Noah Wilcox: Fighting for our communities

Noah Wilcox

“We’ve been in the trenches fighting for our communities, and we’ve emerged triumphant.”

We shut our lobbies in late March due to COVID-19. In our community bank’s history, the only other time we have closed was during the Great Depression, yet we were the first in Minnesota to voluntarily lock up because of the pandemic.

Making this decision was one of the hardest tasks of my career. Our business model is hugs and handshakes, and prior to the crisis, I spent a good portion of my day standing in the lobby talking to our customers about life and what was going on with their families. To decide to turn that off, well, it flies in the face of who we are. Was it the right thing to do? Yes, but it was not easy.

My Top Three

These news items celebrate our successes:

  1. “Small businesses were at a breaking point. Small banks came to the rescue,” Wall Street Journal
  2. “Many coronavirus loans given to those turned away by major banks,” Fox Business
  3. “What Punch Pizza is learning while closed,” Twin Cities Business

To be fair, nothing about this situation has been easy. Take the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) as an example. The community banking industry essentially linked arms with the government and jumped off a cliff, not knowing if we were falling two feet or 2,000 feet. I can’t think of any other time in business that I’ve taken a blind leap of faith like that, but we needed to get that money into the hands of our small business customers.

Looking at the deep trust we placed in the Small Business Administration (SBA), it wasn’t encouraging that the rules changed between the first round of funding and the second. As I write this, we still don’t have clarity on the details of loan forgiveness, and our collective advice to our customers is, “Be patient, and document, document, document.” We want to do what we can to help our customers achieve forgiveness and to anticipate the reputation risk that may arise if it doesn’t align with the spirit of the legislation.

Yet, despite our concerns about these and a multitude of other factors, we made it happen. We got loans to our customers. But that’s not new; it’s just what we do. We take care of our people and our communities; the PPP just raised that to a more visible level. As history reflects on this time, I hope it recognizes that without community bankers, those funds may not have made it to the small businesses for whom they were intended.

So, as we read this month’s lending issue, let’s do it with a sense of pride. We’ve been in the trenches fighting for our communities, and we’ve emerged triumphant in helping as many small businesses as possible.

Let’s take a minute to celebrate the small victories as we navigate our next phase of this new normal.


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

Top