Charles Potts: Leading innovation in a crisis

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By Charles Potts, ICBA

The COVID-19 pandemic presents community banks and fintechs with opportunities to create change. It’s a pivotal moment, underscoring the importance of leadership in innovation, and community banks and fintechs are rising to the occasion.

Take, for example, the operational and technological challenges community banks are facing related to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s ICBA-advocated Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Community bankers are looking for smart, innovative solutions to address pain points, and they are finding them in fintech partnerships.

Many fintechs are adapting to the crisis by altering the trajectory of their businesses and business models so that they can better support community banks.

Tom Freston, cofounder of MTV, said it well: “Innovation is taking two things that exist and putting them together in a new way.” We are watching this play out with community banks and technology providers through their partnerships as they take existing services and solutions and combine them in new ways.

As community banks reimagine the branch experience and their interactions with customers, they are using digital tools to connect with employees working remotely and, in some cases, host meetings with key customers. Community banks are also getting creative in their sponsorship of community events while adhering to social distancing guidelines. In one instance, a community bank showed its support of local businesses by sponsoring a digital tour of a nearby restaurant.

Innovative approaches to stay connected may sound simple, but they demonstrate how community banks are stepping away from legacy behaviors to rethink and retool their business models. For many, the challenges and solutions presented by the crisis will serve as a catalyst for change and a platform for further innovation. Community banks have an opportunity to evolve their digital platforms and reevaluate everything from customer engagement to internal processing and back-end servicing solutions, and they should make the most of it.

The crisis we’re facing is not a one-and-done event that we rush to put in the rear-view mirror so that we can go back to business as usual. Rather, we need to reflect on the lessons learned and leverage the tools and resources we’ve discovered and utilized during this difficult time. Coming out of this, community banks should see a natural evolution of capabilities that they can embrace to create sustainable behavior and business models for the future.

During these unprecedented times, ICBA is here for you as a partner and an extension of your community banking family. We must lean on each other. When it’s over, we will walk away from this with shared knowledge and experiences that we can put to use.

Charles Potts ( is ICBA senior vice president and chief innovation officer