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Longtime exec banking on consulting firm he started

Pat O’Brien was considering a change and didn’t stand pat.

“I’ve probably always had an aspiration toward doing this,” said the owner and sole employee of newly minted Pat O’Brien Consulting LLC, which he launched recently out of his North Bethlehem Township home.

O’Brien’s objective is to consult with companies, economic development organizations and nonprofits to help them navigate the coronavirus pandemic, then thrive afterward. The former president and chief executive officer of Community Bank and its parent, CB Financial Services Inc., plans to render advice on business planning, business models, banking, debt restructuring, management and related initiatives.

Residing where he does, less than an hour’s drive from West Virginia and Ohio, O’Brien hopes to transform this into a tri-state endeavor.

The company officially launched two weeks ago and has started solidly.

“I have two existing clients and am sure I’ll have a third in a week or so,” he said during a recent telephone interview. “I’ve been kind of working on it for a couple of months.”

Pat O’Brien Consulting also has a website.

These have been wild and woolly times, of course, but as a sheep farmer and longtime banker, O’Brien is accustomed to shepherding others. He has 35 years of business experience, much of it in high finance, making consulting a seemingly smooth segue in his career.

He said his plan to become a consultant crystallized during COVID-19’s invasion into the tri-state several months ago. O’Brien, to be sure, has the background.

“I love helping people and I love helping companies. I thought this would be a great way to help,” O’Brien said.

Until January, O’Brien did just that with Community Bank and CB Financial, both based in North Franklin Township. He held the dual positions for 19 months, but voluntarily resigned early in the new year, replaced on an interim basis by Pat McCune, his predecessor in both positions and longtime close friend.

“It was time to focus on myself and my family, time to recharge the batteries,” said O’Brien, who, with his wife, Chris, raised two sons and a daughter.

McCune, son and namesake of the late Washington County judge Barron McCune, had retired to Wyoming, but was willing to assist CB Financial. He had worked alongside O’Brien for nearly six years.

Until 2014, each was president/CEO of a rival Mon Valley bank. McCune was at CB Financial, which was then based in Carmichaels. O’Brien led FedFirst Financial Corp., holding company for Monessen-based First Federal Savings Bank.

They agreed to merge their firms into CB that April 15, a $54.5 million transaction of cash and stocks that closed six months later.

A few years after that, Pat and Pat led a $49 million merger with First West Virginia Bancorp Inc., the Wheeling-based holding company for Progressive Bank NA. That deal closed in the spring of 2018.

O’Brien, 59, remains close – and true – to his roots.

“I was born and raised in the little village of Lone Pine,” he said. His father owned a dairy farm and young Pat milked cows and baled hay.

“Chris and I and the kids moved up the crick to North Bethlehem,” he said, chuckling. “I’ve never been out of Pine Run Valley.”

He graduated from Beth-Center High School and Waynesburg University and still lives in an area he has embraced for nearly six decades.

Patrick G. O’Brien’s service extends well beyond his professional endeavors. He reaches out to the community with vigor, frequently with his Scenery Hill church and its operation of Marianna Christian Outreach, but also with Washington City Mission, the Boy Scouts of America, Washington Hospital and Presbyterian SeniorCare.

Now he has a new business, one he intends to grow and to add staff.

“I want to help people,” he said.

O’Brien can be contacted at patobrienconsulting.com or 412-480-6733.

Be Local: Visit our region's national parks

Editor’s note: This is a weekly series focusing on the importance of buying local.

As the nation celebrates Independence Day, it’s a good time to remember special places that are important to all Americans: the national parks.

Be Local means visiting Western Pennsylvania’s five national parks that share stories from the French and Indian War through the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“The parks tell our shared history as an American culture,’’ said park ranger Tom Markwardt, noting admission to the Western Pennsylvania parks is free and that all have educational programs to help the public understand the significance of what happened here.

Fayette County has two national parks.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Wharton Township was the 1754 site of the opening battle of the French and Indian War. The park tells the story of this war as well as the National Road, America’s first federal highway that brought travelers and goods back and forth, serving the area economically.

Friendship Hill National Historic Site in Springhill Township was the country estate of Albert Gallatin, who served as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Jefferson and Madison. Gallatin reduced the national debt, purchased the Louisiana Territory and funded the Lewis & Clark exploration.

Two parks are in Cambria County.

Allegheny Portage Railroad in Gallitzin in 1824 became the first railroad to circumvent the Allegheny Mountains, marking the first direct route between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Johnstown Flood Memorial recalls the 1889 failure of the South Fork dam that unleashed 20 million tons of water and devastated Johnstown. The flood killed 2,209 people and brought the nation together to aid the survivors.

