Washington Trust opens doors in Darien

The face of the financial lending sector seems to be ever-changing in lower Fairfield County, and now a venerable Rhode Island-based bank has anchored in the middle of downtown Darien.

Founded 214 years ago, Westerly, R.I.-based Washington Trust has established a branch at 1025 Boston Post Road in Darien, moving from temporary office space in Stamford.

“Fairfield County is a great area for us. We do a lot of creative lending,” said James Gueltzow, executive vice president of Washington Trust Mortgage, who oversees the Darien operation. “We’re the oldest community bank in the country, and Darien is very much a community.”

The new office, staffed by loan officers Darlene Lee, Kevin Kinahan and George Zygmont, expects to hire five to seven more support staff and loan officers for the Darien office, Gueltzow said during a reception this week at Ten Twenty Post Oyster Bar.

The bank, which will make loans of up to $3 million, has $2.6 billion in deposits and $3.3 billion in assets.

“We’re big enough to be sophisticated, but part of being too big is you can’t be as quick,” said Mark Gim, executive vice president of wealth management. “It’s not just a transaction. It’s more about customer needs. It’s a relationship.”

Darien is getting a financial services icon with a two-century-long track record of success, according to John Carusone, president of the Hartford-based Bank Analysis Center.

“It’s unequivocally a high-performing bank and very well capitalized. This is a bank with a pedigree and real lineage. It’s a formidable competitive force,” Carusone said. “Any institution would find it attractive to affiliate with a bank with the reputation of Washington Trust.”

By coming to Darien, the bank is demonstrating its faith in the community and the business environment, according to Susan Cator, executive director and president of the Darien Chamber of Commerce.

“They feel there’s value in coming into our market,” she said. “It’s a good investment for them. It’s a vote of confidence.”

Washington Trust is occupying 2,000 square feet on the newly remodeled second floor of the building owned by Darien-based Baywater Properties.

“They hired Darlene Lee, and she called me about opening an office in Darien,” said David Genovese, CEO of Baywater Properties. “We acquired 1025 Boston Post Road a few months ago from the 21 Broad Street Corp.”

Genovese said he found a new location in Darien for one of the tenants and helped relocate another one to a Baywater property in town.

Plans are under way to improve the exterior of the property, said Genovese, who expects to welcome Kirby & Co., a furnishings and decor business, to the ground floor in November.