High-Tech, High-Touch Community Banking

May 08, 2019


By Kevin Tweddle

We live in a digital age in which technology fuels our everyday experiences. In fact, according to the 2018 Digital Future Report from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the average American spends 22.5 hours per week online, with 92 percent of respondents using their mobile device for part of that time.

This shift in how we interact with our world also affects banking. Yet, as we look to provide services that align with today’s 24/7 digital environment, banks should not lose sight of the need for interpersonal customer encounters.

Beyond transactional interactions, customers seek out banking relationships that enable two-way dialogue and counsel from their banks on important financial decisions. Seventy-eight percent of U.S. retail bank customers in J.D. Power’s 2018 U.S. Retail Banking Advice Study said they were interested in receiving financial advice or guidance from their bank, underscoring an opportunity to assist customers in their financial journey.

Fortunately, this intersection of high-tech and high-touch is where community banks excel. 

Take, for example, Somerset Trust, a $1.3 billion-asset bank in Somerset, Pa., whose technology vision sets the tone for its business strategy. With product differentiation and first-to-market solutions as core objectives, Somerset Trust looks to fintech partnerships—like Malauzai, which it uses for its digital and mobile banking platform—to expedite products to market. Early results indicate this partnership has paid off. The use of the bank’s app has soared, and closely related services such as remote deposit capture have climbed along with it.

Then there’s $3 billion-asset Live Oak Bank in Wilmington, N.C., one of the nation’s top Small Business Administration lenders. A digital-only bank, Live Oak uses today’s connected culture to make its loans available in 50 states. Key to the bank’s success is its specialized knowledge in key sectors, including agriculture, automotive care, entertainment centers, fitness centers, franchise restaurants, funeral homes and pharmacies. This allows the organization to better understand its customers’ industry specific needs and pair digital solutions with personalized customer care, Jordan Blanchard, general manager of the bank’s energy and environmental lending team, explains in Independent Banker.

Attica, Ohio-based Sutton Bank also exemplifies the customer-first approach to technology. The $450 million-asset bank pioneers new offerings—from advance payroll products for business customers to Kasasa-rewards-based checking—by incorporating customer feedback to ensure its solutions align with their customers’ best interests. This approach is reflected in its core values. Sutton Bank embraces change. As Jeff Lewis, senior vice president for payment services at Sutton Bank, tells Independent Banker,  “It’s a constant in our lives.”

Yet despite the changing environment, one thing is for certain. As community banks build out tomorrow’s frictionless digital solutions, they will remain true to the fundamental principle of community banking by putting the relationship first. Because, as customer service expert Shep Hyken notes, “The greatest technology in the world hasn’t replaced the ultimate relationship-building tool between a customer and a business—the human touch.”

Kevin Tweddle is Chief Operating Officer for ICBA Services Network.