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Defining Main Street

By John H. Buhrmaster, Chairman of ICBA

When you think of Main Street, you think of community banks, right?

As community bankers, we know this to be true, but I can’t help but think what a world this would be if every American also knew this to be a fact. While there’s no question that community bankers themselves and ICBA have elevated community banks to superstar Main Street status in the minds of many, there is still more we can do to shine a light on our connection to Main Street. And let me tell you, your team at ICBA will be there every step of the way to help you spread the positive story of community banks.

After all, that is ICBA’s one and only mission—to create an environment where community banks can flourish. And flourish we will.

The time is ripe, and it’s time for our community banks, our customers, our communities and Main Street to shine. After all, we’re all in this together. We all depend on one another. It’s all part of this powerful symbiotic relationship that has been forged over decades and in many communities for over a century. Community banks and Main Street have thrived together for years, and that won’t stop anytime soon. In fact, I think this symbiotic relationship will only get stronger over time.

Why? Because we know who we are, what we stand for and who we stand for.

The Wall Street financial crisis forced community bankers to more aggressively define themselves. We are a humble bunch, but that didn’t mean that we were going to stand back and let our banks be scooped up and counted with Wall Street. It was through this determination to differentiate ourselves throughout the crisis that we found ourselves once again. We may have known it before, but the financial crisis was a catalyst for us to realize even more fully that we aren’t like the others; community banks are something special and unique. That’s something to be proud of.

As I’ve traveled across the country as your ICBA chairman over the past year, talking and meeting with many of you, I couldn’t help but feel this incredible sense of vigor and excitement for the community bank industry. Sometimes it takes a crisis to fully see what you have in front of you and why it’s important. It forces you to see things through a different lens, and many times, a clearer one. While none of us ever want to relive the Great Recession, we can all take away some important lessons from it—one being that the community banking industry needs to stick together and always define itself and its connection to Main Street. We refused to be pushed over and lumped in with the Wall Street crowd, and by doing so we more fully defined who we are and, just as importantly, who we aren’t.

So as you move forward with your marketing and public relations plans over the next year, please don’t forget one important basic—never forget to define your community bank and its connection to Main Street. You and your bank stand for something more powerful than any Wall Street megabank could dream of—you directly help your community thrive one loan at a time.


John H. Buhrmaster is president and CEO of 1st National Bank of Scotia, in Scotia, N.Y.

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