The chairman of the Women's National Bank, Kerry H. Stowell, has resigned from the bank's board of directors.
Citing the bank's inability to obtain adequate insurance to protect directors and owners from expensive lawsuits, Stowell -- a major owner of the bank -- said she felt it necessary for her to step down.
"I'm 54; the rest of the directors are in their 30s. I really don't want to be hit by a lawsuit at this time," she said. "I'm sorry I have to leave. I would have liked to remain. The bank is in a profitable growth period, and I am only sorry that I will not be actively engaged in the day-to-day decision-making process that occurs."
Stowell will continue to hold her equity interest in the bank, and the other directors -- also major owners -- will continue on the board.
"We don't particularly feel we're vulnerable," said director Mark Griffin. "It's a business judgment, a personal decision. The bank is in fine shape. It's growing and made a profit for the first time in three years last year. Deposits are up and loan demand is good."
Stowell had been chairman for less than a year -- ever since Leo M. Bernstein sold his family's controlling interest to a small group of investors headed by the bank's president, Barbara Blum. Bernstein had purchased his stock in 1983 and sold it last July to devote his time to other interests.
Stowell said the bank was not alone in its problems of obtaining liability insurance for directors and owners. "Insurance has been pulled for all banks," she said.
Even though she will remain an owner, she said her liability will be subtantially reduced.
Across the country, many firms -- banks and nonbanks alike -- are finding it difficult to obtain affordable insurance for the owners and directors -- thanks to an increasing number of lawsuits, the high damage awards granted by the courts and -- as a result -- a dwindling pool of money for insurance.