Somerset County is the site of Flight 93 National Memorial that honors the 40 passengers and crew who lost their lives in a field near Shanksville. This was one of four airliners hijacked by terrorists who attacked the country on Sept. 11, 2001. The Flight 93 heroes thwarted an attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Besides preserving history, national parks contribute to the economy.

“We have a good number of visitors who visit local businesses and attractions. They eat at restaurants, buy gas and souvenirs, and often come back because the area is full of attractions,’’ said Markwardt.

The U.S. Department of the Interior notes visitor spending in communities near national parks results is a tremendous benefit to the American economy and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs.

“National parks with their iconic natural, cultural and historic landscapes represent the heart and soul of America,” said National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith. “They are also a vital part of our nation’s economy, especially for park gateway communities where millions of visitors each year find a place to sleep and eat, hire outfitters and guides and make use of other local services that help drive a vibrant tourism and outdoor recreation industry.”

Those interested in joining the Be Local Network can contact Chris Slota at 724-225-1326 or by email at chris@belocal.net. Discount cards are available at the Observer-Reporter and Almanac office, 122 S. Main St., Washington.

Liz Weston: Is your target date investment letting you down?

Target date investments are supposed to be an easier way to invest, and they’re a popular choice in 401(k) plans. But the recent market downturn showed that some target date strategies suffered much bigger losses than others, especially for investors nearing retirement.

Target date investments did protect near-retirees from the full force of the sell-off. While U.S. stocks overall lost 33% in the 30-day period ending March 20, the average target date fund for people retiring in 2020 dropped 17%, says Leo Acheson, director of multi-asset ratings at Morningstar. But losses among some popular funds ranged from 13% to 23%, reflecting dramatic differences in how the investments are constructed.

“Some of these 2020 funds, you might look at them and think they’re probably pretty similar to one another,” Acheson says. “But when you look beneath the hood, you find out that actually some 2020 funds are taking a lot more risks than other 2020 funds.”

An outsize loss by itself isn’t a good reason to bail on an investment. The same strategy that’s giving you heartburn now could deliver above-average returns later. If you’re approaching retirement, however, you want to be sure the investment strategy you’re using still makes sense. You have less time to make up losses – and more risk of running out of money.

How target date strategies work

Target date investments come in two forms: mutual funds, which are available at brokerages and in workplace retirement plans, and collective investment trusts, which are found only in workplace plans. Although people use target date strategies in IRAs and taxable accounts, they’re particularly popular in 401(k)s. One Fidelity survey found about half of all assets in tax-exempt retirement funds are invested in target date options.

The name comes from the fact that the mix of stocks and bonds gets more conservative as the target date – typically the year the investor plans to retire – gets closer. A Target Date 2020 option is designed for someone retiring soon while Target Date 2060 is meant for retirements that are 40 years away.

How target date strategies differ

That’s where the similarities end, however. Investment companies offering these products choose different initial mixes of stocks and bonds as well as different “glide paths,” or rates at which the mix is adjusted. On average, target date strategies for 2020 had 43% of their portfolios invested in stocks, but one fund had 55% in stocks while another had just 8%, Acheson says.

The types of investments differ, as well. For example, some funds that are more conservative with their stock allocation take more risks with their bonds, choosing corporate bonds or even high-yield “junk” bonds over U.S. Treasurys and other government debt. Those riskier bonds offer better returns in good times but often get trounced in extreme downturns, when investors flee to the safety of government bonds.

On top of all that, investment companies tinker with their formulas, so the strategy in place when you initially invested might change by the time you retire.

So what’s an investor to do?

Understanding how your target date works requires time and research. Your 401(k) provider or brokerage will be able to provide you with information, including how the investment’s glide path works, its expense ratios and how those compare to industry averages. Then you have to decide if you’re comfortable with its approach, given the expected risks and returns.

If you decide you’re not happy with your current choice, you have options. If you’re in a workplace retirement plan, you might choose a different date (such as the 2015 fund if you think the 2020 option is too risky, or Target Date 2025 if you’re willing to take more risk), though you probably can’t switch target date providers since most 401(k)s only offer one. If your money is in an IRA or taxable account, you could switch providers as well as target dates.

Another possibility is to craft your own portfolio. Consider consulting a fee-only, fiduciary advisor – one who’s committed to putting your best interests first – for help.

Getting good advice is something you should do anyway before you retire, because many retirement decisions are irreversible and mistakes can make your life a lot less comfortable. Also, our ability to avoid financial errors tends to decline starting in our 50s, even though our confidence in those abilities remains high. Working with a trusted advisor can help us avoid blind spots that could be costly.

All of this work is the exact opposite of the hands-off-the-wheel approach you probably wanted when you chose a target date investment. But staying hands-off – or making changes without professional advice – could mean losses that drive your retirement into a ditch.

This column was provided to the Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lweston@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lizweston.