David J. Bursic has too often seen bad things happen to good people.
As president and CEO of West View Savings Bank and WVS Financial in the scenic North Hills of Pittsburgh, he witnessed a savvy, accomplished businessman being bilked out of $70,000 by a manipulative grandson.
He learned of a trusting soul sending money to a remote address for a tropical vacation she had “won,” and a senior citizen wiring funds to help a loved one who was supposedly trapped in a Mexican prison.
He has also learned of needy adults sending money to secure a “lucrative” work-at-home job that was nothing more than an elaborate income-depletion scheme.
He has also observed teens taking out tens of thousands of dollars in college loans they may never be able to pay back, and racking up credit card debt they may never be able to pay down.
But, he and his fellow bank officials have done more than just sit on the sidelines. They have tackled financial mismanagement, abuse and exploitation whenever it occurs, and blocked it from happening to others.
In fact, their West View branch is located directly across the street from the police station, and they won’t hesitate to walk across the road to report suspicious activity or actors. Staff in their other Pittsburgh-area branches–in McCandless, Cranberry, Sherwood Oaks, Franklin Park, Wexford, and Bellevue–take the same hands-on approach.
Bursic’s reflections on his bank’s legacy are peppered frequently with this observation: “You don’t see that at a larger financial institution.”
West View Savings Bank and its 50-plus good-hearted employees are close enough to their customers that they are often in a position to stop bad scams from happening to good people.
Since Bursic ascended to the helm of the six-branch bank in Allegheny County in 1998, he said of his bank’s community service: “We emphasize three things: seniors, children and Internet education. All of these areas are vulnerable to bad people.”
More than just a passive home for money, the bank has served as teacher, protector, benefactor and friend to cherished customers, from the Gerber years through the golden years.
Indeed many of the children they have trained are now the grandparents they protect.
One of the most effective ways they have reached out to older Pennsylvanians is through an annual Senior Expo, sponsored in past years by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, Rep. Hal English, and Sen. Randy Vulakovich. Their participation won them a 2015 Grow Your Community Award from PACB.
West View just participated in Rep. Metcalfe’s 12th annual senior expo last month.
At the large fair, they sponsored a basket raffle and provided valuable, free information to about 300 senior citizens on fraud, phishing scams, shake-downs and identity theft. Other booth vendors disseminated information on health care, nutrition assistance, recreation, veterans’ services, and other county, state and federal programs in a one-stop shop for the young at heart.
Bursic said the “hot scams” change over time. “It’s an evolving process. There’s always a new one out there.”
For a while, Lottery scams were prevalent, followed by phone scams, particularly potent for seniors, who often still maintain their landline phones. Many middle-agers are vulnerable to internet scams, being relatively new to the digital universe and all too ready to innocently click on an embedded link.
People of all ages fall for lottery scams, reeling in anyone “looking for that long-shot payoff,” Bursic said.
In the past two months, the bank has filed three Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) on financial abuse and exploitation. Two were outside the family, and one was within the family.
In the case of the grandchild taking money from a wealthy grandfather, who was a highly respected builder, the grandfather was clearly “making decisions more often by his heart, not his head,” Bursic lamented, proving that no one is immune.
Bank officials also send out anti-scamming hand-outs and statement stuffers, speak in classrooms and school assemblies, disseminate information at libraries and workshops, and attend Rotary and Lions Club meetings.
Their efforts seem to be paying off.
“That helps,” Bursic said. “But it is hard to measure success. How do you measure something that didn’t happen?” And few people will admit to being scammed, out of a profound sense of embarrassment.
Bank officials know they have succeeded if a senior slams down the phone, or tells a family member or teller about a suspected breach of trust or “too-good-to-be-true” offer.
“We see them come in for the money. Our tellers know our customers. We informally know their pattern,” Bursic shared.
“If they start adding a zero to a regular withdrawal, and that $300 they usually pull out for cash becomes $3,000, it raises a red flag for us to say, ‘Are you buying something special?’ ‘What’s cooking?’”
One woman, with a nephew supposedly traveling to Mexico, sent out close to $12,000 in cash when it was all a cruel and costly hoax.
“It’s really tough. It’s a fine line” between being intrusive and being protective.
“We know our customers. We know all our regulars by name. You won’t get that at a large financial institution,” Bursic said. “We are the eyes and ears of the community and we have our finger on the pulse of our customers.”
“Where the grandson was scamming his Pop, we did keep his clock from getting cleaned entirely,” Bursic said. “We stopped most of the fraud.”
In addition to their presence at Senior Expos, bank officials visit nursing homes to preach the gospel of caution.
While most nursing home staff can be godsends to an aging patient, a rogue staff member or two can be abusive, if not physically, financially.
Seniors are often lonely. A calculating staff member may ingratiate herself or himself to the senior resident, and start receiving small gifts of cash. Then it grows.
Bank Marketing Director Herb Pegher often leads outreach efforts in area nursing homes, along with the branch manager.
Trust is the number one tool scammers prey on, according to the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, especially to an older generation raised to believe that a handshake and someone’s word meant something.
The omnipresent cell phone and computer make reaching victims even easier, as scammers employ a cocktail of charm and tough talk to bilk often cash-flush seniors of their life savings.
The Attorney General’s Office said the four primary means of being scammed in Pennsylvania include charitable contributions, lotteries and sweepstakes, identify theft, and power of attorney.
The bank advises seniors never to send money to get money.
Scams often hurt deeply because the accused can be a trusted loved one, who views that once-precious relationship as a license to steal.
Of these financial education efforts, “It’s our way of being involved in the community,” said Pegher enthusiastically.
