Fine Points

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Transformational Times

By Camden R. Fine, President and CEO of ICBA

Hey, did you read about that marvelous breakthrough yesterday?

Right now, I’d bet you’re guessing which particular invention or innovation I might be referring to. Take your pick. There’s plenty to choose from.

Throughout the sweeping arch of civilization, advancing knowledge and technology have brought us continual and inevitable progress. Every few generations or so, mankind takes a new turn at living and working through another transformational period of change. Each breakthrough period introduces unprecedented new possibilities, often along with turmoil and frustrations.

Of course, we’re all captives of the current digital information and communications age that’s causing a continually shrinking, faster-spinning planet. Even people living in the remotest locations today use mobile devices to connect into the digital hum of global humanity. For everyone, to one degree or another, it’s either evolve or devolve. There’s no middle ground.

Through hard work and substantial investments, community banks without question have kept pace with our society and industry’s newest technological developments. During your careers, with help from innovative service partners, you’ve adopted ever more sophisticated products and systems that have delivered increasingly greater efficiencies and value. You’ve introduced new delivery channels ranging from sophisticated self-service ATMs and universally accepted credit and debit payments cards to powerful cash management systems and super-convenient Internet and mobile banking channels. Certainly, the robust growth of ICBA’s member product and service programs, which have tripled over the last decade, demonstrates our industry’s ability to adapt to new technology and new ways of doing business.

But just as important, you’ve deployed frontline and backroom technologies in smart, practical and nimble ways to stand up to a wide range of aspiring upstart and often deeper-pocket competitors in the form of megabanks, nonbank specialty lenders, Internet companies and software giants. In so doing, you’ve remained remarkably disciplined and focused to ensure your new technology delivers real value to your customers and institutions.

Don’t be distracted. Stay focused on managing and deploying technology as successfully as you’ve done for years. And remember how time and again community banks have proven that the combination of relationship-based banking expertise combined with smart and sensible use of technology remains the most powerful and resilient competitive model in the financial services marketplace.

While we continue to hear how new technologies will disrupt or even make obsolete the community banking business model, in reality technology levels the playing field and will continue to shape every community bank in both exciting and challenging ways, as it will for all financial services providers. But such developments should turn as much or more to your bank’s advantage—and the advantage of your customers—as it will for any other institution. Managed thoughtfully and soundly, new technology enhances, rather that supplants, the community banking business model.

And that’s not going to change, whatever new invention or innovation might be announced tomorrow.


Reach Camden R. Fine at cam.fine@icba.org.

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