A hallmark of community banking has always been our ability to provide that personal touch to our relationship-based approach to financial services. With the onset of COVID-19, which severely hampered our ability to be able to physically interact with our customers, finding new ways of maintaining that personal connection to our customers was essential. As lobbies were largely closed to the public and customers were living under state-mandated lock-down orders, the normal face-to-face meetings to discuss financial needs or visits to the local branch office to catch up with the friendly staff were simply not possible. Community banks found themselves in a position where one of our most significant fundamental advantages was being stifled due to the realities of the pandemic response measures.
With every setback or negative situation, there always exists opportunities. One such opportunity for community banks in the current environment relates to technology. While technology cannot replace the impact that personal interactions have on the development of those deep relationships that provide value to both community banks and their customers, it can provide powerful tools that serve to strengthen those relationships. It has been long perceived by many that while community banks may be able to excel in personalized service, they simply lacked the resources to compete with their larger competitors on the technology front.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented a perfect time to prove that despite a disadvantage in resources, community banks have been able to keep up with customer expectations in terms of the technologies being offered. Even though efforts had been made in the past to promote the availability of certain technologies, some community banks found challenges related to the customer awareness and adoption of those technologies. Out of necessity, due to the limitations on the in-person avenues of transacting business, consumer and commercial customers that had not been aware or who were hesitant to take the leap found themselves taking advantage of technologies offered by their community banks to perform the routine financial transactions previously done in person. Many customers were surprised at the convenience and ease of use that these technologies provided and that their community bank offered the same services that some mega-banks spent millions in marketing dollars nationwide to tout as being unique to their institution.
Overall, while the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact economically and has exacerbated certain societal divisions that had been percolating, it also seems to be one of those disruptive events that have historically served as the catalyst for large-scale changes in how society functions. The obvious changes could be expected in retail, education, travel, hospitality and recreation, among others; however, there will be changes in behavior and consumer expectations that will drive changes throughout all segments of society moving forward.
There is no doubt that community banks will continue to be nimble and agile as the industry adapts to whatever changes may come our way. The resilience that the industry has shown during this pandemic and economic crisis is not something that is a recent development. The spirit of our industry has been forged over many decades as we have served as that symbol of stability for our customers and communities while we rode together the crests and troughs of the many waves that have passed through. Certainly, this time will be no different, and community banking will continue to provide that personal touch no matter how different things may look on the other side of all this. It is and always will be what defines us at our core.
Jon Conklin is Chairman of PACB and President/CEO of Woodlands Bank in Williamsport, PA.