Covenant Bank: The Arc of the New Covenant

Covenant Bank: The Arc of the New Covenant

Covenant Bank

The logo of Covenant Bank in Doylestown is a rustic covered bridge cloaked in a canopy of trees.

It’s a symbol that fits like a just-issued card in a slick new automated teller machine.

First, the barn-red covered bridge is “an instantly recognizable Bucks County icon,” explained Covenant Bank CEO John C. Spier, who once led the $1.2 billion, 22-branch Bucks County Bank and Trust, now part of Wells Fargo. In Bucks County, where the bank is headquartered, 12 covered bridges have defied the vagaries of time and still stand as relics of a simpler and gentler past.

Second, the bridge is a symbol of the bank’s goals: to bridge the gap between customer dreams and reality, and to be a “bridge to success” for businesses, local governments, people and nonprofits, Spier said. “We facilitate success not just by offering a full menu of banking products and services, but also by our people helping people, continuously investing in business clients and community based organizations within our impressive beloved footprint.”

Third, the covered bridge is a symbol of protection. Bridges were covered in the days of horse-drawn carriages to safeguard the wooden structure from driving rain and dangerous ice, and to shield those travelers passing through from the elements. Often called the “kissing bridges,” they afforded privacy and protection from Pennsylvania’s extreme boiling-hot-then-painfully-frigid weather – and from prying eyes. The roof of the bridge also served to calm horses and cattle, who frequently panicked when crossing a stream or river and seeing the rushing water below. Thus, the romantic and scenic look of the bridge amidst a bright-green forest had a far more practical impetus.

Like the bridges of Bucks County, Covenant Bank has bridged the gap between the past and the present. Bank leaders also translate ideas from lofty visions to a practical level. As a newer bank, which was formerly Mile Stone Bank, formed in 2007, its leaders all have deep roots in the community. Most of Covenant’s experienced team of leaders have lived in Bucks County their whole lives, and have given back in numerous ways.

The leaders love and support the environment in which they operate.

Bucks County is a picturesque land with a personality and nationally-known identity all its own, shared Linda Bishop, Executive Vice President of Market Planning. Situated less than a half hour’s drive from Philadelphia in southeastern Pennsylvania, the destination point has been home to a veritable who’s who of artists, musicians, authors, architects, industrialists, athletes, and government leaders.

These include author James Michener–who, remarkably, wrote a book called The Covenant; historian and archeologist Henry Mercer; record-setting rock singer Pink; Commonwealth founder William Penn; Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning author Pearl Buck; the creators of the Berenstain Bears; theater impresario and composer Oscar Hammerstein–and the list goes on.

The county remains home to a montage of artistic, historical, cultural, educational and natural treasures that the bank embraces and invests in.

Charming shops, historic villages, working farms, rolling countryside, and a vibrant theater and music scene along the picturesque Delaware River give Bucks County its unique upscale, artsy identity.

It makes tourism one of the county’s leading industries, from Sesame Place amusement park, to Hollywood-star-attracting Bucks County Playhouse overlooking the sparkling Delaware, and artsy Peddler’s Village.

The county is a microcosm of the state, with each third having a prestige and vibe all its own, said Bishop.

Lower Bucks County has a proud history in the steel industry and remains more middle class and blue-collar, with pockets of new wealth. Central Bucks is largely white-collar, attracting a host of lawyers, builders, architects, accountants, money managers, physicians, and other professionals. Upper Bucks retains an open, rural feel, where farmland preservation remain a high priority for the county.

Doylestown, where the bank is headquartered, is a museum-goer’s mecca. It houses the James A. Michener Art Museum, offering impressionist art. The Mercer Museum is the home of pre-Industrial Revolution American artifacts. The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works and the John Fitch Steamboat Museum in Warminster also attract thousands of tourists every year.

Recently, Mercer Museum and its six-story concrete Fonthilll Castle were named as affiliates of the prestigious Smithsonian Institution, Spier noted.

The county has five colleges, 475 miles of trails, 28 golf courses, and the popular Bucks County Wine Trail.

Despite its reputation for affluence and art, pockets of need endure, and the bank has never neglected to help. As one prime example, Bishop serves on the board of PANO, the PA Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO), an umbrella group which helps an array of charities, from food banks, to child abuse counseling centers, to autism services, to health care for the lower-income and underserved.

Covenant Bank’s leaders share in the pride of the county’s history and celebrity status, and have worked to build on that personality and prestige. It starts with its people. Blair T. Rush, President and Chief Operating Officer, acknowledges the amazing talent of their team.

Like Bucks County, they want their brand to be the best in the nation.

