Sam Burruano – Five Star Bank
Grounded in a legacy of community-oriented banking for more than 200 years, Five Star Bank knows about adapting to changing times.
With roots dating back to 1817 with the founding of the National Bank of Geneva, Five Star Bank has grown into a $6-billion-asset bank providing consumer and commercial banking and lending services to individuals, municipalities and businesses through a branch network that spans Western and Central New York as well as through commercial loan production offices in Syracuse, NY and suburban Baltimore. It has also expanded its capabilities through strategic financial services acquisitions in the insurance and wealth management spaces.
These expansions have helped Five Star Bank better serve its long-time clientele and introduce its relationship-based approach to new customers across its growing footprint. Much of that growth has occurred since 2016, when Sam Burruano joined the team. A seasoned executive vice president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary, he welcomes new ways of satisfying customer and community needs.
And his game plan?
“I have a very engaged, high-performing and versatile Legal team that works proactively with our business leaders to advance our strategic plan,” he told Vanguard from the bank’s Western New York regional administrative office this fall. “Our legal team is small but impactful.”
One of the areas where Burruano has been a driving force is the environmental-social-governance front. He assembled and now leads a team that developed a formal ESG program, complete with documented policies for the bank and its vendors.
As Burruano emphasizes, ESG and its counterpart DEI—diversity, equity, inclusion—are embedded in the company’s DNA. Because such progressive causes are top of mind for many customers, investors and partners, Burruano is committed to ensuring Five Star adopts best practices wherever possible.
“We started by examining each ESG pillar, doing a gap analysis to see where opportunities lay, and building upon the terrific work our Community Bank was already doing to engage in sustainable business practices that help our communities thrive,” he says. “To communicate our accomplishments to our stakeholders, we overhauled and updated our proxy statement to expand from simply discussing ‘corporate responsibility’ actions to detailing what we do in the ESG space.”
Because ESG remains top of mind of investors and civic and community leaders, Five Star’s website, community report, and annual proxy statement are now regularly updated to tout the Company’s accomplishments. All the better if the bank’s example is adopted by others, even its competitors.
“We want all our communities to be vibrant and thriving areas, and through this program, we’re making a difference,” he says.
In growth mode
Then there is Burruano’s role in corporate development with two drivers: scalability for reaching a critical mass and diversity of revenue streams.
By fostering ties with law firms and external partners and expanding the Five Star cultural framework, growth opportunities become apparent. Burruano touts the successful onboarding of wealth and insurance businesses, loan production offices, and larger growth goals.
“If we see companies that are a strategic fit and align with our culture, we’ll pursue those opportunities,” he says. “Our executive team works together to assess and process corporate development activities as one of our core responsibilities.”
For Burruano, it’s all part of the role he’s filled since joining Five Star as an associate general counsel and compliance director in 2016 following a nearly six-year stretch in a similar capacity with another Western New York-based bank that was sold.
Buffalo-born Burruano graduated from the University of Buffalo with a business degree and concentration in finance and from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 1993, both with honors. He gained valuable experience ascending the partnership ladder during his 17-year career at Hiscock & Barclay, a prominent upstate New York law firm, counseling on corporate, banking and contractual matters and litigating complex cases in state, federal, and Native American courts. That prepped him well for the two in-house roles at banks, and even now, three decades into his career, he retains a youthful enthusiasm.
“My broad and deep experiences have proven valuable as the banking industry and the country have navigated these last few turbulent years,” he says. “But my colleagues and I view challenges as opportunities.”
Among those challenges was the COVID-19 pandemic, which had Five Star Bank pivoting to assist small companies in accessing the federal Paycheck Protection Program. They partnered with a financial technology company to expedite the origination and processing of applications. Since then, the bank has expanded its relationship with fintech and leveraged its digital and infrastructural investments to deliver value to customers, communities and Banking-as-a-service-partners through a collaborative and synergistic approach.
With sweeping changes occurring in the financial services industry, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid pace of technological advancements, Burruano says there’s always something new in the banking business, and Five Star Bank is ready to capitalize on these opportunities. He cites the company’s culture as key to its success and shares that from the top down, the team embraces its HEART values – always seeking to be humble, empowered, ambitious, resilient and transparent.
“For us, our values serve as our shared commitment to investing in our communities and driving meaningful change,” he says. “We understand that if our customers and communities succeed, we do as well.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Winter I 2024 Edition here.
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