Noah Wilcox: A year that defined community banks

Noah Wilcox

“It’s time to look toward the future, and I encourage you to hold onto this bigger-picture perspective to propel our communities out of this crisis.”

As we welcomed 2020, we did it with gusto, laser-focused on the potential for this new decade. In fact, “Vision 2020” became a buzz phrase used by banks and businesses nationwide. But beginning in March, thanks to COVID-19, that vision grew murky. As we navigated stay-at-home orders, lobby closings and a host of unsettling firsts, our precise plans lost their luster and clarity.

But the perspective that came in its wake may have been even more important.

This year will go down in history as an arduous one—to say the least—and we all are reeling from its impact. But, like I recently said to my team, it’s only one year, a short timeframe when you consider the course of your life. One year doesn’t define your bank, its work or its impact.

Yet, if this year did define us, we would be proud of what we witnessed. First, we would see community bankers stepping up for their communities, galvanizing them to ensure small businesses stayed afloat. I recently had a local business owner tell me that if it wasn’t for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan he secured through our bank, he wouldn’t still be in business. That’s a powerful testimonial to the impact we have made on millions of lives.

My Top Three

My good friend Jim MacPhee was well-known for saying “hope is not a strategy,” but since it’s that time of year, here are my top three wishes for community bankers:

  1. Automatic forgiveness for PPP loans
  2. A crystal ball to predict what’s coming in 2021
  3. A joyous and restful holiday season.

And we would notice how we amped up our dedication to our communities and our teams. We served those most in need through community soup kitchens, food pantries, virtual charity events and more. We helped to keep spirits up through our continued dedication to our staff, our neighbors, our families and the community at large. That’s what makes community banks pillars of their communities and top places to work; we do the right things to serve.

Now, it’s time to look toward the future, and I encourage you to hold onto this bigger-picture perspective to propel our communities out of this crisis. More than ever, we have to be intentionally present for our communities. We need to continue to think creatively about how to engage with our customers, because it’s going to look different in the long haul.

So, as we consider what’s next, I’m struck by the irony of the phrase “Hindsight is 20/20,” as this has been the year for some serious rear-view reflections. But I’m proud to say I wouldn’t change our response to COVID-19. We showcased who we are as community bankers: leaders who rise to the occasion when they are needed. And that’s a perspective that’s worth keeping as we enter a new year.

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