Community Banks Zap the Tech Gap
by Shane Ferrell
Community banks have historically been viewed as slow to adopt technology when compared to their larger counterparts. However, the need to answer increased consumer expectations via modern banking strategies has spurred more and more community institutions to embrace new technologies. And with customer expectations centering on digital channels, a digital push has become paramount.
Today, community banks are zapping the technology gap between themselves and larger institutions. An ABA study found that 52% of community banks will increase the number of digital channels offered to customers to improve engagement this year.
This advance toward digital banking stems from a desire to attract new customers. But how exactly are banks using technology to level the playing field and acquire these customers?
Using Technology to Enhance the Customer Experience
Today, the experiences customers receive from online shopping and smartphone apps have shaped their expectations for all other service providers, including financial institutions. Indeed, matching an Amazon or Netflix experience can be a tall order to fill for community banks, but it’s a challenge they’re meeting head on—starting with a seamless mobile experience.
For financial institutions, integrated mobile banking is arguably the greatest way to tighten the technological gap. Those that have implemented mobile banking have gained major benefits, the most important of which is pleasing customers.
“Mobile has been one of the most utilized services that we have rolled out,” says Wayne Garrett, executive vice president of Legence Bank in Eldorado, Illinois. (The bank utilizes a digital banking platform directly integrated with its core.) “The way the software is designed almost makes it foolproof. I believe anyone can use it.”
One major focus area for a community institution like Legence is fostering and maintaining growth. Because its mobile app enables customers to connect to the bank from anywhere, Lynn Byrd, the bank’s chief financial officer, believes it has been key in not only gaining new accounts, but also retaining long-time customers.
“Because of the mobile app, students who are graduating and moving off to college can still keep their accounts here at Legence,” Byrd says. “So we are able to retain those customers, and they can retain a connection to their hometown, too.”
Using Technology to Build Relationships
Technology is often perceived as a dividing force in our society; yet, technology also harbors the potential to build lasting, meaningful relationships. And a growing number of banks have employed an integrated customer relationship management (CRM) platform to do just that.
CRM systems enable banks of every size to enhance relationships with their customers, and for community banks, relationships are everything. An integrated CRM allows banks to tailor individualized communications to customers based on their channel preferences.
“We can reach out to specific types of customers throughout the year via newsletters, phone calls, etc.,” says Byrd. “If we notice customers aren’t coming into the branches, we’ll reach out to see if there’s anything we can do for them.”
CRM systems also grant the bank invaluable, behind-the-scenes access to the behaviors and needs of its customers, which, according to Byrd, transfers directly into new business: “For us to be able to see what’s going on with our customers at a quick glance helps us serve them better in the long run, which in turn, evolves into referrals.”
Using Technology to Connect with Commercial Customers
Though vital, retail customers don’t corner the market on high expectations for financial institutions. Commercial customers’ demands are rising in tandem, and community banks are leveraging technology to connect with these customers, too.
Paducah Bank—located in Paducah, Kentucky—is forging new commercial relationships outside of its city limits, a fact that brings a deep sense of pride to Terry Bradley, the bank’s senior vice president and director of commercial depository and treasury management services. For Bradley, utilizing treasury management technology to connect with commercial customers is an art of precision.
“It’s important for us to find ways to leverage technology, tools and services to enhance the banking relationship outside the scope of brick and mortar,” Bradley says. “And with our tools, we can offer a well-defined set of services for business customers around the country, just as if I were able to see their buildings from my office window.”
Using technology such as remote deposit capture, ACH origination and risk management, Bradley believes any size bank can compete.
“People often think treasury management services are only for larger commercial customers, but they’re not. For Paducah Bank, the ideal treasury management client is one that has a need that can be met by a solution we offer. It’s that simple.”
Today, community banks are implementing technologies that let them compete with larger institutions, a trend that is likely to continue. And by deploying innovations while maintaining personal relationships these banks can only sharpen their competitive edge.