Charles Potts: Transformation amid COVID-19

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By Charles Potts, ICBA

The COVID-19 crisis and government interventions like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) have accelerated digital transformation, creating new opportunities for community bank innovation. From the start, community banks took swift and heroic action, processing 2.8 million PPP loans for their small business customers in a matter of weeks. Faced with local branch closures and restrictions, community banks expanded their digital offerings, extended their reach and enhanced customer relations in near-record time.

How can we build on this forward momentum to accelerate growth and innovation in other areas of the bank?

Although no two financial institutions are alike, certain generalities apply across the board. For example, community banks could start by upgrading their web presence to highlight their existing virtual offerings. Applications for account openings, secured document transportation and electronic signatures also lend themselves well to digitalization, as do loan origination, onboarding and marketing new product services.

While looking for ways to enhance their digital platforms, community banks must also find ways to reinforce the valuable relationships they have with their existing and prospective customers and communities, while providing appropriate human interaction to complement the digital journey.

As an industry and as a community, we are at an inflection point. Vendors, fintech startups and other industry players recognize that now is the time to define new ways to work together and deliver solutions to community banks. More than ever before, community banks have access to more technology and unparalleled opportunities to use these tools in a way that aligns with their unique mission and purpose. In planning for the future, community banks might consider how to:

  • Improve back-office efficiencies. For example, artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation and machine learning-based solutions can reduce, and in many cases, eliminate repetitive labor-intensive processes. Innovative tools like these can free up staff to focus on high-value opportunities and customer-facing interactions.
  • Extend your reach in the digital world. Think about how you interact with individual and small business customers. Then put tools and services in place to create more self-help options. For example, you might consider adding interactive teller machines and voice-first applications.

Now is an excellent time to take an introspective moment to identify the tools and partnerships that will help you meet your needs and objectives. Examine the resources and relationships ICBA has created and continues to cultivate on your behalf. Work with ICBA to identify fintechs that can help you maximize opportunities and position your bank for future success.

Then do what you do best: Continue to serve your customers and communities by acting in their best interests and giving them the best of both worlds—the high-tech, high-touch experience they want and need.

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