Rocky transition for some HarborOne customers

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An estimated 30,000 people left the coast and found a harbor Tuesday morning. For many it was smooth waters, but for a few it was an exercise in frustration.

It’s not like Coastway Community Bank customers weren’t notified that the bank was being sold and their accounts would be transferred to Massachusetts-based HarborOne.

Bill White, former president and CEO of Coastway, now director of banking Rhode Island at HarborOne, said Tuesday that booklets explaining exactly what would occur were sent to all Coastway account holders.

“There’s always going to be a certain amount of confusion,” he said.

And there was.

Customers leaving the Warwick Avenue branch, where like other Coastway branches signs came down over the weekend and HarborOne signs went up, said they had waited up to two hours to get their questions answered – and their cards activated – Tuesday morning.

Jana Planka, vice president and regional manager for Rhode Island banking at HarborOne, said of the nine former Coastway branches, the Warwick Avenue branch was the busiest. She said most of the questions focused on activation of debit cards and online banking.

Indeed, that was the issue for many of the customers standing in line at the Warwick Avenue branch. Some said they had followed directions to activate their cards only to be informed that they hadn’t submitted the proper information. One customer said he was directed to input his telephone number only, to his frustration, to be informed that wasn’t his number – but it was. Another was annoyed by the debit card she was issued, saying because of its coloring the numbers were difficult to read.

Some of the confusion clearly resulted from customers failing to read the information they had been sent. One customer confessed she thought she was being mailed a solicitation to open a credit or debit account and almost threw out the HarborOne packet without opening it.

In addition to the packets, Coastway sent out emails to its customers with bullet points to highlight how to step through the transition. Planka further noted that information about the transition is available on the bank’s website.

“It is no more,” White said of the bank where he had started working when it was Warwick Credit Union just up Church Avenue from where he grew up. Under the deal, HarborOne, with roots in Brockton, bought the shares of Coastway, a publicly traded company, for $28.25 per share. The transaction was valued at approximately $125.6 million.

According to a release at the time of the announcement in March, the combined company makes it the 12th largest publicly-traded New England community bank with assets of $3.4 billion and 65 locations across Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine.

“It was a 100 percent cash deal,” said White.

White said former holders of Coastway stock should see cash in their brokerage accounts in place of stock or receive a payment from whatever company was holding the shares. He questioned if, in fact, whether there are any paper stock certificates, saying he thought virtually all shares were in electronic form.

While Coastway is no more, all branch personnel have been retained – the faces haven’t changed. About 75 percent of those working in the operations center off Metro Center Boulevard in Warwick are keeping their jobs. Overall, Coastway had 150 employees.

“Bill did a lot for employees,” said Planka. She said Coastway held job fairs for those whose positions were being eliminated.

She said Suzanne Fry will handle the mortgage end of the Rhode Island business as vice president and regional manager with HOME (Harbor One Mortgage Experience). Regional Vice President Stephen Gibbons, also a Coastway transplant, is directing Rhode Island commercial lending.

Planka believes Coastway/Harbor One a good fit. She said the two have a similar history with their roots in a credit union and are intently focused on their customers and their home communities.

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