Robert Fisher: Education is the foundation

Robert Fisher, Chairman ICBA
Photo by Heather Esposito

Educated customers form stronger relationships with their community banks. They are more likely to repay loans, live within their means and maintain higher balances.

When I first came into community banking, I quickly learned that our jobs are as much about education as they are about finance. While community bankers have deep knowledge of financial topics, most people don’t have that background. Statistics support that sentiment: The National Financial Educators Council reports that on the U.S. national financial literacy test, the average score hovers around 68%.

To this day, financial literacy is a passion of mine. Our philosophy at Tioga State Bank is to coach our customers into better financial standings. There are times when we have to turn people down for a loan for any number of reasons, but we go the extra mile to make sure they understand why they are being declined and what they can do to remedy the situation.

My Top Three

The primary things I look forward to in autumn include:

  1. Fall foliage
  2. College football
  3. Apple pie

While those are hard conversations, they’re worth having because they can help transform people’s financial situations. In fact, I’ve had customers come back and thank me for saying no. After they gained a better understanding of their financial status, they realized they weren’t in a position to take on more debt. Our honesty helped protect them from some potentially dire consequences.

We also have had many cases in which a customer applied for a mortgage that was initially declined, but they followed our advice and qualified to purchase a home a year later. It’s rewarding to help a customer strengthen their financial position and accomplish a goal in the process.

Educated customers form stronger relationships with their community banks. They are more likely to repay loans, live within their means and maintain higher balances. They understand the importance of saving for retirement, education and other big-ticket efforts. They are less likely to fall victim to fraud, or they will catch it sooner because of regular balance checks. And they are loyal customers, particularly if you support their positive financial journey.

In my mind, financial literacy serves as the basis for all we do. As we address more complex topics like cybersecurity and financial planning, both of which are highlighted in this issue, it pays to have built a strong foundation with our customers. Being armed with that baseline knowledge helps them to better prepare for their financial futures.

So, I encourage you to consider partnering with your local schools or offering webinars or lunch-and-learns to help educate current and future customers.

As community banks, we strive to build better communities. Helping consumers and businesses strengthen their financial well-being is critically important to achieving that goal.


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