Saving the Sinking Bank

by David McSwain

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Rural populations continue to decline, so what does that do to a local bank? How does a community bank survive when its bread and butter – the people and the businesses owned by the townspeople, are moving away or dying out? The pool of customers gets thinner each year. What’s feeding the local economy?

Technology — and especially mobile tech — is increasing at an increasing rate. It’s the “me, me, me/now, now, now” age. People want their money zipped through their phone not only to retailers but to each other. The time that customers could only choose from the local banks to do business is long gone, making the choices open for them, and the competition tighter for the banks. Cash apps and mobile-friendly banking seem to be the norm rather than an outlier these days and growing…

Customers continue to highly rely on credit to get by, maxing out credit cards not only around the holidays, but getting one too many credit cards without the ability to pay them all off. Credit scores plummet. When it comes time to get the loan, yeah, thanks, no, thanks. It becomes a bigger risk for the bank. Johnny’s burger fry shack can’t get the loan because he financed the boat, the house, and Jim and Jill’s college education.

Times are tough on banks, yes. So, what is a sinking bank to do? Can they not only survive but thrive?

Saving Tactic 1: Be innovative. 

Change is tough, and most people only feel comfortable doing what they’ve done in the past. Yet with changing dynamics in how and where people are doing business, banks must also change. Being innovative can mean reaching out to new markets, including other towns and even types of industries, and even becoming an online bank. Banks that never had to market or advertise in the past must now decide who they really are, how to position themselves to stand out, who they want to attract and then go after that business aggressively. No more just opening the doors and hoping people will walk in, or even drive though! This means employing people who are not simply paper pushers, but who are good people-people and salespeople. People who understand banking is a business that needs to attract business, not a commodity. Diversify. Own a niche for lending. Go for what the other guys aren’t. Become an expert in one area. What’s your specialty? I know of banks who have niches as an airplane lender, one that focuses on SBA loans and another that specializes in loans for vets across the country.

Unfortunately, a lot of community banks are behind on this front, but it’s not too late.

Saving Tactic 2: Exit Strategy

Can’t go it alone? Nothing wrong with that. Maybe it’s time to talk merger or being acquired, or your bank buying another! Join up with others who are doing what you’d like to be doing. There is great power in numbers, especially if it’s the right fit. Explore it. When I drive through a small town, I know if a community has a good bank because it’s thriving. That’s right. Just the opposite of what you might think. The town is not deteriorating. Streets are clean. The school looks good. In most cases, if you support your community, it will support you. Back in the ‘80s in Oklahoma, Gene Rainbolt bought many banks at a discount and made Banc First into one of the largest and most successful state banks in Oklahoma.

Whether it’s innovation, a fresh workforce, a new market or a merger or acquisition, the time is now for banks to look at not only surviving but thriving.

David McSwain is an Oklahoma bank consultant and president of McSwain Consulting providing loan risk management solutions and bank consulting services to community banks in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. 

 

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