Our Excellence

By Jack Hartings, Chairman of ICBA

Never stop striving for excellence. That thought comes to my mind when I think of top-performing community banks. Excellence is built into what community banks do every day. They do this by never settling for the status quo or thinking that what worked last year will work this year. They are constantly trying to do better and ensure excellence by demanding it in everything they do. Because of this, our institutions constantly monitor and measure their performance.

As community bankers, however, we don’t stop at the numbers. Hard, empirical performance measures—such as return on average assets, return on average equity and efficiency ratios—are only the beginning when it comes to any community bank’s success. While we are for-profit businesses balancing the needs of our customers, shareholders and employees, we also have a direct stake in the success of our customers and communities, which depend on us every day.

For these reasons, many other critical but less quantifiable pieces are part of the puzzle of success and excellence for community banks. Those factors involve intangibles like how well we maintain high staff involvement and morale, sustain superior customer service, as well as support the economic well-being of our customers and communities. Our institutions constantly balance these different priorities and always strive to find ways to do better.

Take for instance my community bank, The Peoples Bank Co. in Coldwater, Ohio. To maintain a highly efficient bank, we make sure that all members of our staff are involved in continually improving our institution. This means every process and position is constantly evaluated to see if there’s a way we can do things better. Can we make an individual employee’s role more productive? Is there a way to make a task more efficient, secure or constructive? As community bankers, we all routinely ask ourselves these questions every day. And from my experience, community banks that consistently achieve their goals engrain such a culture of rigorous excellence at all levels of their management and staff.

While there is no silver bullet for making a community bank more efficient, there are also more than 1,000 ways for a community bank to be successful—and to define success on its own terms.
About a quarter of all counties in the United States are served only by a single community bank and no other financial institution. The numbers to profitably support a quick-buck, transaction-driven big bank don’t add up in those counties—that’s why the megabanks aren’t there. But that’s where community banks step up and make a difference by operating balanced, efficient, resourceful and conscientious financial institutions that serve a wide range of needs. Our community banks operate for the long haul and the best interests of all the people we serve. Of course, that’s what makes community banks and community bankers ambassadors of financial excellence.

Enjoy reading about this year’s top-performing member community banks in this month’s issue of Independent Banker, starting on page 20. But remember that every community bank, whether it appears on this year’s lists or not, is inherently a best-performing bank for its community. At its heart, that is what our great, marvelously diverse industry is truly about.

Jack Hartings is president and CEO of The Peoples Bank Co. in Coldwater, Ohio.