Social Media Matters: Visiting a Virginia community bank

Visiting a Virginia community bank

By Ann Chen

In my four years here at ICBA, I’ve spoken, written, typed and tweeted about why community banks are special and how they fulfill a uniquely important role in the nation’s financial system. Yet I’ve never explored the behind-the-scenes of what happens day-to-day inside the walls of a local community bank.

This year, with an eye toward marketing and social media, I decided to take a drive to visit Union First Market Bank in Richmond, Va., which is only a hop, skip and jump away from ICBA’s headquarters in the nation’s capital. There at Union First, I toured what really goes on at a community bank. Here are my four revelations:

1. Free lemonade and cookies make a huge difference. Why? Not only because they are free, but because providing drinks and snacks to customers make people visiting a community bank feel like they’re visiting a friend. I had a chance to stop by the Carytown branch of Union First, where they had free lemonade and rainbow cookies by the door. I learned that rainbow cookies are unique to Richmond, and the branch’s friendly hospitality just added another local touch that built on a layer of familiarity to a community bank that knows its customers by name.

There was also free lemonade at a Union First branch inside a locally-owned grocery store. I’ve heard that the branch has seasonal fruit tastings depending on the grocer’s specials; now that’s local flair!

2. Community banks are keeping up with the times. There’s a misperception out there that says that community banking technology is limited or outdated. Well, I can honestly say that Union First offers (as other community banks do) all the marvelous technology anyone could need. While touring its operations center, I met the bank’s mobile team and got a preview of what’s in store for mobile apps. Without revealing too much, let’s just say that the new horizon for mobile is expanding at Union First, and community banks are rapidly getting into many new and uncharted territories, and they won’t be limited to banking or checking your balance through a mobile app!

3. Having carnival games at a grocery store never hurts. Let me explain: The bank’s Mechanicsville branch inside a grocery store came up with the idea of inviting customers to play a “pick your duck” game. Each customer who played the game was given a prize based on the floating duck he or she drew from a baby pool, just like at the carnival. This game opened up conversations for customers to engage with the bank’s staff. In this way, this community bank was making everyday tasks more fun and interesting for its customers, a major marketing accomplishment.

4. Talk to a local person, in 40 seconds or less. The team at Union First’s call center recently finished an amazing second quarter, hitting all of its performance benchmarks. That included handling an average of 21,000 calls per month, with calls averaging 240 seconds in length, a record of 32 seconds on average in answering calls and only 3.5 percent of incoming hang-up calls. The call center’s representatives help customers with everything from how to reset a customer’s Internet and mobile browser settings (useful for online banking) to what to expect from the local weather. One customer called the bank to ask if it was OK to grocery shop after a storm had passed—now that’s community trust.

This just shows that community banks still have the best people on the front lines who know how to get a job done effectively and with unparalleled knowledge and professionalism. You’re also never speaking to someone halfway around the world when you call a community bank.

At the end of the day, the trip to Richmond reinforced for me how community banking truly is about community. That proved true in meeting the folks who make Union First tick in its headquarters and operations center to those out in the field helping customers. I know there are countless similar stories at Main Street community banks serving thousands of cities and towns across America, and that I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. Meeting community bankers like those at Union First reminds me of the privilege I have to work in and serve this vital sector of our financial services industry.

Ann Chen ( is ICBA’s senior social media specialist.