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The Role of Community Banking Today

by John Kreighbaum

September 9,2010

The role of a community bank is unique in the financial industry. We not only are expected to understand our own business, but by necessity we must understand the businesses of our customers. We thrive when our customers thrive, and when our customers are challenged, we are there for them.

Those of us who have chosen to make our careers in community banking think of community banks as institutions that are closely aligned with the communities they serve. And by serve, we don’t just mean lending money and providing checking accounts. We mean being active members of the community and committed partners to our customers.

In these trying times, compassion and humility must replace exuberance and arrogance. Many business owners who just years ago were captains of industry are now in danger of losing their businesses, homes, and status. As community bankers today some of the most important lending we can give to our customers is a sympathetic ear; as a result, at Carolina Premier Bank we have developed a “culture of caring.”

Many I have talked to recently, both customers and prospects, seem to have forgotten how to dream. Not pie-in-the-sky, win-the-lottery dreams, but the kind of visionary thinking that propels businesses forward. New products don’t get launched without dreams. Plant expansions don’t happen without a dream. Opening new territories doesn’t happen without a dream. Carolina Premier Bank wouldn’t have happened without a dream.

Highly seasoned community bankers understand that customers are our greatest assets and each customer deserves the personalized time and attention necessary to confront their fears, ease their concerns, and most importantly, remind them of their dreams.

If you go to one of the “too big to fail” banks, you will be assigned a loan officer. Most loan officers at big banks are essentially “one-trick ponies.” They can read a balance sheet, plug in the formulas and reach a decision yes or no. It is my firm belief that most small- and medium-sized businesses are better off at community banks because of the relationship dynamics involved.

Yes, our loan officers are good at reading balance sheets and plugging in formulas. But we are also very good at building relationships. And that can make all the difference in the world.

When a loan request doesn’t work, we don’t just say “Sorry, can’t do it.” We sit down with the prospective borrower and go through the business plan and make suggestions of changes that could be made that will allow the loan to go through. In essence, we become partners in the business. And when you think about it, that is a good thing. And a necessary thing as well.

Reciprocally, we help our customers to understand certain aspects of the banking business as well. We teach our customers to “think like bankers.” We help guide them to look at their business plan and loan applications the way bankers will. Is the plan based on solid information? Are the assumptions valid? And is there cash flow to support the loan payments? Guiding customers through an introspective look at their businesses often helps them to regain the confidence that drove them to start their business in the first place.

I am convinced that our economic recovery will not be complete until we learn to dream again. We need bold ideas and the confidence to carry them out. We need to regain the joy in running businesses and providing high quality goods and services to help other people run their businesses.

In summary, as community bankers, our job every day is to “wow” our customers and clients. We have a clear brand that speaks to an “old-fashioned” legendary customer service experience supported by advanced technology. We are committed to understanding our customers’ needs, owning their problems, and finding the right solutions. It isn’t enough to just talk about this, but to take action in timely and respectful ways. Clearly, the future may not be what it used to be, but we at Carolina Premier Bank still believe it is bright, as any challenge brings opportunity.

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