February 21, 2023
When it comes to choosing where to bank, we know there’s a plethora of options. You can go online and find thousands of Fintechs, banks, and credit unions that offer loans to deposits and everything in between.
The question becomes not just who you choose, but the why. Innovative services such as dynamic online banking, mobile deposits, person to person payments, ability to turn your debit card on/off, online loan applications and other conveniences along with products that meet your financial needs are all part of the obvious equation. However, have you ever wondered if there can be more to banking? Have you pondered or asked what can banking be?
As I look at the current banking landscape across our country, I see a crisis for rural communities as larger banks and credit unions work to acquire smaller institutions leaving a devastating economic void in their wake. In recent years there have been many bank branches closed throughout West Virginia and communities across the country leaving whole areas without a physical bank presence for miles. These once grand buildings that often sit in the center of town then are left to deteriorate, the once economic backbone of these towns become the symbolic images of bygone eras.
At Williamstown Bank we believe offering the most innovative technology and conveniences along with products that work to reward our customers with things like high interest, cash back, ATM fee refunds, rather than to nickel and dime them is just the beginning of #whatbankingcanbe. We believe people and relationships matter and that there is still a need for a strong physical banking presence within our communities.
As a small business ourselves we understand the challenges locally owned businesses face in a world of Amazon, Walmart, and other major retailers as we face the same from the mega banks. We also understand the need to talk to a live person who can provide insight and support when there’s a question or concern, because nobody likes automated systems.
We have worked hard to build an internal culture of trust, collaboration, innovation, and passion that then is reflected through our team to our customers and community. The larger a bank gets the easier it is for the relationship to be replaced with algorithms, automated systems and a disconnect from the very community they claim to serve.
So, what can banking be? Banking can be partnerships with local elementary schools such as we have with both Williamstown and Lubeck schools that provide benefits such as bank savings days, where students can open real savings accounts and monthly make deposits to learn at an early age how to save. We judge science and social studies fairs, hold honors banquets and other forms of recognition. We support our teachers and throughout the year employees raise money that is used to buy needy students from each school Christmas presents, and this is just a start of the value of these partnerships. We sponsor school teams and activities, even years ago donating ball fields in Williamstown so kids have a safe place to play sports.
Banking can also be working to make our community a better place by partnering with local organizations and nonprofits to help them serve the needs of people right here at home. The vision for The Giving Cup, our donation-based coffee shop that started in our Lubeck Office with a second location opening this summer in our new South Parkersburg location was to provide an ongoing opportunity to give back while encouraging relationships with both existing and potential customers. You don’t buy your coffee, rather you make a donation to one of our nonprofits and as a thank you we will serve up a phenomenal coffee or beverage that is of the highest quality. Every penny received, one hundred percent of donations go right back to our local community. In just three years (despite our lobbies being closed for almost the first year during Covid) we have raised over $25,000 that have helped provide recognition programs and continuing education for Lubeck Elementary, needed equipment for the local area volunteer fire departments, aided local foster care services in providing for emergency runaway programs and other needed services, and also providing support for The Arc of the MOV which works with physically and developmentally handicapped individuals to provide opportunities for them to have a happy and integrated life. We are about to add another beneficiary to further our mission of giving back.
We can’t forget about what banking can be to our customers and team. Banking can be sitting with an elderly widowed customer teaching them how to manage their account because their spouse had always done it. It can be working with a young family to help them buy their first home when they were turned down elsewhere because of a child’s medical debt, because our lenders still make loan decisions locally based on individual circumstances not just automated algorithms. We can’t forget when a customer has debit card fraud just before they leave on vacation and our ability to print new cards onsite to not inconvenience their plans. It can be helping a victim of a romance scam. It can be a coworker taking a sick team member to the doctor, celebrating the weddings and babies but also mourning loss together. It can be a team donating over a 100 blankets and hand delivering them to a local nursing home at Christmas spending time with each individual realizing that may be the only gift they receive. It can be giving our team the ability to identify customers who could use a random act of kindness or hosting community events such as Trunk or Treats and food drives.
I could go on, because over the years I have seen for myself not just #whatbankingcanbe but what banking SHOULD be. It’s a heart and passion that drives us to give the best customer experience possible, to take care of our own team, and to have a lasting impact in our community. The empty buildings being shuttered as larger banks leave rural areas is not a result of community banking, and not a result of people choosing to bank local but rather our putting our trust in organizations that are too big to care. Next time you need a banking service, look local. I know my team at Williamstown Bank would be happy to show you truly #whatbankingcanbe and you don’t have to worry about us ever leaving empty buildings to decay, because our roots are deeply embedded, and we know the meaning of community.