LEAD FWD Blog

    Community Bank Leadership Lessons

    Oct 05, 2017

    A community bank’s success relies on steady, solid leadership forged from a shared vision and a goal to exceed customers’ expectations. That’s at least the way Brad Bolton, president and CEO of Community Spirit Bank in Red Bay, Ala., sees it. His message—honor the bank’s traditions while embracing new initiatives, products and services—has resonated with employees like Emily Mays, Community Spirit Bank’s marketing director. In her role, Mays is dedicated to creating a brand that customers identify with and gravitate towards for all their financial services needs.

    Mays says Bolton encourages her to think “outside the box and ahead of the curve.” In a similar vein, Bolton says that Mays’ “proactive mindset” and ability to “positively motivate” herself and others is why she was tapped to attend ICBA’s LEAD FWD Summit this November in St. Louis. Bolton says she’ll bring plenty of ideas back, which will help the bank meet its goals and objectives.

    Mays says she is grateful for the opportunity to expand her horizons by attending the leadership forum next month. She says Bolton’s encouragement to take on new challenges has stayed with her over her four-year tenure with the bank and that “can’t” is no longer part of her vocabulary. Mays has also learned to never be complacent and to stay alert to things outside of her purview and look for ways to help.

    “Brad has taught me you can do your job better when you know how the other jobs around you operate,” Mays says. “He has taught me to continually think.”

    Mays shares Bolton’s view of putting customers first and predicts that technology will play a pivotal role in helping the bank welcome customer interaction through multiple channels.

    Community Bank Leadership Lessons

    Bolton says he has been happy to help Mays hone her leadership skills and thinks that ICBA’s LEAD FWD Summit is a great next step for her career development. With fast-paced workshops, new collaboration challenges, dynamic whiteboarding sessions with experts and bold keynote speakers, it’s a great opportunity for leaders like Mays.  

    Mays and other community bank leaders will take a deep dive into issues affecting the community banking industry and think big picture, Bolton says. This will be invaluable in shaping how these leaders help their banks prepare to meet the future needs of their customers, he adds.

    “Our high performers are the ones chosen for more responsibilities, more learning opportunities, conferences, leadership meetings and the like,” Bolton says. “They are our first line of offense and defense in making sure customers receive an exceptional experience throughout the organization.”

    Join Emily Mays and other community bank leaders in St. Louis, Mo., by registering for the LEAD FWD Summit.  

    Short-Term Investments That Yield Enduring Gains

    Sep 18, 2017
    170208_EVT_website 125x125pxAs a former community banker, I understand the importance of succession planning as a vital part of an organization’s overall strategy for the future. When done properly, succession planning ensures a seamless transition that allows promising employees with drive and passion to expand beyond their job functions and confidently assume key leadership positions at the bank.

    Succession planning represents an investment in the future and a roadmap to help community banks continue their mission and achieve their vision.

    Identifying talent within your rank and file is only the beginning. Community banking’s future leaders must be equipped with the means to fulfill their promise and ensure the long-term viability of the bank, its customers and the community as a whole.  

    Continuing education—whether online or in person—is a critical component to developing high performers. Training and education provides participants with pertinent information to help them think innovatively and align with industry developments while providing a forum to converse with industry experts and develop best practices that can be implemented bank-wide.  

    Many ICBA member banks rely on courses and webinars through Community Banker University® to train and educate staff. ICBA’s upcoming LEAD FWD Summit, held Nov. 6-7 in St. Louis, Mo., can also provide your bank’s high performers with novel insights and tools to propel your community bank into the future.   

    This year’s LEAD FWD Summit is packed with educational sessions, workshops and networking activities geared toward accelerating professional development. Attendees will have opportunities to interact with experts in banking operations, compliance exams and payment systems. They will also participate in whiteboarding with peers and authorities on topics such as financial branding, bank profitability, risk management and customer experience. The event’s keynote speakers are two former professional athletes who offer real-world examples of effective teambuilding to achieve organizational goals, which is vital to a community bank’s ongoing growth and sustainability.

