Barbara Harness Interview

View Barbara Harness Video Transcript

– Initially I was there for 16 years, from 1985 to 2001. And I left in 2001, came back in 2009 and left again after Central Bank took over and we got them through the conversion in 2012.

– [Interviewer] Why’d you leave?

– Which time?

– [Interviewer] Pick one.

– Well, the first time, I lived in Imperial, Missouri. I moved to Imperial, Missouri. I initially lived in the city, moved to Imperial and a job offer came up that was three miles from my home. And so that’s why I left in 2001. Then I came back in, I think it was 2009. A gentleman I had worked with prior became President of Gateway Bank and I worked again as Senior Vice-President of Operations and I was there when the bank failed and then stayed for about two years to help Central Bank of Kansas City get acclimated and worked on the conversion, from our system to their system.

– [Interviewer] Why don’t we talk of failure? What was that atmosphere like?

– Sad, very, very sad. The FDIC was in for, they sent one person that was there for about a week so I knew something was going to happen and I assumed it was failing because I was in charge of bookkeeping and I knew what was happening with the money situation. And I always worked very closely with the bank examiners because compliance was, operations compliance was one of my responsibilities. You know, it was pretty clear what was going to happen. We just didn’t know exactly what day until that day, until the day it happened.

– [Interviewer] Compliance was not optional.

– No, no, oh no. That was one of my many responsibilities, I think that’s why I stayed there so long, because I had worked at two large banks and you kind of get acclimated into one area. When I came to Gateway in 1985, it was, had way too many employees for the size of the bank. As people left, I was given their responsibilities, as Management left. So in the end, I was responsible and managed everything except the Loan Department. And I guess that’s why I always stayed because it was always such a challenge. Had I been given all that responsibility initially, I probably would have failed but I got it gradually as people left and was able to learn that aspect of the bank before the next responsibility came along. So it was always a challenge and always very interesting.

– [Interviewer] Barbara, can you convey, in layman’s terms, that are not bank specific, what happened at the end?

– There was a lot of bad loans, one to four family residential loans and people were making loans to improve their property and rent it out or sell it and the money was given to these lenders but the property was not updated, it was abandoned. Some property that was updated and we repossessed, had been stripped before we got the keys to the property, or before we got access back. So, it was, I would have to say, the failure was in one to four family properties.

– [Interviewer] Barbara, what are some of your personal best experiences at Gateway? Do you have a story or two in particular you’d like to share with us?

– When we finally got an ATM. To other banks, that is not a big deal, we were probably 10 years behind other banks. So when we got our first ATM, that was a big deal to us.

– [Interviewer] So what was of greatest importance to you, regarding Gateway and its’ role in the community?

– Customer service, and we excelled at customer service.

– [Interviewer] You didn’t hesitate there at all.

– Nope. We had a lot of older customers and they would come in and sit down at the Customer Service desk, give us a list of what bills they had to pay and we would go up to the teller line and get the money orders that they needed and bring them back and help them fill them out and address their envelopes. I mean, that is really above and beyond anything you would expect from any bank. And we didn’t have anything else to offer. We didn’t have online bill payment or online banking or any of the other frills that the other banks had, but we had customer service down pat. We did an excellent job with that.

– [Interviewer] People could bring their bills in and get them paid, you didn’t need online bill pay.

– No, and you know, there were certain customers that every month, you knew when they were coming and you’d be ready for them. And a customer, if our customers walked into our bank, they were greeted by their name. And I think, you know, that’s why we had a really dedicated customer base. Because it’s like walking into Cheers, everybody knows your name and speaks to you and says hello and you know, asks how the kids are doing. So, yeah I think that was our niche.

– [Interviewer] When you heard the bank was gonna close, were you surprised?

– Not sitting from where I was sitting, I was not.

– [Interviewer] You knew?

– Pretty much, yeah.

– [Interviewer] You knew the numbers.

– Yeah. And like I said, I worked very closely with the examiners, so you could kind of read between the lines.

– [Interviewer] How do you feel about that?

– I was sad. I was very sad and there just wasn’t anything I could do. I mean, you know it was just hopeless at that point. Every time they came in to do an examination, the numbers got worse and worse and worse cause we had to continually decrease our assets because the properties weren’t worth what we had them on the books for. And we had to bring their value down and so it was pretty ugly.

– [Interviewer] Have you heard of St. Louis Community Credit Union?

– I have. I understand they bought the building where Gateway is and they’re tearing it down and gonna start from scratch, which needs to be done, I mean that’s a good move. That building was in pretty bad shape.

– [Interviewer] So what do you think about that whole relationship?

– Well, you know when I heard that they were honor Gateway in the process, I thought that was pretty amazing. You know, they don’t have to do that. But I think it’s pretty noble of them.

– [Interviewer] Honor them by bearing their name.

– Right.

– [Interviewer] So Gateway lives on.

– Right.

– [Interviewer] But I mean, the notion that the named lives on, is that important?

– I think it is. I think it is because like I said, we didn’t have much to offer in the way of electronics, like the other banks did but our customers knew us and we knew them. I think the beginning of the bank is important. You know, that that needs to be known, about the gentleman that got the big bank started with the petitions and gathering up the money, finding the stockholders, you know. There was a lot of pride, a lot of pride in the neighborhood and the investors and I can’t recall the exact story that was passed down to me and I’m sure someone does, probably Lisa Gates because her father was one of the founders and I’m sure she has the entire story, front to back.

– [Interviewer] Is that who you mean though, when you say the gentleman?

– Well, Clifton Gates was one of them. There was Dr. Williams, George Montgomery, oh it’s hard to remember everybody.

– [Interviewer] But that group though?

– Yeah.