Robert Fisher: What it means to be a community bank

Robert Fisher, Chairman ICBA
Photo by Heather Esposito

This is our moment to communicate just what it means to be a community bank.

For community banks, “go local” extends far beyond a movement into a way of life. We are the backbone of the community, supporting our friends and neighbors in good times and in bad, because it’s the right thing to do.

We need look no further than our efforts around the Paycheck Protection Program, where we became the heroes of the day, funding 60% of all loans. At my bank, about 45% of PPP loans were not to existing customers on the first round. They were the product of us stepping up where megabanks wouldn’t, while most credit unions stayed on the sidelines. And I know my bank was not alone in that; it’s the story from community banks across the country.

My Top Three

Tioga County, N.Y., has a rich history, including these famous residents:

  1. Belva Ann Lockwood, the first woman to officially appear on the U.S. presidential ballot
  2. Brig. Gen. Henry Martyn Robert, author of Robert’s Rules of Order
  3. John D. Rockefeller, who was born here

Coming off those successes, we have the opportunity to remind our communities that we serve them not only in difficult times, but all the time. Community banks are the fabric of our communities, working tirelessly to improve them. From economic investments to volunteering, community banks and their employees make a difference in the communities we serve. For example, many of my senior leaders are in leadership positions with community-based nonprofits. We also started a charitable foundation and donate 5% of our net income to the foundation annually.

Our missions lie in personal relationships; customers have a banker who truly knows them. For example, when my daughter’s friend’s debit card wasn’t working during a vacation, she messaged me to help solve the problem. When my father was in line at the grocery store and the customer in front of him couldn’t find her wallet, he paid her bill. That’s what we do as community bankers; we help people. It means something to have that connection with someone, to have a personal relationship with your banker.

I know I’m preaching to the choir, but we all need reminders of the positive impact we make. Community bankers are typically humble people, and we’re reluctant to tell our stories. But we have to get more comfortable sharing our success stories and showcasing what we do and why we do it.

As you peruse this month’s Independent Banker, which focuses on budgeting and profitability, know that proactively sharing what you do for your community could support your bottom line, too. People are realizing banking locally is a good thing for everybody, and this is our moment to communicate just what it means to be a community bank.

Robert Fisher Chairman, ICBA
Robert Fisher is president, CEO and chairman of Tioga State Bank in Spencer, N.Y.
Connect with Robert @RobertMFisher