By Kamyar Monsef
Community banks are vital to serving the needs of local customers and communities, particularly in challenging times. As the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed consumers to adopt online banking in unprecedented numbers, some large national banks have responded by consolidating their retail operations and closing branches in small, rural communities. In areas left behind by these financial institutions, the role of community banks has become more important than ever.
A focus on relationships: During the prolonged closure of our branch lobbies, customers lined up at our drive-thru locations to speak to their banker in person. They also took advantage of our online appointment scheduling to talk to trusted advisors by phone or videoconference and heavily utilized our call center for assistance. Despite a wealth of online tools and services, some people prefer to seek an actual person for help or advice, especially in times of difficulty. For our customers, being available to serve them face-to face – or through a real, local person at the other end of a phone or videoconference line – is a central part of community banking.
Local expertise: Because community banks have longstanding roots in the areas they serve, they often have a more nuanced understanding of the local economy, industry, and market opportunity. The best community bankers live, work, and play in the markets they serve, engaging the community and supporting banking relationships at a different level. It allows us to see each customer as unique – there’s no cookie-cutter approach – and we’re not viewing every interaction or application through a particular, more transactional model. In the current economy, local expertise is critical, and working with a bank that understands your potential and goals is essential.
A vested interest: During the first wave of the Payment Protection Program (PPP), community banks funded nearly 60 percent of PPP loans. We have a vested and very personal interest in the success, vitality, and fiscal well-being of our nation’s small businesses and rural communities. Throughout the pandemic, community bankers have continued to serve on local boards, helping nonprofits and other organizations overcome increasing challenges this past year. Together, as neighbors, businesses, and bankers, we all thrive as our local community succeeds.
A plan forward: While personal relationships and local expertise will continue to define how banking services are delivered, community banks are also working hard to enhance customers’ online and digital experiences. The pandemic has resulted in more people using technology to safely conduct basic banking transactions and has driven early technology adopters to use it more effectively and efficiently. Peoples Bank continues to invest in digital platforms and services, as well as enhanced security, to meet the growing needs of our customers.
The financial landscape is changing, and it’s important for community banks to serve their markets in a very different way than our larger, national peers. This involves continually evaluating the requirements of the communities in which we operate to ensure we are meeting our customers’ specific needs.
Our ability to provide local knowledge and forge non-centralized, personal relationships with our customers, many of which span multiple generations, represents a unique value. Complemented by our ongoing investments in mobile and online banking tools and other services that deliver the safety and convenience sought by customers, community banks can succeed in doing what we were all called to do – serving the needs of our local customers and communities.
Kamyar Monsef is the Chief Retail Banking Officer at Peoples Bank. He is passionate about empowering, educating, and developing the next generation of front-line bankers. Peoples Bank serves the local community at its five branch locations in Snohomish County. To schedule an appointment, please visit www.peoplesbank-wa.com.