BANKING ON IT: Linda Simmons, left, chief financial officer at Bancorp Rhode Island, joined the institution in 2004. She helped the then-fledgling company grow and expand its presence in the state.
PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
By Marcia Grann O’Brien Contributing Writer
Bancorp Rhode Island, a publicly traded, commercial-lending corporation headquartered in Providence, was only eight years old in 2004; but in the short time of its existence – it was founded in March 1996 with 12 BankRI branches – assets had grown from $465 million to $1.2 billion.
This increase meant a larger and more complex treasury function had to be managed. In addition, interest rate risk had become more complex; and the bank’s challenge was to get to the next level in analyzing various areas for profitability improvements.
BancorpRI President and CEO Merrill W. Sherman found the person who would ensure success: Linda Simmons.
In September 2004, the company chose Simmons as its executive vice president of finance and treasurer. Simmons, who most recently had worked at Bank of America in Boston, saw the prospects at BancorpRI as “a great opportunity. The story of the bank is a wonderful story,” she said in a recent interview.
As Sherman recalled, upon joining the bank, “Simmons deftly assumed” the responsibilities for which she was hired. But there was much more to come: less than a year later, BancorpRI’s chief financial officer resigned.
During the short span of her tenure, Simmons had already earned the trust and respect of the board of directors and executive management team. And so, in addition to her other duties, she was offered the open position.
“The learning curve was steep,” Sherman said. “Simmons had no background in SEC reporting requirements, nor was she an expert in financial accounting standards. But she came up to speed very quickly.”
That’s because Simmons immersed herself in the job. “She has come a long way in the last six years,” Sherman said. “Her plate is full, but her performance has been exceptional.”
Simmons grew up in New Jersey and Maine, and holds an undergraduate degree from Babson College and a masters’ in business from Suffolk University, both in Massachusetts. Her enthusiasm for her job at Bancorp Rhode Island seems boundless. “I love being able to influence all areas,” she said, “retail, commercial lending, everything, along with having the opportunity to see how every piece of this bank works.”
Examples of her prowess abound. Since coming to BancorpRI, Simmons has helped grow the balance sheet to $1.6 billion, a 33 percent increase from 2004. She has supported investments, expanding the company’s branch network to 17 locations, with some 274 employees, and all the while holding expenses flat.
Over the past five years, the bank’s efficiency ratio – the measure of expenses versus income – has improved from 75.62 percent to 65.43 percent, Sherman said.
And in spite of difficult economic conditions and a crisis in financial services, “Simmons has presided over sustained growth in total loans, total deposits and net interest income in each of the past four years.”
Beyond all that, the bank president said, is Simmons’ management of the net interest margin – the fundamental way that banks make money – which “has had a direct and profound impact on the bank’s profits.”