: from beer to banking.

James Hyman, president and CEO of the bank, has one theory. “They both start with a B,” he said.

It might be hard to believe, but the connections Ryan built as a beer dealer helped him raise capital and organize the bank. And it was nice that the customers didn’t have to be 21.

But just like beer, Hopewell Valley Community Bank brings people together, albeit for business, not pleasure.

“I think that the community banking experience is very much in our mind a social experience,” Hyman said.

Hyman feels that is where HVCB differs from its larger competitors: People can actually tell the bank what their goals are and how the bank can help them accomplish them. He also said low turnover means customers become familiar with the tellers and everyone else at the bank.

Hyman himself is one of the first people customers see when they walk into the branch on Route 31. Ryan said many banks squirrel their CEOs away – not Hyman.

To Ryan, the biggest difference is simple. “Well, we answer the telephone,” he said.

As ordinary as it might sound, Ryan pointed out that it is increasingly rare for a human being to answer the phone when a customer calls their bank. Part of being a community bank is forging a real, human relationship with customers.

“It’s face-to-face banking,” Hyman said. “We see the benefits of the services we provide.”

That includes helping people move into the neighborhood, sending their kids to college and watching their businesses take hold and expand around them. Ryan said the bank lends out 80 cents of every dollar deposited into the community.

The bank caters especially to small businesses, and Ryan feels an affinity for them.

“We’re a small business just as the people we serve are,” Ryan said.

One of the more high-tech things the bank offers to small businesses is remote depositing. When a small business owner opens an account, the bank provides them with a scanner that they can use to deposit checks from their office.

They say location is everything, and Ryan is literally right at home in the bank’s footprint, which stretches from north and east Mercer to southern Hunterdon County. Ryan has lived in Hopewell all his life, and is a 1967 graduate of Hopewell Valley Central High School.

Ryan likes operating in his hometown, and not just because it’s convenient.

“It’s a highly desirable demographic,” he said.

He said Hopewell Valley is at the base of New Jersey’s “wealth belt,” which comprises northern Mercer County, as well as Hunterdon, Somerset, Middlesex and Morris counties.

The bank has $300 million in assets, with seven full-service banking offices, two loan production offices and an operations center. Over its 10 years of existence, it has lent out $635 million, of which about $200 million are currently outstanding.

“We continue to grow the bank in a safe, sound manner,” Hyman said.

Hopewell Valley Community Bank has branches in Hopewell, Hamilton and Ewing. For more information, call (609) 466-2900 or go online to hvcbonline.com.