    Succession planning is a life-long, multi-faceted process. If you are not already doing so, I urge you to take full advantage of ICBA’s continuing education offerings to cultivate and complement your existing on-the-job training and magnify the talent of your bank’s rising stars.

    In the words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."

    Tomorrow’s leaders have the great privilege and awesome responsibility of protecting the community banking franchise for future generations. Let’s make sure they’re prepared to seize the moment.

    Cam Fine is president and CEO of ICBA. Follow him on Twitter, @Cam_Fine.

    Planning for success

    Aug 30, 2017

    By Scott Heitkamp, chairman of ICBA

    Scott HeitkampI hope you all had a great summer. Hopefully, you got some well-deserved R&R following a very busy first half of 2017. We’ll certainly need all the energy we can muster for the fall, which is shaping up to be an incredibly important time for our industry. That’s why you’ll see so many references to grassroots support for the CLEAR Relief Act throughout this issue of Independent Banker.

    Advocacy continues to be a hot-button issue for the industry, and we’ll all need to renew our push for sensible regulatory relief as members of Congress return to Washington from their summer recess. But we should also take a moment to pause and look at our own community banks. What is going well? What could we do better? Are we measuring up to our strategic goals? Are we planning for the future?

    These are all questions that community bank leaders think about daily (if not hourly), but I encourage you to use this time, as we get back into the groove following the summer months, to really think about what you can do to make your community bank even better. Is it leveraging technology in a new and exciting way? Is it educating your future leaders by sending them to ICBA’s LEAD FWD Summit in November? The opportunities run the gamut.

    And that’s how we need to look at these things—as opportunities.

    Now is a great time to think about your strategic vision, consider new ideas and see how your community bank stacks up. Take, for instance, succession planning. If you don’t already have a succession plan in place, or don’t even know where to begin, this issue of Independent Banker is for you. Even if you do, I bet you can learn something new. This month’s story on succession planning on page 32 outlines how successful community banks are threading this needle; we even hear from a community bank that is moving from four co-presidents to a single CEO.

    If you’re in a real rush, there’s a sidebar that sums it up, with five hallmarks of a truly strategic succession plan.

    It’s all truly fascinating from a business perspective—not just in terms of succession planning, which is something that is so pivotal for this time in our industry, but also for technology and other opportunities that can help us better serve our customers and create new ways to be more efficient and robust.

    As I travel around the country and meet with ICBA members, I love to hear about all of the ways community banks are planning for the future and making their banks even better. As your ICBA chairman and as a fellow community banker, I know that you are all incredible leaders who want to do what’s right for your community banks, your staff, your customers and the communities you serve.

    I’m so proud to be one of you, and I’m so proud that we are all in this together, with ICBA right there with us. Together we can turn any challenge into an opportunity with the right attitude, the right support and the right planning.

    R. Scott Heitkamp is president and CEO of ValueBank Texas in Corpus Christi. Follow him on Twitter,
    @sheitkamp.

    Community bankers learn to create a story that defines their corporate brand

    Oct 31, 2016

    By Judith Sears

    bankers together at LEAD FWD

    Brainstorming Branding—Community bankers talk about effective branding during a workshop by a marketing agency Adrenaline Inc. at September’s ICBA LEAD FWD Summit.

    Two iron facts seem to define and limit community banks’ marketing efforts: a lot of well-financed competition, and a highly regulated, commoditized marketplace.
    At ICBA’s recent LEAD FWD Summit in September, one workshop, presented by Adrenaline Inc., a marketing agency in Atlanta, challenged bankers to use better storytelling to break through this dilemma.

    If storytelling seems like a weak weapon to wield when facing off with megabanks, consider the case of the ubiquitous Seattle coffee company Starbucks. Hot coffee is easily made at home and is sold by convenience stores, gas stations, diners and nice restaurants. Yet, by creating and delivering a unique atmosphere and customer experience, Starbucks created a distinctive brand that has won throngs of daily customers.

    Community bankers can learn from Starbucks, the Adrenaline presenters explained. They can find the most compelling way to tell their customers the experience they will provide. “We want bankers to think differently and understand the importance of brand storytelling,” says Sean Keathley, president of Adrenaline.

