Five Questions With: Joseph T. Baptista Jr.

President and CEO of Mechanics Cooperative Bank talks about the recent Target security breach and the U.S. credit card system. More

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Five Questions With: Joseph T. Baptista Jr.

"I am positive we had a number of customers who were concerned when this news story broke, but we have actually had a very limited response."
Posted 1/14/14

Joseph T. Baptista Jr. is president and CEO of Mechanics Cooperative Bank, a community bank with eight branches in southeastern Massachusetts. He is responsible for the profitability of the organization, in addition to developing and implementing the required compliance, loan and deposit policies and creating and guiding the bank through its extensive strategic plan.

Baptista began his banking career in 1991 with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, where he worked until 1996, when he joined Mechanics Cooperative Bank. In his first 10 years with Mechanics, he was treasurer, chief financial officer, senior lending officer and executive vice president. In 2007, at the age of 37, Baptista was named president and CEO of Mechanics Cooperative Bank.

He is on the board of the Massachusetts Bankers Association, Jobs for Fall River, People Inc. and the Boys & Girls Club of Taunton. He also serves on the President’s Council for the Southcoast Hospitals Group.

Baptista has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Western New England University and an MBA, with a concentration in finance, from Bryant University.

PBN: The security breach of debit and credit card information at Target that impacted 40 million customers dramatically increased concern among consumers, banks and retailers. What kind of response from Mechanics Cooperative Bank customers have you had since that incident?

BAPTISTA: I am positive we had a number of customers who were concerned when this news story broke, but we have actually had a very limited response. I attribute this directly to the bank’s efforts to be proactive versus reactive regarding the protection of our customer’s non-public, personal information. The bank immediately provided communications detailing the Target issue, the Mechanics Cooperative Bank customers who might have been impacted and the bank’s plan to mitigate any risk associated with a customer’s account. This information was emailed to all customers, posted to our social media sites and added to our website homepage. For that reason, I believe our customer’s concerns were greatly reduced as they were informed- and confident- the Bank was proactively working on their behalf.

PBN: Are there measures Mechanics Cooperative Bank has taken, or plans to take, to strengthen debit and credit card security since the Target breach?

BAPTISTA: Mechanics Cooperative Bank has extremely strict standards when it comes to information security and we continue to explore additional opportunities as the technology evolves. Currently, the Mechanics Cooperative Bank information security system including software, policies and procedure, and employee training is state-of-the-art and offers our customers some of the very best protection available.

PBN: Many banking experts are now saying the U.S. is using outdated credit card systems with magnetic strips, compared to other countries that use digital chips. Part of the reason for the U.S. using the magnetic strips is apparently the cost of upgrading the card security. What do you see as the banks’ responsibility in moving to better card security? Is this discussed by bank executives or do you think they see it as the financial responsibility of the credit card companies?

BAPTISTA: This is of serious concern to community banks like Mechanics Cooperative Bank, as we continue to evaluate opportunities to increase customer information security. There is little doubt that chip-based credit cards, requiring a PIN in addition to having the card present at purchase, is a more secure system and process. We anticipate consumers in the United States will see this change to all credit cards sometime in 2015. Coordination among credit card companies, the credit card issuers and the manufacturers of retail equipment to read the new chip-based cards has already begun. We welcome this change. along with any improvement that works in conjunction with Mechanics Cooperative Bank's internal security system, to help increase security and reduce fraud and identity theft for consumers.

PBN: Has the bank recommended that your customers get new cards if they used them during the time of the security breach from Nov. 27 to Dec. 15, 2013, or do you think that’s an unnecessary over-reaction?

BAPTISTA: Mechanics Cooperative Bank began the process immediately to order new cards for any customers who made purchases at Target during that timeframe. The potential for fraud is enough for the bank to immediately order new cards. We did not however, unless asked specifically by a customer, cancel their existing, potentially compromised card immediately. Customer’s existing cards will remain active until the new cards are received and we continue to monitor those accounts internally. When it comes to information security at Mechanics Cooperative Bank, there can never be an over-reaction. We will take any action necessary to protect our customers.

PBN: The Target security breach is just one glaring example of the increasingly complex and costly steps banks must take to protect customers’ personal information. Has Mechanics Cooperative Bank installed new cyber-security systems to meet the increasing threat from international hackers?

BAPTISTA: In addition to the improvements that are expected to come with transition to the digital chip system, we welcome any improvement that works in conjunction with Mechanics Cooperative Bank's internal security system to help increase security and reduce fraud and identity theft for consumers.

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