Keeping Pace with Change

By John A. Ikard

This time three years ago—when I was first elected an ABA officer—Google Wallet was only a year old, Uber and Lyft were “just getting off the ground,” and Apple Pay was not even a rumor. 2012 was also the year that another famous disruptor, AirBnB, hit its stride and the average price of gas hit an all-time high 
of $3.60 a gallon.

Typically such “I remember when” recollections only make sense after a good chunk of time has passed. But with today’s rapid pace of change, a look back over the dramatic changes that have taken place in just the past three years yields plenty to talk about. It also drives home the point that the so called good old days and good old ways of doing things are “good and gone.”

That includes banking. Thanks to “disruptors,” increased competition and an unprecedented number of new regulations, our industry has faced monumental change in the past five years. You don’t survive what we have since the financial crisis and go back to the way things were before. Some changes are permanent.

In fact, I have no doubt that the way banks will make money in the future is different from the way we have made it in the past. This can be disconcerting—uncharted territory usually is. But in my time as an ABA officer, I have had the opportunity (for which I am extremely grateful) to meet hundreds of the men and women who lead our nation’s banks. And the vast majority of them are more than up for the challenge.

Yes, they have concerns about the trend line in bank regulation. And I agree that it is unsustainable. In fact, the volume and details of rules coming from Washington is redefining banking as much as technology and disruptors are. You may have heard me say before that I’ve lost more money with a stroke of the pen in Washington than I ever did with a business decision. But by and large the vast majority of bankers are committed to working through the challenges and finding a new path for their institutions. That’s leadership. Their attitude is one of “I’m going to go out there and compete and be successful.” I have found this optimism incredibly energizing and essential to our future success.

Strong leadership in banking or any industry today starts with an awareness that nobody is safe. Change can upend any of us if we aren’t always asking, “How do I stay relevant?” And answering that question requires us to always put our customers first. I know my kids—all in their 20s—have different expectations of a bank than I do. To them, good customer service is a mobile app that always works. I like the convenience of an app, too, but also want to make sure there’s a person I can talk to if something goes wrong. That’s where banks have a real advantage.

I started my year as chairman celebrating the ways America’s banks have innovated to serve customers better and remain relevant over the past two centuries. That’s not just in the past—such innovation and reinvention is still happening. You can find examples of it in the pages of the ABA Banking Journal—and any other publication that covers our dynamic industry.

Our goal as bankers should always be to stay relevant to our customers while staying true to who we really are. We don’t need to act like hipsters to attract millennials. We just need to deliver the goods they want and the way they went to get them. And yet we must do it in a way that preserves our most fundamental promise: that their money is safe with us.

So don’t let the headlines about “disruption” intimidate you. But do let them inspire you to keep developing new ways to serve the needs of your customers and communities. By keeping our industry’s pioneering spirit alive, you’ll keep banking’s future bright.