Five Ways Regional Banks Are Setting A Foundation For Future Growth

Optimism for the future of the regional bank…and our local communities

Courtney O’Regan and Isla Dickerson talk about the 15 months when COVID was at its peak like marathoners discussing a race they completed together on a sweltering day. O’Regan, the Senior Vice President and Director of Marketing at Middlesex Savings Bank, and Dickerson, the Director ofMarketing and Senior Vice President at Bangor Savings Bank, also convey a powerful optimism about the future of regional banking based on their shared experiences.

“Before the pandemic, it was sometimes challenging to find a new story to tell our customers,” O’Regan says. “As a 185 year old bank, we were still financially strong. We were still there for the community. But during the pandemic, there was something suddenly novel about a bank that's always there for you. I realized that our culture wasn’t created out of the pandemic, it was an extension of who we already were.”

Here the two marketing leaders share some of the practices they have brought forward and are continuing into 2021 and beyond.

1. They have enhanced communications to employees, customers, and communities.

“We spent a lot of time calling customers during COVID,” Dickerson recalls. “It was often just to say, ‘Hi, it’s Bangor Savings Bank, and it’s your branch manager, Rebecca. And we just wanted to check and see how you were doing, and if there was anything you needed.’ And it was not just to retail customers but commercial customers, wealth management customers, and payroll customers. Today our branch managers and our other relationship managers have had so many requests from customers to call and check on them every few months that we’ve kept it up. In some instances this revealed people who were significantly struggling, and we were able to help make some connections.”

2. They continue to add services that have increased customer retention.

“Because we focus on being responsive to our customers, our branches remained open and people came in during COVID,” O’Regan says. “Not surprisingly, a lot of people preferred the drive-through. So we began doing transactions that we didn't typically take at the drive-through, like collecting loan applications or instantly issuing lost debit cards. We even developed a system where you could start a transaction at the drive-up but then go park in a spot and one of our bankers would come out and complete the transaction. It’s brought our tagline, Right There With You, to a new level, and we’ve continued the upgraded drive-through service to this day.”

3. They continue to grow their branch networks.

“We continued to renovate our branches during 2020 and we actually opened our newest branch in January 2021,” O’Regan says. “From my perspective, branch banking isn't over. Obviously online and mobile adoption is at its all-time high and we have that too, but we also have the ability to come in when you need it.”

Dickerson agrees. “I think the pandemic underscored for many people that branch banking is a necessary component of a healthy and vital community in downtowns and on main streets. We grew over the past two years. Since last March we opened three branches and completed an acquisition. We accelerated hiring. We maintained and grew our college internship program and we still held our 18-month management training program for high-performing college students. We’re actively investing in communities within our footprint and building new branches right now. I think that this whole experience put mutual and community banks who have made investments and maintained footprint and continued to grow strategically in a really good competitive position.”

Dickerson recalls resonating with a sign she saw recently in Bangor that read, ‘You can’t have bricks without mortar.’

“But guess what else is true?” she adds. “You can’t have bricks and mortar without banking. You can’t have a local food or retail scene, or local hospitality or local small businesses, without a bank in the midst of that. Small business owners need to come in and out with that day's receipts and cash and transactions. Sometimes they need to have face-to-face conversations. Sometimes they need rolled coins, as outdated as that might seem. But it’s all important to them, and it’s why we continue to be there for them.”

4. They use marketing as education, community service, and spotlight.

O’Regan and Dickerson both launched marketing programs in 2020 that have proven popular with customers and that they continue to extend upon today.

“Our Quick Tip videos were one of my favorite initiatives from last year,” O’Regan says. “We featured our branch managers and employees in 30-second videos about making mobile deposits or securing your account from fraud. Although this was born out of the pandemic, we continue to use video posted to our social media channels and website to have those conversations and deepen those connections.”  

At Bangor Savings, Dickerson launched a series of group Zoom calls called Matter More Chats on topics such as surviving and thriving as a small business during the pandemic. “This is something that we will continue doing periodically, hopefully once a month, where we invite members of the business community to gather with us and have another subject matter expert to ask questions.” Even more high-profile, Bangor teamed up with Greenlight Maine to launch a six-episode TV series called “Elevating Voices,” which put a spotlight on the challenges faced by racially diverse business owners in the state, often-unsung heroes who are enriching, expanding, and driving Maine’s culture, community, and economy. Along with the visibility, each featured business owner received a $5,000 gift from Bangor Savings Bank. The series drew thousands of viewers and praise from public figures like Maine Senator Angus King.  

“It's funny because I think our marketing is about to round a significant corner,” Dickerson says. “I think that's partly in response to the pandemic and partly in response to the fact that the industry has been telling the same story for so long and that story isn't necessarily true or valid anymore. I see so much material out there that is falling flat or really tone-deaf or completely disconnected. Whereas we are so connected to our customers at this moment, and all of those connections are being perpetuated by our relationship managers and our branch teams, that this actually to me feels like a moment to pause and reflect on the role that marketing and advertising and communications play going forward. I think it can be different.”

“We’ve seen the engagement rates and the open rates go up with our emails, so we’re communicating more,” O’Regan adds. “We launched an e-newsletter and said, Let's not be shy. Let's talk about our charitable efforts. Let's talk about financial literacy because the customers do want to hear from us, they do want this information. They do want to be connected.”

5. They are all-in on banking innovation.

“Digital investments and partnerships with fintechs have allowed us to create better relationships with our customers,” Bangor’s Dickerson notes. “Most of the things that you used to stand in line at the bank to do you can do digitally. The lines at the bank are shorter, but the conversations about financial needs and management are longer, and so customers are coming into the bank because they still want financial advice around major life decisions and they still need somebody to sit down with them and walk through their mortgage, whether it’s in-person at the branch or on Zoom.”

Middlesex’s O’Regan agrees that the digital acceleration in banking that began with COVID is unlikely to slow down, and lists off features that were once reserved for larger national chains as part of the regional bank’s core menu. “If you bank with us you can have online banking, you can have mobile banking, you can use Venmo or Zelle, you can get text alerts about your debit card. We have all of it. We may not be on the bleeding edge, but we’re able to introduce innovations and services that we’re sure people genuinely want. New services will always roll out from us and if there's something that's really in demand, we’ll take a good look at it.”

In all these ways, Dickerson and O’Regan are proving that the predicted demise of small banks is not only a long way off, but is being overturned every day as regionals like Middlesex and Bangor Savings continue to prove their value as essential institutions, just as they did during the height of the pandemic.

“That's something we try to stress when it comes to commercial banking,” O’Regan says, “because if you want to get a loan with us it’s local decision-making, it's not being funneled out through this incredibly high ladder to people all over the country. It's happening right here in the community that we all live in together. So as small banks we have to change the narrative.”

Let us help your innovation-driven brand get the credit it deserves.

Contact Greg Straface at [email protected]

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