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WINTER 2012-2013
And at a time when small banks are
dying or being gobbled up by bigger
banks, the Bank of Cattaraugus remains
profitable and staunchly independent,
turning down repeated purchase offers.
"We get an inquiry at least once a
week," said Cullen. "We actually had
people fly into Buffalo once to travel
down here to offer to buy us, but they
couldn't find us, they got lost."
He chuckles when he tells the story,
enjoying the metaphor of big-city bankers
lost in a world where people know their
neighbors, and a handshake and a prom-
ise are sometimes more telling than a line
on a credit score.
It's not size alone that sets his bank
apart. What attracts attention is the
bank's people-before-profits philosophy.
The bank made only $5,000 in 2011, and
over the past 40 years its annual net profit
has been about $23,000.
That's OK?
"It's wonderful," said Cullen. "We were
founded in 1882 for service; we don't
want to gouge people."
The bank's stockholders earn no divi-
"They used to, but they've given that
up," said Cullen. "They'd rather see us
put that money back into the communi-
When bank examiners ask repeatedly
how Cullen is going to grow the bank, he
has the same reply: "Where is it written
that we have to grow? We stay home, we
do a good job, and Cattaraugus is a won-
derful community to live in. In fact, I can't
imagine a more ideal little town."
And townspeople can't imagine a more
ideal little bank.
ric Pritchard is the mayor of
Cattaraugus and manages the local
Setterstix Corp. plant, a lollipop
stick company that churns out some 40
million paper sucker sticks every day,
including those on every Dum Dum sucker
handed out at the bank.
"I've known the Cullens my whole life
so they know me well enough to trust
me," said Pritchard. When he recently
refinanced a loan, he knew where he
would get a fair deal.
"You're only a number to bigger banks,
but here there's that personal connec-
tion," said Pritchard. "Most weeks I'm
stopping in the bank for one thing or
another and quite often I see Pat out in
the bank. He's not always back in his
office crunching numbers. And he's out in
the community so most everybody knows
Then there are the stories, legendary
and numerous, that get the attention of
national news outlets:
A couple was about to lose their home
to foreclosure. Cullen went to the bank
on a Saturday morning, picked up a cou-
ple of cashier's checks, then accompanied
the homeowner to the county foreclosure
auction to back his bid, later setting up a
payment plan the couple could afford.
A woman who cared for her disabled
sister and lived on a meager pension
check needed immediate cash to replace
a tire rim on her car. With no credit card
and no savings, she went to the bank and
got a $300 loan.
Several years earlier, the same woman
fell behind on her property taxes and
feared she would lose her home. Cullen
arranged for one of his three sons,
Thomas Cullen of Chicago, to buy the
house so the sisters could stay on as
They're the kind of stories that prompt-
ed the Huffington Post to label Cullen
"the nicest banker in America"; and the
kind of stories that bank examiners shake
their heads over.
Take that $300 tire repair loan, for
instance. The loan form cost more than
the bank earned in interest. Bank examin-
ers wondered why the bank didn't just tell
the woman to apply for a credit card. It's
a no-brainer, they said.
Cullen agreed, only from an entirely dif-
ferent perspective: "But she needed the
tire (right away)."
That's just the way it is with his dad,
said Thomas Cullen, who works in the
finance industry and runs a web develop-
ment company in Chicago.
"It's what he always does, and what
he's really good at. He's always trying to
see what's going on with everyone and
then make the connections to make
everyone thrive," said the younger Cullen,
a member of St. Bonaventure's National
Alumni Association Board. "My dad runs
a business in a completely different way
than a lot of people would. He wants to
make sure people are happy and that
everybody wins, and he certainly believes
there's a way to do that."
Make no mistake, cautions his father,
the Bank of Cattaraugus is not foolhardy.
"We pay attention and we do get credit
reports on everyone. We might not always
use the numerical credit score, but we
pretty much make secured loans," said
Cullen. On the other hand, he watched
his own father cement deals with a hand-
shake and he won't believe the business
world has become so stilted that one's
word doesn't still mean something.
he lessons he learned growing up
in a small town were only rein-
forced by his Bonaventure educa-
tion. "When I went to St. Bonaventure in
the fall of 1966 I stopped in the chapel in
Devereux Hall (now Garret Theater)," said
Cullen. "Fr. Gervase White was saying
Mass, and he gave about a 20-second ser-
mon that I'll never forget. It turned me
right around. He essentially said that
above all else, no matter what, be posi-
tive, helpful, supportive, a good person,
and you'll always be happy."
Cullen believes there is something trans-
forming and transcendent in the
Franciscan spirit on campus. "You can't
look at The Heart across the valley or walk
The Cattaraugus Bank has long
been a family affair. Patrick
Cullen took over from his father,
L. Edgar Cullen (above), and
works alongside his wife, Joan
(from left), and daughter,