FPC Blog

The Blueprint for Community Banks in a Digital World


Historically, community banks have been the pillar for any community, as they take care of the needs of the local businesses and families. They have been instrumental in helping the American economy recover from the 2008 financial crisis, as they are highly capitalized and better prepared to withstand an economic crisis than their larger counterparts. Nonetheless, community banks are disappearing at an alarming rate. The total number of banks insured by the FDIC decreased from 7,087 in 2008, to 4,938 in 2017 – a 30% decrease in less than 10 years; this was mostly due to abundant M&A activity, as well as more than 500 bank failures.

Heavy regulations account for a large part in the growing consolidation. A new survey from the Federal Reserve and Conference of State Bank Supervisors found that community bank compliance costs have increased to 24% of community bank net income, in the past two years alone. For almost all bankers (96.7%), regulatory costs were the deciding factors when considering an acquisition.

Bank regulations are a two-edge sword, with both edges cutting deep into community banks’ ability to survive. First, overregulation heavily handicaps community banks from competing for their vital place in the financial ecosystem through increased regulatory costs, increased requirements for capital with fewer sources, burdensome new risk management requirements, new rules dictating every consumer financial product, etc. Eighty-two percent of U.S. bankers claim that government regulations are not on par technology advancement, severely impeding growth.

Second, and equally important, regulations create friction between banks and their consumers. They make it difficult for banks to offer their customers what they want and how they want it. The nail in the coffin: these friction points serve as inspiration for fintech entrepreneurs and other nonregulated competitors to come up with innovative solutions.

The only way to escape from between a rock and a hard place, is to be BOLDER.

The biggest adjustments banks will have to make, is to become the masters of their own fate. Banks cannot expect to survive by simply navigating the regulatory environment and waiting for interest rates to rise.

As financial technology brings a myriad of new capabilities with exponential uses, the banking industry is heading into a new, untapped market, which has not yet been regulated. It is imperative that bankers do not wait for regulators to leisurely catch up and introduce static rules, which often inhibit growth. Bankers understand their industry’s challenges much more deeply than regulators; they have the most skin in the game. They either get ahead of the technological curve, by embracing new technologies and taking action, or fall behind. Behind their competitors, behind the banking industry, behind the needs of their customers. Banks must aim to shape the new competitive landscape, or risk being an outsider in other players’ environment.

Although community banks find themselves in an impossible situation, being the cornerstone of communities for decades, comes with certain advantages over their financial technology and banking competitors.


Advantage #1: Trust. In 2017, eighty-six percent of U.S. consumers still place community banks as the number one institution to securely manage all their personal data. Community banks still have the people’s trust, and they must capitalize on it. Trust is power. Trust is something many fintech companies can only dream of earning. The fact that customers trust community banks to protect their information, execute transactions and hold on to their money, puts community banks in a position of power, when competing with the banking and financial technology industry.

Advantage #2: Deep relationship with their communities. Technology alone will not be able to replace community banks, at least not in the foreseeable future. This is because community banks have specialized in the exact things technology severely lacks: emotional intelligence, personal relationships, and as previously mentioned, having the trust of their community.

Community banks focus on providing traditional banking services in their local communities. They are “relationship” bankers as opposed to “transactional” bankers. Long-term relationships with their communities allows to better understand their borrowers and gives them nonstandard data, which they can use to make credit decisions. In many cases, local businesses/startups can only depend on community banks for loans, as they might not always be able to satisfy the more rigid requirements of big banks.

No other institution/technology can support their local communities better than these banks. Big banks are too rigid, and technology alone could never fulfil the role of a bank. Technology can only enhance and automate processes, which make banks more efficient. Innovative technologies are there to serve the banks and their communities, not the other way around. The community bank, as an institution, is here to stay. However, individual community banks’ fates depend on how well they adapt to the new market.

Recommendation #1: Focus intensely on helping customers achieve their goals. That is it. To do so, they must focus on “changing the bank” rather than “running the bank.” The old way of running a bank is making them irrelevant, unable to meet the demands of their customers. The way banks take charge of their own destiny, is by taking an aggressive stance to “change the bank.” It all starts with the team.

Recommendation #2: Assemble a team with a high market intelligence: hiring banking executives with 35 years of experience in the old banking model is not recommended, especially if they do not have an elevated level of current market intelligence. They will not be able to change the bank. As with most other industries, banking needs to adopt and embrace the modern workforce, based on freelancing, flexibility and scalability. As of today, 16 percent of bank’s workforce already engages with freelance workers, and thirty percent of bankers believe this number will increase by fifty percent in 2018. The bank needs to become an agile, efficient, on-demand institution. The workforce needs to reflect these values.

The benefits of the modern workforce represent a new, albeit indispensable access to a wide-ranging pool of in-demand skills and knowledge, that transforms the bank from a static and rigid institution, into an agile entrepreneurial and innovative organization.

Recommendation #3: Employ artificial intelligence and other digital ecosystems, on a large scale. Technology can outperform all employees when it comes to matters of the back-end office and operations. However, the motivation here is not to eliminate the need for employees, but rather to free the employees from tedious and menial tasks, and allow them to focus on engaging with and serving their customers. As the bank evolves to a digital-first business model, bankers must step up their efforts to create relationships with their communities, and actively help them accomplish their goals.

In the end, banks need to once again become the leaders of their communities, helping and enabling their customers to achieve financial success in any way possible. When banks help people achieve more, people will become increasingly confident in this partnership, and will renew their commitment. The old way of “running the bank” will only achieve running the bank into oblivion. As new technologies and systems emerge, banks cannot wait for regulators to tell them how to engage. Banks must learn and adopt these new advances, in a way that makes them leaders of their communities once again, and in the process, teach regulators how to create a more functional regulatory environment.