    The branding pyramid

    In the LEAD FWD marketing workshop, Adrenaline executives outlined a hierarchical pyramid of sorts for corporate branding. At the bottom of that pyramid is branding based on product or service features; for example, this would include an advertising message that explains four different kinds of coffee or the different capabilities of a mobile banking service.

    At the feature-based level of branding, competition is tough, especially in a market or industry where products and services are essentially very similar or mostly the same and where all companies say the same things about their products, Keathley says. In these markets, price pressure quickly comes to bear. Sound familiar?

    The middle of the corporate branding pyramid is branding based on customer benefits. The benefits could be fast service or bankers who know your name, your circumstances or your business. This level of branding is more effective than the features level in that you’re at least recognizing how the customer uses your company’s products and services and what the customer values, Keathley says.

    Still, benefits-based branding may not sufficiently differentiate your community bank. Good customer service, for example, is claimed by lots of institutions, and even though everyone wants it, it’s not an exciting concept. “Customer service, as a thought, doesn’t inspire anyone,” says Gina Bleedorn, executive director of Adrenaline.

    The top of the corporate branding pyramid—and the key to telling a good brand story that achieves results—is formulating a unique idea that the customer can experience, Bleedorn says. “Instead of branding your bank as having ‘good customer service,’ say, ‘banking that’s got your back’ or ‘passionate banking for you.’ Those are ideas that people can feel something for,” she explains. “That’s what we mean by getting to the top of the food chain. You take service and turn it into something emotive and ‘ownable’ by the customer.”

    This fairly simple idea is not necessarily that easy to do, as community bankers attending the LEAD FWD workshop discovered. They were split into random groups of about 10 and charged with developing a brand story for a fictitious community bank. The groups brainstormed to find their single, big idea.

    LEAD FWD participants“All community banks believe strongly in what we offer our customers, but having a defined message that resonates with the community and draws new business can be a struggle,” says Shon Davis, chief operating officer at San Luis Valley Federal Bank in Alamosa, Colo., who participated in the workshop.

    “That exercise was an eye-opener,” agrees Jacob Beydler, vice president and chief financial officer at Morgan Federal Bank in Fort Morgan, Colo., who also attended the workshop. “It was a group activity, although it was difficult getting focused on how we would differentiate ourselves from other banks, which is what all community banks struggle with every day.”

    Finding a focus

    The struggle to find a focus is a common challenge in successful corporate branding, according to Bleedorn. Many banks go astray by attempting to include the kitchen sink of all things good into their brand, she adds. “Banks tend to want to say everything and describe all of their products and services, but sometimes determining what not to say is even more important than determining what to say,” she observes.
    “The biggest challenge for bankers is distilling their thoughts into a single idea.”

    Gradually, workshop groups discovered how to pull together several specific offerings into a single, broad, but powerfully memorable and meaningful concept. “Once we got started talking and collaborating with all the different ideas, it was really fun and came together easily,” recalls Alexis Henderson, an agriculture loan officer with Success Bank in Bloomfield, Iowa.

    Several members of Henderson’s group served community banks that have developed various financial literacy education programs, such as teaching high school students good personal money management skills or hosting conferences on financial topics for local businesses. This group identified financial education as a potential element of a strong branding differentiator.

    “We wanted to add the mindset of community advocacy and being a value-added experience for our clients.”
    —Jeremy Reynolds, CBI Bank & Trust

    What the workshop group needed to add in developing a branding message around the concept of financial education was the focus on the customer experience. “We wanted to add the mindset of community advocacy and being a value-added experience for our clients,” recalls Jeremy Reynolds, Washington County market president for CBI Bank & Trust in Washington, Iowa, who participated in the group’s exercise. Eventually, the group decided on “Educating the Community” as its single, big branding message.

    After the workshop, the participants agree that identifying one unique idea that encapsulates a positive customer experience for a community bank isn’t easy. But they also say they learned that if community banks can hone their ideas around distilled stories, that will go a long way in helping them stand above the crowd of other financial service providers.


    Judith Sears is a writer in Denver.

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