The bank also embraces children in teaching the power and importance of saving.
“Kids are our future customers,” Bursic said.
During the last week of April, the bank hosted a Kids’ Savings Week, handing out savings passbooks and coin collecting materials, and educating everyone from toddlers to teens about opening savings accounts, Pegher said.
While it is often difficult to talk directly to classrooms due to current state child protection laws, they aim to go to assemblies, athletic games, youth centers, after-school programs and more.
West View Savings Bank officials follow the national Teach Children to Save program. The curriculum helps children learn to distinguish between “wants” versus “needs” and teaches them how, why and where to save. This year the program occurred the week of April 25 to April 30th, during ICBA Community Banking Month.
Economists agree that Americans need to make better informed decisions at every stage of financial lives, whether opening their first savings account or spending down their hard-earned retirement funds. Even understanding the fees and fine print on an investment account can be dizzying to even the most seasoned money managers.
And as the father to three college-age children, Bursic sees so many young people who are, regrettably, “financially clueless.” A few even wind up with delinquent loans—though the bank does not have many.
He laments the fact that these millennials received no training from their parents.
Thus, the bank aims to teach children in “an age-appropriate way” about money management. For example, they sponsor a coloring contest with a financial theme.
One of their most popular outreach efforts to the Sesame Street set is the “coin savings books,” a throwback to growing up in the 1970s.
These coin pamphlets are a tangible way kids can track their savings progress. They fill the book coin by coin, and when the last quarter is slid in, they exchange it for a brand new $5 bill at the bank.
“They’re grinning from ear to ear,” said Bursic, who did the same himself as a child in the Brady Bunch era.
West View Savings tries to engage older children, too, Bursic said, especially when they start their college search. They offer Coverdell educational savings accounts and starter checking accounts, with mom and dad on the account initially.
Then when teens earn their first paycheck, the bank is there to convert it into currency. With the ever-popular Visa debit cards, parents can mandate limits and build these limits up as kids build financial responsibility.
When teens depart for college, the bank talks with them about credit cards, based upon “your comfort level with the financial maturity of each child, because each child is different,” Bursic said.
When parents allow kids to spend more than they have through a credit card, they can set lower credit limits.
“We try to reach out to the parents. You don’t see that at larger banks,” Bursic said.
In this day and age, so much of the payroll process is electronic deposit. Most kids are not walking into a bank branch, Bursic acknowledged, as they love the convenience of mobile banking and debit cards.
“This is a challenge for community banking.” With young kids not coming in, that is a “potential loss in marketing opportunities,” Bursic said. This makes the bank work even harder, to compete with such faceless, impersonal products as Quicken loans.
“Online is great, electronic is great, don’t get me wrong,” Bursic said. “But, as I often tell my kids, if you bank with a community bank, and if and when there is a problem—and there WILL BE a problem—don’t you want to talk to a real person?”
Getting trapped in a phone tree, with a litany of options, and then pressing the wrong button and needing to start all over, underscores this truth.
”If you know the teller and the branch manager, it will probably be solved by the close of business that day,” Bursic said.
When their young customers grow and stay in the area, “hopefully, they come to us for a car loan and a home mortgage,” Bursic said, meeting their customers at every stage of their lives.
That fix-it-now philosophy has distinguished Bursic’s tenure at West View. Bursic has been a trusted employee of West View Savings Bank since 1985, ascending to president in 1998. He started with summer jobs at a local bank, worked for a time at Columbia Gas, and then joined the Steel City bank.
Bursic earned his undergraduate degree from Duquesne University and his MBA from the University of Pittsburgh, where one of his children is now enrolled in medical school.
Founded in 1908, West View Savings is a state-chartered stock savings bank that conducts business from more than six offices in the North Hills suburb of Pittsburgh. Originally organized in 1908 as West View Building and Loan Association, it changed its name to West View Savings and Loan Association in 1954. In 1992, it converted to a Pennsylvania-chartered mutual savings bank and converted to stock form of ownership in 1993. Its parent company is WVS Financial Corp.
The bank provides personal and business checking accounts, CDs, IRAs, mortgages, construction loans, land acquisition and land devolopment loans, home equity loans, automobile loans, commercial loans, check cards and safe deposit boxes.
The bank also conducts other valuable community service work throughout the year.
Bank employees contribute each holiday season to the Hearth Program, a residential program for women and children in need, Bursic said. Many recipients are escaping domestic violence. The program gives shelter and supportive services to these families in crisis so they can find a job, secure a roof over their heads, escape danger, and ultimately achieve independence, happiness and success.
The bank also engages in Sharing Projects with the local food pantry, provides Thanksgiving meals to the hungry, and participates in a Holiday Toy Shop and a Sharing Winter Warmth program.
“Our people get a lot out of it. The families get a lot out of it,” said Bursic.
Like their work with children and seniors, the bank is able to give these families, at every age, a sense of security and self-worth.
The bank is also active with their peers.
“I’m proud to be associated with PACB,” Bursic said. “Nick (DiFrancesco) and his staff are very responsive, and whenever we need a vendor, we go online to find PACB associate members. We’re proud to be members.”
The bank is spanning the generations to invest in the community and the industry, serving up a timeless, ageless message about investing in strong banks, strong families, strong homes, and strong schools, to secure and maintain financial freedom.
The bank may be old, but they have caring young souls.
That is why so many young and old Steel City-area citizens, from pre-schoolers to post-retirees, Go West.
This exclusive Community Bank Profile can be found featured in the May 2016 issue of Transactions. Not a subscriber? Visit the Transactions page on this website or call PACB at 717-231-7447 to start receiving the magazine.