First of all, let me say that I would rather the title of this blog entry be “How Major League Baseball is like Community Banking.” However, my reality tonight was a quiet (and very enjoyable) evening hanging out in the living room with my wife, the laptop, and ANOTHER season premier of “The Bachelorette.” For those of you not up to speed on reality TV, this particular show tries to help one lucky gal find true love by bringing in 25 eligible bachelors and letting her sift through the pretenders to find her soul mate. Without giving you the impression that I actually like this show by giving you all sorts of gory details, I’ll just skip to the part where I try to compare community banking with the show. The entire premise of the first show tonight was the bachelorette whittling down the field. With only one chance to make a first impression, many of the contestants tried to set themselves apart by doing something unique.
This may be a bit of a stretch, but there are so many ways for people to get their banking services in today’s electronic world. There are national banks, community banks, credit unions, and online banks. There are companies like Wal-Mart that provide banking services. Companies like State Farm Insurance also do banking along with providing their standard offerings. With so many eligible banking options out there it is more important than ever to make an impression that demonstrates why community banking is invaluable. At First National we try to make memorable first impressions every time we see you. For example, our phones are answered by people and not machines, we try to greet you by name and with a smile when you walk into our lobbies, and we make every effort to be your local banking experts.
Bigger banks and organizations are likely to send you through an automated phone maze to find a live voice on the other end. Online banks may have good rates but lack any sort of personal or local touch. Companies that offer banking services as an additional service may not have the expertise you expect and deserve from the place you entrust with your financial resources.
Ultimately, you should be able to visit any of our branch locations and find a community banker that knows banking and your community. Our goal is to keep making great first impressions so you know how much we much value you as a customer. You don’t have to give us a rose (a la “The Bachelorette”) but we’d love to have your business.
My daughter Clara would make Donald Trump proud. Ever since she was old enough to know that money buys things, she has been scheming about different ways she can earn money. Over the last year or so her focus has been on buying a laptop computer for the different games and activities she enjoys. She knows they are expensive but that hasn’t stopped her from saving her pennies anyways. Her dad will probably have to subsidize her purchase later this year, but for now she keeps on plugging away. Some of the projects she has undertaken include growing and selling gourds from Grandma Matthews’ garden, selling a homemade soapy concoction to Judy Augsburger and other understanding neighbors, and helping out with our periodic garage sales. But her all time favorite money maker is the old standby: a lemonade stand.
I can’t tell you how many times she will race up to me in the middle of winter or during a spring downpour and ask if she can go out and sell lemonade for her laptop fund. As tiresome as that question can be in the dead of winter, her persistence and entrepreneurial spirit are inspiring. And her favorite small business has recently been the inspiration for a new youth program we are starting at First National Bank.
Until we come up with a better name we are calling our new program the “Young Entrepreneurs” and it is designed to inspire kids to earn, save, and take responsibility for their own money. Every year we spend time in area schools teaching students about the importance of saving and about understanding the value of money. This year we have been taking this one step farther and are encouraging them to take ownership of the things they want by earning their own money.
The Bank already offers a youth savings account called Moola-Moola and we are giving away business kits to children who open or already have an account. The packet includes a zippered change bag, checklists for helping to plan a lemonade stand or any other youth project, a pencil, and for the first 50 kids who come in after June 1 we will also give them a poster board so they can advertise their business with a poster.
If we can inspire kids like Clara to think about earning and saving money now, they will be that much farther ahead as they grow older. Feel free to bring your child or grandchild into any of our branches and we can help give your young entrepreneurs the tools they will need to make a little lemonade out of lemons.
Ask most people and my guess would be that they see banking as banking. For better or worse, banks get lumped (and take their lumps) together as a collective group. On the surface, there may not be many obvious differences (other than size) between the giant bank with branches in every state and the small, community bank with three branches in Northwest Ohio. Banking products vary slightly from bank to bank, but your basic banking services can be found at each and every institution.
From my humble community banker’s perspective, the main difference lies in scope and mission. A 5,000 branch bank serves a much larger area than a community bank, must cater to the majority, and makes decisions for the company that typically stem from a bank’s corporate headquarters in a metropolitan area somewhere. A decision made for the good of the company in this situation will probably not be tailored to benefit Bluffton or Pandora, Ohio, populations 3,944 and 1,184 respectively (from city-data.com as of July, 2008). Even Findlay with a population of 36,987 may not register with a large bank the same way it does with a community bank centered in the community.
Community banking at its core is banking in and for the communities it calls home. Corporate headquarters of First National Bank of Pandora is located on Main Street in Pandora, OH. Decisions made to benefit the bank will be made with the residents of Pandora and other local communities in mind and not a large population in some other region or state. Bluffton’s other community bank has corporate headquarters in Bluffton, Ohio. Decisions made at corporate headquarters are likely to be made with area residents in mind. Community bankers in these small towns usually live and work in the area. And contrary to the practices of many larger banks, community banking decisions are made by these local residents who have a better understanding of their community than someone at corporate headquarters in New York, New York. Community bankers have the capacity and are empowered to make decisions in the communities they serve. This is a distinction that should not be overlooked or undervalued.
First, a brief history to get this blog started…I didn’t really plan to be a banker. I stumbled onto the scene and ultimately have a group of angry “soccer moms” to thank for landing my first banking job. My career path can probably be chalked up to poor career planning. Graduating with my undergraduate English degree at Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana, did not steer me in a particular direction, and I didn’t spend enough time in the Career Development Center to come out of school with a good plan. Mike Baker, who was President of Madison Community Bank in Anderson in 2002, saw me surrounded by angry parents at a local soccer tournament I was helping to coordinate. He apparently thought I handled the heated exchange well enough to also calm down potentially disgruntled bank clients and said if I ever needed a job to apply at Madison Community. Because of my aforementioned career planning, I did eventually find my way to the bank during my senior year and the rest really is history.
I spent four years learning the basics of banking. My job titles included teller, customer service representative, Manager in Training, Branch Manager, and Commercial Lender. I accepted customer deposits, opened new accounts, made consumer and commercial loans, and as a manager supervised a modest branch staff. I worked full-time at six different branches in three different towns over the course of four years. I learned from some great community bankers including Mike Baker, Senior Lender Kirk Klabunde, and once retired John May, who will probably never officially retire again.
In 2006, I moved back home to Bluffton, Ohio, and began working at First National Bank of Pandora as a Commercial Lender. I typically serve small businesses in Bluffton and the surrounding communities. It was probably at this point that I began to embrace the mentality of a community banker. I am personally invested in the community and I want to see Bluffton grow and continue to be a great place to live and raise a family. Although my wife, Renee, and I never planned to return to Bluffton, we’re glad we did. I have enjoyed coming back to my hometown and seeing it from a fresh perspective. It is inspiring to see how local entrepreneurs have contributed to the growth and prosperity of Bluffton, and working closely with small business has given me an even greater appreciation for the commitment shown by these individuals. Even though the part I play as a banker was and is relatively small, working with local business owners and seeing them grow and succeed is very rewarding and continues to be one of the best parts of my community banking career.
This weekly blog will hopefully paint an accurate picture of community banking, both locally and across the industry and will give me a chance to share banking insights, helpful tips, First National Bank activities, and hopefully some entertaining reading.