At Republic Bank in Northern Kentucky, residential mortgages are a great introduction to customers.

“We try to take care of customers and provide the best service we can deliver,” says Thomas R. Saelinger, Northern Kentucky market president for the Louisville-based bank.

“Residential mortgage lending is a big part of our business. That’s the first way we meet a lot of customers,” he says. “Then we may expand that to include a business loan. If we do a good job for our customers, we hope they’ll tell four or five of their friends.”

Steady Growth

Republic entered the Northern Kentucky market just six years ago with a small loan origination office in Fort Wright. Today it has three NKY offices: Florence, Covington and Independence, and also has established a small office in Blue Ash in Hamilton County, Ohio.

Republic has about $40 million in Northern Kentucky deposits and recently passed $100 million in Northern Kentucky assets.

Republic’s focus on customer service is in its DNA. The bank traces its roots to dthe acquisition of a small Shelbyville, Ky., savings and loan by founder Bernard Trager in 1977. Bernard Trager died in 2012, but his son Steve Trager is president and CEO of the parent Republic Bancorp. Steve Trager has said in interviews that the bank’s focus is treating people right: That includes customers, employees and the communities where it operates.

Republic Bancorp is one of the largest commonwealth-based banks in Kentucky with $3.4 billion in assets and 34 offices in the state. The publicly traded holding company also has offices in southeast Indiana, Florida, Tennessee and Minnesota.

Republic reported record profits of $112.7 million in the first nine months of 2012, and has been recognized repeatedly as one of the nation’s best-run banks. It ranked first in return on assets and fourth in return on equity in third quarter 2012 performance rankings of banks between $1 billion and $5 billion in assets compiled by Bank Director magazine.

The bank’s healthy balance sheet led to two acquisitions last year: Tennessee Commerce Bank of Franklin, Tenn., and First Commercial Bank in Bloomington, Minn.

But in an era of “too big to fail” banks, Republic sticks to its knitting — taking in deposits and making loans, says Saelinger. Unlike a lot of bigger banks, it wasn’t involved in the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Back to Basics

Saelinger, a native of Northern Kentucky, joined Republic about two years ago after more than 20 years in local banking circles. He said Republic’s back-to-basics approach appealed to him.

“We have a very lean organization,” he says. “I can pick up the phone and talk to Steve (Trager), if I need to. There isn’t a lot of red tape. I like that.”

The personal touch extends to how Republic gets its message out. It doesn’t do a lot of media advertising, preferring instead to support individual events, often through employee involvement in activities they’re passionate about.

Saelinger said Republic is able to leverage its small staff — it has just 20 employees in Northern Kentucky — by investing in new technology. For example, this year it plans to invest in mobile technology that allows customers to make deposits via cell phones.

Over the next five to seven years, he says Republic expects to expand its presence in Northern Kentucky. “Eventually, we’d like to have three offices in each of Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties.”