Community banks are matching customers with bankers

As technology brings more opportunities for personalization, customer expectations are changing. Today, some community banks are enhancing their relationship banking models by letting customers choose their own personal bankers.

By Katie Kuehner-Hebert


These days, many people opt to bank digitally instead of going into branches. But that doesn’t mean their experience has to be impersonal.

This was the logic that drove $27 billion-asset Umpqua Bank in Portland, Ore., to launch its Go-To app. It lets customers view profiles of Umpqua’s personal bankers and then choose who they want to be their “go-to” expert whenever they have financial questions. Profiles on the app include the banker’s expertise, their availability and a little flavor of who they are.

“People want to use technology tools for transacting, but when they are making large decisions, such as buying a home, growing a business or traveling, they want to have access to a human being who knows them, knows their financial situation and can give them the best financial advice,” says Eve Callahan, Umpqua Bank’s chief communications officer and executive vice president.

Rene Gamboa is a Go-To banker in Portland with particular expertise in budgeting for major life events. “RSVP your way to success!” his profile reads. “Whether it’s a wedding, birthday, anniversary or financial goal, I am your event plan extraordinaire. Let’s work together to make your dreams a reality.”

Kim Tolley, a Go-To banker in Spokane, Wash., calls herself a “master of work-life balance.” She has particular expertise in credit guidance and debt solutions.

“I’m always thinking outside the box,” Tolley writes. “And I love seeing my clients achieve their financial goals by helping them find the best solutions for their unique life.”

Umpqua Bank’s bankers on the Go-To app are available via a chat function or by phone to answer questions and provide financial solutions. They can also connect customers with specialized experts across the community bank.

Go-To bankers can virtually manage all in-store transactions, except providing cash. Customers can also search within the Go-To app for the relationship banker they know best at a branch near them, or what Umpqua Bank calls “stores.”

The community bank has been rolling out the platform over the past year, first via a pilot program and then the bank made it available to all customers earlier this year. Even noncustomers can enroll and choose a banker, Callahan says.

Umpqua is analyzing data points like adoption rates, utilization rates and how much the technology is “deepening relationships,” which it measures by looking at whether customers are buying more products and services after communicating with their preferred banker. The platform is part of an overall strategy that the community bank developed several years ago called Human Digital Banking, Callahan says.

“While other banks are using technology to remove human interaction from the banking experience, we’re doing the opposite,” she says.

“While other banks are using technology to remove human interaction from the banking experience, we’re doing the opposite.”
—Eve Callahan, Umpqua Bank

“Human Digital Banking is about using technology to empower deeper, more meaningful financial relationships with our customers [and to] bring them closer together, break down communications barriers and help them move forward financially.”

Standing out

Umpqua’s Go-To app is a smart strategy, says Becki Drahota, CEO of Mills Marketing in Storm Lake, Iowa. “We strongly recommend that our client banks use profiles and find that, as Umpqua has illustrated by their content style, people are most interested in lifestyle insights presented with candor and humor.”

Mills Marketing has helped develop personable online profiles of branch managers, lenders and other team members for the websites of a number of community banks, according to Sarah Bacehowski, president of Mills Marketing. These include $2.4 billion-asset VeraBank in Henderson, Texas, and $778-million asset First Bank of Virginia in Strasburg, Va.

When helping develop VeraBank’s website, Bacehowski says, it was important to convey the community bank’s tagline, “Genuine Banking,” with personable profiles.

Woodie Tipps, VeraBank’s chief retail officer and executive vice president, concurs. “In this industry, we understand that it’s more important than ever to balance high tech with high touch,” he says. “Our customers demand it, and we have to meet them where they are. Including a profile with our team member’s picture adds a human touch and makes them more accessible to our customers.”

Profiles of lenders are also pretty popular, Bacehowski says. On First Bank of Virginia’s website, mortgage banker Lisa Whirley states that she’s a member of Caring Community Lenders and works hard “to deliver what’s most important to the customer.”

“Whether it’s a seamless transaction or assisting with paperwork, I focus on their needs throughout the process,” Whirley’s profile reads. “I always attend the closing to see the smiles at the end of our journey together!”

What’s must-have content for profiles? Community banks should list an employee’s particular banking expertise to establish credibility.

“You’ll want to make them a very obvious choice for people’s financial needs,” Bacehowski says. “You’ll also want something about them personally, to show that they are a real person. You’re trying to break down barriers with humor or using thoughtful quotes from the employees.

“This helps build connections, which builds trust and ultimately deepens relationships.”


Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a writer in California.

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