Noah Wilcox: Community banks are essential

Noah Wilcox

“[The top-performing community banks] advanced with hard work and dedication to their communities.”

I’ve shared this story before, but in today’s environment, it bears repeating.

When I left for college, I was pretty sure of two things: One, I wasn’t going into the family business. And two, I wasn’t going to become a banker. But, after a little maturity kicked in, I realized banking was in my blood. When I graduated, I took a position with a big bank—and I quickly became disillusioned. Every customer was a number.

So, I took a break from the world of Wall Street and became a consultant. It was at that juncture that my uncle drew me back to our community bank on a temporary consulting gig. And I made sure “temporary” was highlighted and underlined in the contract.

Turns out, I didn’t need those contractual details, because after a few minutes of being back in our bank, I was hooked. Relationships weren’t just employee to customer; every interaction felt like family was getting together. Staff would ask customers about their kids’ baseball games and were genuinely interested in people’s lives beyond the transaction. And customers were just as focused on hearing about our experiences. The more I realized how much our family business was about making connections in the real world, the more I loved it.

My Top Three

The top 3 advocacy initiatives on my radar include:

  1. Waking up policymakers to credit union and Farm Credit System inequities
  2. Advancing BSA/AML reform and the cannabis banking safe harbor
  3. Building support for closing the industrial loan company (ILC) loophole

This month’s Independent Banker highlights top-performing banks, but they didn’t get there solely on ROA and efficiency ratios. They advanced with hard work and dedication to their communities. For me, it’s the metrics around how a bank is behaving as a community steward, how it treats staff, what the culture is like and how it’s acting on its mission that matter the most. I dare say I share that belief with many of you.

That’s why I’m so dedicated to protecting our unique model through advocacy efforts. If you had asked me 25 years ago if a community banker had any business dealing with D.C. politics, I would have said no. But I’ve recognized that in politics, if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu. Community banks are essential to urban, suburban and especially rural towns across America. If our voice gets lost, then our business model gets jeopardized. That’s not going to happen on my watch.

So, hang in there as we navigate today’s coronavirus challenges. It’s a precious gift to be able to deliver value to shareholders while having the privilege of doing the right thing every day. And I know we all will make sure that our way of life continues to thrive.

Noah W. Wilcox, Chairman, ICBA
Noah Wilcox is president, CEO and chairman of Grand Rapids State Bank and its holding company, Wilcox Bancshares Inc., Grand Rapids, Minn.
Connect with Noah @NWWilcox