As I open this month’s communication, I want to say it has been a privilege to work with Jon Conklin, President/CEO, Woodlands Bank and Chairman of the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers (PACB) over the last year.
I want to thank Jon Conklin for his strong leadership in a trying time. Jon’s motto is “be involved.” Whether in person or online, he eased our concerns and fought for our interests. Our organization is stronger. Our bankers are more involved. And Jon deserves a lot of credit for it.
Kentucky author James Lane Allen once wrote, “adversity does not build character; it reveals it.” Jon, this pandemic really did reveal yours. Thank you!
Community banks in Pennsylvania have done a fantastic job. You delivered the lion’s share of paycheck protection funds to our small businesses — more than 158,000 of them, an average of $112,000 each.
And you did it quickly, despite confusing and ever-changing rules. You fought hard to change those rules and you won. You let customers know you “had their backs.” And you instituted new procedures to protect your employees and associates from harm. Your business customers and associates alike were appreciative of your actions, and ALL applaud your hard work! You were models for the nation. That is not hyperbole. That is a fact.
Now, I know we’re all eager to return to normal. But what is normal?
Our kids are at home, doing their Zoom homework. Restaurants have moved their tables outdoors. And if you want to watch your favorite college football team, well, half of them aren’t playing. The first time I’m envious of Pitt fans!
It’s tempting to think about “the new normal.” Frankly, I’m a little sick of that phrase. I don’t think it’s coming. Some things have changed forever — some for the better.
For one thing, we have rediscovered the value of strong relationships. If we were ever on autopilot, we aren’t now.
Your actions earned praise. Hyperion Bank heard this from a customer: “Our clients are thrilled. Other banks told them they didn’t have the time. You made the time.” Call it the “New Neighborly.” We’re more distant but closer.
How does that happen? YOU made it happen. And there’s no reason it cannot continue.
Remember apartment living? Your neighbors were a few feet away, above and below you, across the hall. But did you know their names? What did they do for a living?
Now think about a rural farm community. People may live two, three, 5 miles away. But they know everything about their neighbors. And they’ll do anything for them in a crisis.
Community bankers were the “first responders” of our economy. You helped nurse it back to health. But we’re not out of the woods yet.
Our customers still need access to cash. We’re asking Washington to cut the paperwork and red tape to get the financial assistance that they — and our country — still require.
Our economy only recovers as THEY recover.
So, let’s take advantage of our strengths. We know our customers better than anyone on Wall Street or in D.C. We see their struggles. We share their triumphs. We live in their communities. And so, we can act quickly and forcefully.
Be good neighbors.
The next key is technology. It’s no longer a toy; it’s a tool. It’s the way we do business. Encryption, identity verification, artificial intelligence, “the cloud.” Our customers may not fully understand it. But they depend on it. And so do we.
The quarantine has forced us to change, maybe faster than we’d like. A March survey found that 82% of customers were concerned about visiting their bank branch in person. At the same time, they were eager to embrace technology. So — close a lobby, open a laptop.
Listen, we were heading in that direction anyway. But now more people are following. To grow market share, we must make sure our customers are comfortable with technology’s use and protected from its abuses.
And as we reopen our lobbies, we must be mindful of our employees’ well-being, too.
The third key: we have to reintroduce ourselves. Customers form habits. They can break them, too. We need to reestablish our business practices. We’ve built new systems overnight. Let’s not throw them away when the crisis passes. Let’s repurpose them for the days ahead.
View this time not as a lost season, but as an opportunity.
Finally and most importantly, we must expand our circle. I’m talking about inclusiveness. This is the top workforce issue of our time. It’s so important that we at PACB have created a task force on it. Our communities are growing every day. Thousands of talented people are looking to be your customers, your partners, your employees. Go to the schools, the community centers. Talk to the people, learn their stories.
Don’t get too comfortable in your comfort zone. Become a mentor, and you’ll become a model for the entire banking industry.
If we work on these things together, we’ll be ready for whatever happens next.
One ready person is our new chair Lori Cestra. She happens to be the first female chair in PACB’s history. She rose through the ranks. She earned the trust of her colleagues and customers. And she’s the right person to lead us into 2021.
Thank you for reading. As always, I’m only a phone call, text or email away. Thank you.
These remarks were given during PACB’s Annual Meeting.
Kevin Shivers is President/CEO of Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers.