Central Region President of the largest and oldest community based financial institution headquartered in Ocean County explains how big business starts with home-grown priorities

by lindsay blair • Photos By robert nuzzie

Finding the right bank is almost as important as finding a life partner, and there are striking similarities between the two. In both, you want to feel secure and want to know that there is potential for growth. You also want to be a priority—and should be. You’re looking at this relationship as a lifelong commitment, not just a fling. You’re loyal, but you expect honesty, along with advice you can’t get anywhere else.

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Opening its doors in 1902 in Point Pleasant Beach, OceanFirst Bank was founded on supporting and growing its community relationships. More than 115 years later, it has $4.2 billion in assets and 50 branches located throughout Central and Southern New Jersey. It delivers commercial and residential financing solutions, wealth management, and deposit services, and is the largest and oldest community-based financial institution headquartered in Ocean County. All its small town, formative community-focused principles remain the same, however.

“We are able to find that balance of commitment to communities while still offering all the financial services our customers need,” said Central Region President George Destafney. “And our size affords us the ability to build a rapport with our customers and deliver financial solutions in a unique way.”

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Destafney, who was introduced to the banking world in the form of a temporary part-time job, quickly fell in love with the finance industry. He began his career as a retail banker for Commerce Bank, where he learned customer service, the regulatory environment, and other segments within the finance industry like branch banking, small business, and middle market lending. Then Commerce was acquired by TD Bank and became a mega-entity, so when the opportunity to join OceanFirst presented itself, he couldn’t turn it down.

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“It felt like the right time to become part of an organization that was transitioning under new leadership and focused on measured growth in areas that matched my experience and career goals,” he explained. “Plus, the OceanFirst community banking model allows for more nimble decision making, which provides a platform to be effective in the market.”

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Advances in technology have changed the game for the finance sector—mobile apps, online banking, and card valets, just to name a few. However, according to Destafney, face-to face interaction will always be provided for customers who prefer it.

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“We are always looking at new technology in an effort to better the overall experience,” he explained. “We believe, though, and our customers have shared, that there are times when they would prefer a face-to-face visit with their banker and the ability to speak with an employee directly,” adding that Ocean First has used technology to provide traditional banking services in locations where they did not have a full branch via its Interactive Teller Machines. Testing proved especially applicable in assisted living facilities, where seniors are not often able to travel to a branch, and so found working with a video teller not intimidating, but empowering.

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“These video tellers are able to provide the same services available in a branch,” Destafney said. “We’ve found that they can still build strong relationships, just as a traditional teller would, including taking the time to get to know our customers; we still know who has grandchildren coming for a visit or a who has a graduation to celebrate.”

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OceanFirst gives back to the community, as well. As part of an initial public offering in 1996, the OceanFirst Foundation was created with the mission of providing financial resources to charities that serve the community. It has awarded more than 6,400 grants to help over 750 nonprofits and schools—a total of more than $30 million in grants for arts, cultural, health and wellness, and higher education scholarships.

Destafney has clear, defined plans for how he expects to build the central region of OceanFirst for the future. “I want to continue to promote the bank’s legacy as a good corporate citizen,” he said, “expand the network by hiring and supporting best in class talent, and make sure we continue to be responsive to the banking needs within our community.”

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OceanFirst Bank
73 Broad Street, Red Bank / 888.OCEAN33, extension 5550 / oceanfirst.com