Jeanne Sager | Democrat
WAYNE ZANETTI'S LONG career in banking will culminate when he takes the helm of Jeff Bank starting January 1.
Zanetti ready to take over Jeff Bank
By Dan Hust
JEFFERSONVILLE His first “real” boss was the guy everyone turned to for answers. Coming up as a young banker, that’s who Wayne Zanetti wanted to be.
Come January 1, he will.
The Grahamsville native will take the helm of the First National Bank of Jeffersonville next week, stepping in to fill the shoes of retiring CEO Ray Walter.
He’ll become what Vance Rich was at the Ellenville Savings Bank, where Zanetti got his start in banking in 1973.
Fresh out of the Army Reserves, with a computer science degree from SUNY Potsdam under his belt, Zanetti said he knew he wanted to work with numbers.
Banking seemed a natural choice.
After all, Zanetti’s father and mother were both in the business Phyllis Zanetti was head teller at the South Fallsburg National Bank when Vincent Zanetti opted to leave farming and follow his wife’s lead.
“To this day, I can remember going over debits and credits at the dining room table with Mom and Dad,” Wayne Zanetti said with a grin.
By the time he retired, Vincent was president of United National Bank in Callicoon.
It’s the career path his son has followed essentially from day one, his father as role model number one, Vance Rich as role model number two.
“In those days, if you had a question, everyone said, ‘Go ask Vance,’” Zanetti recalled. “I wanted to be the answer man.”
Zanetti moved around the Ellenville bank, getting a taste of what it meant to be in banking.
He was a teller. He worked in accounts. He posted the general ledger.
By 1984, when the Ellenville bank was merged with Pawling Savings, Zanetti had worked his way up to treasurer and was selected to become the liaison between the merging companies.
For four years, he traveled to Pawling almost every day, helping to create an operation center for the regional bank in Newburgh. Naturally, Zanetti was named as operations officer.
The bank continued to grow, opening a second center in Fishkill, opening branches, buying branches.
Finally, a merger in 1998 with First Hudson Valley prompted a data conversion that Zanetti helped guide the growing bank through.
It was a turning point for Zanetti too, as the corporate culture changed at the new Pawling, he found he wasn’t having fun anymore.
“I had a lot of good experiences going through the mergers, learned a lot, a lot of best practices we went through, and I met a lot of good people.”
But Zanetti was ready for a new challenge, one that would afford him more time back home in Grahamsville with wife Mary (a teacher at Tri-Valley) and the couple’s two daughters, Veronica and Jodi (now grown).
“I said, ‘Enough, I’m not going to travel an hour and a half one way every day and not have fun,’” he explained. “My philosophy is, you spend more than 50 percent of your waking hours at work. You better enjoy it.”
In March of 1999, Zanetti made the jump to the Jeff Bank, taking over as vice president of operations. A year later, he was named chief operating officer, the title he’ll shed Dec. 31 as he moves into the top spot.
The transition has been in the works for almost two years, announced to the stockholders and well-known in the bank’s 10 branches throughout the county.
More and more, Walter has shifted that “answer man” position to Zanetti. When people have come to him with questions about the future, he’s sent them downstairs.
“Go ask Wayne.”
It’s a position Zanetti has relished, the ability to make operations the place bank employees turn to to solve their problems.
He’s looked at his department as a hub, using his computer information systems training from way back, helping to spread an understanding to the bank environment that what goes on in the background is as important as what happens on the teller line.
“The operations department is a business within a business,” Zanetti explained. “Our customers are the other departments, and our business is to take care of the other departments so they can take care of the customers.”
His goal as president and CEO is to spread that mindset outward to best serve the customers of Jeff Bank.
“You can make a difference here when you walk in the door,” Zanetti said. “EVERYBODY can make a difference here if you have an idea and you pass it along.
“When you’re asked a question, the first answer should be, ‘I think I can do that, let me look into it,’ not an outright ‘no,’” he explained. “It comes back to customer service. If the customer knows you’re at least trying, maybe it won’t work out, but you can come to a compromise.”
Coming to the helm of a bank at this time, with regulations being heaped on the industry by the federal government and the economy tumbling, has its pitfalls.
The media has, of late, been lumping everyday “banks” in with the investment banks and mortgage brokers, Zanetti said. Those organizations follow entirely different regulations and can be directly linked to the economic struggles.
Community banks, like Jeff Bank, have been branded “guilty by association,” but Zanetti sees a light at the end of the tunnel.
The Jeff Banks of this world are the banks to which people can turn in these uncertain times.
“Community banks know their depositors, they know who they’re lending to,” he said. “We understand in Sullivan County the town, the seasons.
“When you have a question, you can walk into the office of the president of Jeff Bank and ask.”
Starting January 1, the answers will come from Wayne Zanetti.