CEO Spier points out that its headquarters in Doylestown, in central Bucks County, was named one of the 20 best small towns in America by Parade magazine. Travel and Leisure magazine also selected Doylestown as the 13th best small town in America.

Spier and his team describe the county as “economically vibrant.”

“Weekends are packed with people enjoying al fresco dining and walking the town,” Spier said.

Its scenery, history, good schools, cultural attractions, economic activity, and relative wealth give Bucks County strong banking appeal.

“It’s a great place,” Spier commented. “We have a philosophy of, if we want Doylestown and Bucks County to love us, we have to love the community.”

That love is shown in a thousand ways.

Spier serves on the board of the Mercer Museum and Pearl S. Buck International. He was formerly on the boards of both Grand View Hospital and Kings College.

While it is not required, “Most of management is very involved in the community,” Spier said.

Spier joined the advocacy efforts of PACB in opposing a proposed mega-hike in the bank shares tax this year and last year because he knew it could limit their contributions to the community. Thanks to his work, PACB President Nick DiFrancesco and others, PACB was able to successfully convince state leaders to modify the proposal.

“Several recipients of our time and money wrote to the governor and their legislators,” Spier said, proving that collaboration is essential to build positive outcomes for the industry as well as our communities.

Rush said the bank is mostly a “business-to-business bank.” The bank supports small-to medium-size businesses in the community. Ninety percent of the loan portfolio is to small businesses and nonprofits, both civic and religious, Rush said.

Rush himself presently serves on six community boards, including the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce, where he is immediate past president. The Chamber is the largest chamber in southeast Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia. He is also Executive Vice President of the Washington Crossing Boy Scouts and is on track to be President of the Board.

Rush is married and is the father of a daughter and two sons. He is a lifelong resident of Bucks County who worked in the region for 35 years. He graduated from Pennridge High School in Perkasie and Delaware Valley University (then College).

In addition to PANO, Bishop is also extremely active at the committee and board level, but PANO is her passion. Recently, she helped PANO host listening tours around the state and they are “one year into their strategic plan.” Bishop is also active in her church and is the founder of The Stiletto Network, an ad hoc group of women executives.

Spier said the bank held an art contest with Central Bucks School District. Art students were asked to render a covered bridge in any medium, whether etching, painting, sculpture, or more.

Winners were awarded cash prizes.

“It’s great to see the smiles of the kids who are gifted in art,” Spier said.

The bank encourages art in other ways as well. They are the main sponsors of the Amphitheater at Central Park Doylestown, which hosts a summer concert series, where more than 5,000 people bring lawn chairs and their children and listen to live music, from jazz to British rock to the oldies.
Covenant Park Amphitheater at Central Park Doylestown opened late winter and early spring and the bank has a multi-year sponsorship.

“Our involvement and support reflects our care and concern for the community and our desire for the quality of life in the community to be better,” Rush said.

The bank has a loan production office in Paoli, Chester County as well.

Covenant, which was once Milestone Bank, was renamed last year after requesting a name change from the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities. Covenant is embarking on a rebranding and restructuring campaign.

Milestone launched in 2007 as part of 17 start-up banks in Southeastern PA between 2004 and 2008.

In an amazing arc of growth, Covenant Bank has 50 employees and is approaching $300 million in assets.

The bank’s team said they are in the business of helping business grow and prosper.

The “Covenant Connection is a philosophy we practice,” Bishop said. “We are very relational and we know our customers very well.”

Spier added that, “Relationships drive our business and it’s all connected together.”

“Loans and deposits are our product, but we consider our role to be more consultative, advisory, and institutional, in a manner that helps small businesses grow.”

They help townships, boroughs and the county, too.

“We have a culture here of knowing we have a good thing. We want to have it preserved,” Spier said. Our involvement is “connecting people with other people.”

We want to be a “good corporate citizen,” Spier said.

“Relationships are what it’s all about. Respecting everyone, being honest with everyone. It’s all about how we treat people.”

Bishop added, “What makes us different is the people we hire.”

“John always says we are in the business of buying and selling dollars.” But to separate themselves from the pack, they must do more and be more—and they do.

They sponsor a Christmas tree lighting on the day after Thanksgiving, with 5,000 excited onlookers. Spier and his grandkids rode in with Santa Claus at the tree-lighting on a firetruck.

The bank also sponsors a bike race in Doylestown and an art show, under the auspices of Discover Doylestown, on which the bank has a seat, and which boasts more than 150 members.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Artsfest, attracting 160 artists and five stages for live performances and 20,000 people. The creativity on display is all part of the Covenant connection in Bucks County.

As its name and logo illustrate, the bank pledges to be a bridge to your success—and that is a promise, a covenant that won’t be broken, and a bridge that will never be burned.