Intel from Our Community Bank Support Group

By Jim Edrington

Last month I met up with hundreds of community bankers at the 2018 National Conference for Community Bankers. When you get that many community bankers from across the nation, all networking together, something extraordinary happens.

You wind up with the best bank support group imaginable. The folks in this segment are all in the same boat. And they come back year after year to build connections, share ideas, and identify solutions.

With so much going on in the space this year, it really was a can’t-miss event. But in case you did miss it—especially if you’re a community bank marketer—here’s what everyone’s talking about:

  1. The exhibit hall was packed.

As a bank marketer, why should you care about that? Well, it’s a sign that you need to be ready to pivot.

Because after a long struggle with a crippling regulatory burden, we’re starting to see change. One of the highlights of the conference was when ABA’s CEO Rob Nichols delivered a report (to thunderous applause) on the state of regulatory reform.

In a nutshell: Community banks face the opportunity to stop hemorrhaging resources on compliance and rulemaking that’s not relevant to them.

With their newly freed-up resources, they can focus instead on making long-delayed upgrades to the ways they serve their customers. And they’re exploring mobile tools and technology.

Digital lending and account opening are the main areas that community banks should focus on for now. Community banks are particularly concerned about their mortgage business—they’ve seen it winnowed away by outfits like Quicken’s Rocke Mortgage in recent years. They have to figure out how to respond to that.

  1. The elephant in the room…is still in the room. And it’s still an elephant.

At this point, everyone is interested in fintech and can see the benefits.

But there’s still a need to understand specifically how to implement fintech solutions within the rigid structure of the core processor. Often, that’s the real obstacle. Community bankers are expressing a lot of concern about that—and those concerns have led to inertia.

The end result of that is inevitably an array of limitations for the customer.

ABA has been a strong advocate for innovation, and we offer a number of endorsed solutions to help make innovation possible. But there’s so much more to be done. And to make real progress here, we need a broader industry solution to deal with the cores.

Community banks must take on that challenge. There’s no choice.

  1. If you’re not talking seriously about recruitment and succession planning, you need to start.

We did some live polling during the conference, and one thing that came out was that talent management is high on the community bankers’ minds, from both a recruitment and development perspective.

Although the word “millennial” is still being tossed around quite a lot, don’t be fooled. At this point, we should be thinking in terms of the “next generation” of bankers.

Community bankers are thinking hard about how to attract that level of talent necessary to stay current. Cyber is a huge challenge for community banks. So is succession planning. And working through the branch structure. And building a meaningful bank culture—we took some deep dives on that at the conference.

That all requires a consistent pipeline of talent.

  1. Has the time finally come for community bank marketing departments to stop being the catch-all for random bank efforts?

No. That’s not likely to change any time soon. Community bank marketers will continue to be jacks-of-all-trades: running the ads, posting on social, planning the charity events, and even wearing the mascot costume at the county fair.

They’re at no disadvantage when it comes to engaging their local communities. That makes them well positioned to understand their customers and cultivate what’s thought of as the “Main Street effect.”

But they do need the tools, resources, and technology to make the most of these advantages.  That’s why we’re seeing community bankers actively looking for those types of solutions.

  1. The most important advice for a community bank marketer.

Embrace technology. Don’t be afraid of it—think about the opportunity it presents. But don’t forget what it’s really about. Hint: It’s not about you.

A community banker I recently spoke with articulated that point perfectly. He said, “All too often, when a bank implements a technology, the immediate focus is on the operations in the back office. And there’s no focus on the needs of the customer. Instead you need to put the customer first and get the operations to follow.”

Put customers first. Respond to their needs. Figure out how to engage them. That’s the secret to success.

Jim Edrington is Chief Member Engagement Officer at the American Bankers Association. Email: [email protected]. LinkedIn. Twitter.