This past year has been an intensely trying time, but if we look beyond the COVID-19 storm, we come face to face with a silver lining of opportunity. Community banks have been able to thrive—not just survive—during the pandemic because of who we are. Our nimble natures, conservative balance sheet management, and community-first mentalities have enabled us to grow as organizations.
Take, for example, the much-touted impact we had on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). My bank lent over five times its capital, which was an enormous feat. But we rolled up our sleeves, divvied up the work, and my whole team assumed additional duties. It took every one of our 31 staff to accomplish what we did, but we did it! Saving thousands of jobs and hundreds of small farms and businesses.
And we’re still actively engaged in the process months later and continue to expand on the opportunities presented by our business model. In fact, we recently hired six new team members for our agricultural lending team. We’re looking at new technological solutions to support workflow and create more internal efficiencies. We’re adding three branches in the next 120 days, and I’m glad to say, the list goes on from there.
While not all of these developments are pandemic-driven, they are the byproduct of customer feedback and their positive experiences with our bank, highlighted by our response to COVID-19. Time and time again, our customers have signaled that they are looking for a financial partner who focuses on the connection, not the transaction. That’s how we’ve earned their business and how we intend to keep it.
Our success story aligns with the stories I’ve heard from many community banks around Washington State and the country. Community banks lead with our relationships. We find our niches and enhance those with personalized service, to respond to the small businesses in our communities.
As we consider the year, some may say we’ve been lucky. Well, I believe luck is where preparation and opportunity intersect—and community banks flourish at those crossroads. We are prepared to help our customers and potential customers, and we rise to the occasion when they need us. That hard work has created deep connections and positioned us for continued success.
So, even as the pandemic begins to wane, our steadfast focus on our communities remains strong. Further enabled by soon-to-be announced solutions from ICBA Bancard, we will have more potential coming down the pike and new ways to support our communities and customers. And as the past year has shown, there’s no doubt that our future is bright.
Greg Deckard is ICBA Bancard’s chairman and is the CEO and chairman of State Bank Northwest, a $197 million-asset community bank headquartered in Spokane, Wash.