Last week, I received an invitation to a conference promising to help banks “build the strategy, wow the customer, and drive the profit.”
I’d like to wow the customer and drive the profit as much as the next guy. But the conference discussion was to be led by representatives from Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Santander and JPMorgan Chase — all experts in their field, I’m sure. I don’t see how their advice relates to me or my $800-million community bank.
What do staffers from big banks know about juggling a small budget and a tiny staff? How can I relate to a bank that barely notices a $24 million mortgage-related fine, or for which spending $41 million on a bike rental program constitutes pocket change?
Beyond platitudes like “listen to your customers,” “chase millennials,” and “embrace innovation,” big banks’ challenges and accomplishments are not relevant to typical community banks. But they are indicative of the content served up at most bank conferences.
Meanwhile, the conferences that do cater to community banks tend to focus on practical issues such as getting started in social media or improving the onboarding process. They neglect to provide community bankers with the strategic help they need to position themselves for survival in an era of rapid consolidation.
We need more and better advice for the 90% of U.S. banks below $1 billion in assets. We need to know how to convince customers who overwhelmingly gravitate to large institutions to open checking accounts with us instead. We need perspective on how to muster the personnel to monitor, assess and adjust our digital marketing programs and make sure they are compliant with regulatory standards. Community banks need information like this to keep their doors open. Otherwise, our communities may be overrun by Starbucks-like bank chains with no interest in preserving local character.
Too-big-to-fail bank marketers, on the other hand, don’t worry about survival. They use next year’s budget to pay for their mistakes.
This is why we need tactical conferences designed for banks with under $1 billion in assets. I’d like to learn from bankers who have overcome challenges that mirror my own. I’d like to hear about how fintech startups and community banks can co-exist and even work together. And I’d like to hear more about how small banks can identify areas of safe harbor.
The world of banking is changing fast. Conferences that recognize and respond to the dilemma faced by 90% of the country’s banks would go a long way towards helping smaller financial institutions navigate the next decade.