Call it patriotic banking or just good business.
For the past month or so, the Bank of Glen Burnie has offered an unusual deal for new car buyers: Pick an American-made car and get a 1-percentage-point discount on an auto loan.
It's not the splashiest offer nor the flashiest gimmick. But it's better than a toaster, and it shows why many experts believe that little community banks can survive these difficult times: They have down-home remedies for customers they know.
Indeed, the offer seems peculiar to these days, when big banks housed in offices of glass and steel are struggling against commercial real estate woes, sorely depressed earnings and rumors of tight credit.
But walk into the Bank of Glen Burnie's lobby at the corner of Crain Highway and First Avenue and the unabashedly patriotic promotion fits right in, next to the Kiwanis Club gum-ball machines, charity collection jars and oversize scale for the weight-conscious depositor.
"What we're trying to do here is stimulate the American economy by having a lower rate on cars that are sold and built by American manufacturers," said Henry L. Hein, president, chairman and a 31-year veteran at the bank. "We just thought if we ran a special on cars that were promoted or made by American manufacturers, it would be good for the good ol' U.S.A."
Mr. Hein, with a note of resignation in his voice, also added that the offer was good on cars distributed or promoted by U.S. manufacturers, despite the fact that much of the automobile may have been made elsewhere.
Whether or not the deal helped U.S. carmakers, it has been attractive to customers, who are offered an interest rate of 8 percent on a 4-year loan with a 10 percent down payment, for example. That is roughly 3 points below the national average, which is based on 20 percent down, according to a weekly survey by Bank Rate Monitor.
It also has spurred business at the $167 million bank.
Just a year or two ago, when carmakers were offering their own low-interest rates, the bank was lucky to get six auto-loan applications a month, said Earl G. Walter, a 20-year Bank of Glen Burnie veteran who served as chief operating officer and executive vice president.
"In the last few years, we were dead in the water as far as making car loans," said Mr. Walter, who is now a consultant to the bank.
But since this promotion began in early November, the number of applications for new car loans has climbed steadily, running at least 20 percent ahead of levels before the deal started, Mr. Hein said.
Indeed, in a recent interview, Mr. Hein pointed to a stack of two dozen loan applications on his desk -- 14 of which were for cars. The bank, which has advertised its rates in Anne Arundel County newspapers, has received calls from interested customers as far away as Hagerstown, Sparks and Frederick, he said.