ThinkTECH Accelerator Alumni: Shared Values, Shared Future

By Charles E. Potts

“The show must go on”

That phrase plays on repeat in my head right now and for good reason. The day-to-day workings of a bank do not cease simply because so many new challenges — thanks to COVID-19 — are coming our way. In fact, with customers more concerned than ever about their financial situations, community banks can and have been a primary source of assurance and comfort.

As we begin to reflect on how we have dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, some key lessons lay in the fact that community bankers responded quickly by talking to their customers and staying vigilant to expecting the unexpected while remaining flexible to face the oncoming challenges.

No one predicted a global health pandemic of this magnitude, and even as unexpected trials with the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Impact Payments arose, community bankers remained resolute to help their customers and community stand strong in their time of need.

As our industry continues to navigate this tumultuous terrain, new alliances like those forged through the ICBA’s ThinkTECH Accelerator program, have been integral in helping prepare community banks for what lies ahead.

“It’s about picking very good strategic partners to provide the mobile banking technology, the online banking technology, different lending applications,” remarked Tony Gorrell, CEO at $500 million-asset Sutton Bank, in Attica, Ohio. “It’s about that seamless service, very consistent service, across all of our channels.”

This perspective stems from identifying the right companies who share our relationship-based values. For that reason, ICBA’s ThinkTech Selection Team made up of community bankers thoroughly reviews the organizations that take part in our ThinkTECH Accelerator program. Take, for example, Griffin Technologies, recipient of this year’s Banker’s Choice honors at ICBA LIVE 2020 by community bankers. The company offers a location-based marketing and analytics solution to help community banks target potential customers and help existing customers make buying decisions, but it’s the shared beliefs of the company and its founder that make it a stand-out as a potential partner.

“Every dollar that we help a community bank generate, 70 percent of it stays in the community,” noted Donald Hawkins, CEO and founder of Griffin. “Growing up in a small town, playing Little League Baseball, Little League Football, the community banks were the first people we called when we needed a sponsor. It feels good to know that my company is also able to help community banks better serve their communities.”

Similarly, Lendsmart, the MVP from the Accelerator’s recent virtual Demo Day, offers a solution that streamlines the homebuying process for all parties involved, offering an end-to-end digital experience. But, if you speak with its founder, it’s a strong sense of community that grounds its efforts.

“The ICBA leadership team and community bank members actually helped shape our product, helped with customer discovery, assisted with our positioning, and honestly truly understand the power of communities,” said Lendsmart’s CEO and Founder AK Patel as he thanked the community bankers for their mentorship during the Accelerator’s 12-week bootcamp.

At a time of uncertainty and unforeseen challenges, these are but two examples of the strong spirit behind all the fintechs joining the ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator program this year. Across the board, Accelerator participants offer solutions that align not only with community bank needs, but with the principles that feed their missions.

In the coming weeks and months as our nation continues its long recovery in the wake of this global pandemic community banks can once again move from a “roll up your sleeves” operational mode to one of strategy and planning for the future. Taking a second look at the Accelerator companies and how their solutions align with bank needs seems like a good place to start.

“All of these [companies] actually are providing some type of resource all community banks can use in one form or fashion or other, whether it be marketing or lending or deposits,” said Stephen Eberhart, president and CEO of $93.6 million-asset First Fidelity Bank in Fort Payne, Ala. “I believe they are providing something that we can all benefit from.”

This belief, this mission is why we started the Accelerator program and why I maintain that through our aligned values and vision community banks will continue to answer the needs of the communities and customers they serve, fulfilling a wide array of diverse and ever-changing financial needs.

Charles Potts is ICBAs senior vice president and chief innovation officer.