George Bailey was not the only banker who cared deeply about his community. Over time, America traded It’s a Wonderful Life for “too big to fail.”
Fortunately, local banks are experiencing a renaissance right now. After the Wells Fargo fake account scandal, Libor rigging, and Deutsche Bank’s involvement in almost every negative news story these days, consumers want to bank with someone they trust.
Because you’re based in the community, you can respond to your neighbors fears by showing integrity and a commitment to your service area.
Here are 7 ways local banks can maximize their current strategic advantage.
Highlight Your Local Savvy
Your bank is the hub of your local community. As such, you have knowledge about the local economic environment. This means you can make decisions based on personal factors rather than numbers in a soulless calculator.
You also don’t have to wait for loan approval and other decisions to be made in a distant city. Your bank can often make loans more efficiently than an overly complex bureaucracy.
You are locally rooted in the community. All of your decisions are made locally by people they can talk to. More than being able to make an appointment with a real person who they might actually meet when going about their life.
2. Go Into the Community
One difference between the big banks and your company is that your top executives actually live in the neighborhood. Take advantage of the fact that people can rub shoulders with the bank President and other senior staff.
Don’t limit your community involvement to the big brass. Your branch managers have a role to play in local leadership efforts as well. Encourage volunteer efforts and consider building incentives to participate in community affairs into compensation and promotion decisions.
Your new bankers should also be involved from day one. They will be expected to bring in business eventually. Encourage them to start beginning relationships early.
Don’t overlook your line staff either. You can motivate your tellers to volunteer by providing comp time for charitable activities. You can also match your employees donations to local causes as well.
3. Bring the Community to You
In addition to having your staff go into the community, you should also bring the community to you. Make your large conference room or other meeting area available to the community when you’re not using it.
For instance, you could sponsor a monthly lunch and learn for your community’s business leaders or upcoming stars. If you pay for the room, the sandwiches and the invitations, you will have no trouble finding speakers. An attorney could speak about small business litigation risks, an accountant could how to lower your taxes. A digital marketer could talk about the latest SEO or pay per click trend.
You can also reach consumers by offering interesting local seminars. A real estate agent could discuss the process of getting a mortgage. A tax preparer might describe how changes to the tax laws affect consumers. A professional organizer could explain how to deal with a lifetime of “stuff” when moving to a smaller house later in life.
You don’t even have to arrange all of the events yourself. Open your conference rom to local clubs like Rotary or the Junior League. Recently a woman active in Toastmasters discovered a local bank allowed a chapter to use its conference room. The woman was a member of a different club, but she transferred her accounts to the bank because she was impressed with their commitment to the community.
4. Sponsor Local Events, Activities, and Charities
Another way you can demonstrate your community is to put your money where your mouth is. You can sponsor a children’s sports league, a meetup group, or a 501c3.
Usually organizations that receive donations like to highlight their contributors. It’s not unusual for a sports team to place their sponsor on a team banner or the children’s uniforms. The community theater will generally put your logo in their programs.
In addition to adding to the civic life of your town, sponsorships further deepen consumers’ perception that you are an important part of the community.
5. Tailor Incentives to Local Tastes
I don’t know of a single bank that still gives away a toaster when someone opens an account. Yet banks sometimes offer a gift to new customers.
These incentives are usually fairly generic - a Kindle E-Reader, travel mug, or mobile charger for instance.
Next time you think about a reward or gift, consider supporting other local businesses by purchasing their products to give away. Here are some examples:
A gift certificate to a local restaurant or spa
Locally grown products like honey or flowers
A coffee table book featuring photos of local landmarks.
When sending out holiday cards or calendars, consider using photographs from the community rather than generic scenes.
Tailoring incentives to your own community allows you to highlight your commitment to the area while supporting local businesses.
6. Your Bank Succeeds When the Community Prospers
Consumers frequently express dissatisfaction that multinational corporations and big banks care about quarterly profits, not the people they serve.
As a small business based in the community, you can emphasize that your success as a bank depends on the area succeeding economically.
When consumers feel their interests align with a business, they will be with you for life.
7. You Understand Small Business Because You’re a Small Business Too
Small businesses share common challenges. For instance, cash flow is uneven, employee turnover can be devastating, and they are not able to quickly respond to new regulations.
Bank of America does not experience these pressures. The local BofA branch is not oriented to understanding local businesses’ needs.
You also operate as a small business. This is a terrific strategic advantage. You can connect with potential business customers because you both overcome shared difficulties. You understand what they are going through because you are experiencing it yourself. This empathetic connection is something the big banks can never replicate.
Pressing Your Strategic Advantage
You already possess most of the strategic advantages discussed in this article. Your challenge is to articulate them and present them properly to your community.
Maximize your influence in your area by directing your marketing, public relations, and outreach toward communicating that your value added proposition is your local connections.
In the current moment, consumers are looking to connect with businesses that share their values. Hopefully, you now have clarity on how to communicate your local advantage.
You can be as important to your community as George Bailey was to Seneca Falls.