Posted April 12, 2013
The past several years have produced their share of stories. There have been tragedies and some comedies (mostly of errors) but it also produced some notable tales of survival and thriving in the midst of the challenge. While the term "banker" has slipped in the polls of popularity, we are proud to have been there with so many of our clients and are thankful to be looking toward the future rather than fixed in the past.
But maybe there's room for one moment of reminiscing…
There she was, the lovely Nell Fenwick, lashed to the railroad tracks crying. Standing over her was the dastardly Snidley Whiplash pressing her for the rent.
"I can't pay the rent." Nell pleaded.
"You must pay the rent!" Snidley demanded.
"But I can't pay the rent." Nell implored.
"Oh, yes, you will pay the rent, or I'll leave you here on these railroad tracks." Snidley intoned.
(Enter the hero, Dudley DoRight of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police)
"Don't worry Nell, I'll pay the rent…"
And the financial / railroad crisis of Nell Fenwick is averted by the benevolence of the handsome and true RCMP Dudley.
So where's Dudley now? This has certainly been a different kind of national financial crisis and I'm wondering whether there could be a last train or two may still be coming right down the tracks at us. I don't really care where the help comes from; I like the nice people of Canada's RCMP: but this might be out of their very excellent skill set. And there are bright minds across the pond, or lots of other places for that matter. But there's a good chance they'll have to jump in front their own economic choo-choo. I wouldn't count on them to be on the clean up crew.
So where's the hero that's all dressed for success? Where is that one with an aire of vision and security tempered with the humility of wanting to help the defenseless and downtrodden, the small business owner and the emerging entrepreneur? Isn't someone going to jump in and save poor Nell before the train comes down the tracks and rolls over her (same cartoon, different Saturday morning)?
My guess is that you'll need to put yourself in front of a good mirror in order to witness the only one likely to intervene for the Nell Fenwicks in trouble in your personal corner of the forested wilderness. The good news is that community bankers are there with you with a couple of ideas on how to keep the dastardly trains off of your tracks.
Posted January 8, 2013
I've been in a bunch of conversations lately to discuss the future of banking. In almost every one of those sessions, a recurring sub-theme is the advent of more electronic components being introduced to what we lovingly refer to as "banking".
You've got to live a lot of miles off the interstate to not know that the surge in financial services of all kinds over the past several years has been one driven by technology. Even the ubiquitous Automated Teller Machine (ATM) that is celebrating its 40 year anniversary in this country has seen its own significant technological surge. The most modern of machines do so much more than their ancestors that could only dispense $20 bills and function essentially like the old time night drop except with a plastic card instead of a key. The ATM manufacturers today are touting slick imaging "Check 21" compliant, full remote capture depository, transfer, advance and bill-pay capabilities, and – if you insist – will still cough up $20 bills for those who remain in the stone age of using greenbacks to buy stuff.
Even down the financial food chain to your favorite community bank, Sierra Vista Bank has entertained and upgraded some of the electronic standard fare that was state of the art when we opened our doors with that technology all the way back in 2007. Our computer systems have seen upgrades. Our business remote deposit capture system (now re-named Merchant Capture) is being re-introduced through a new and improved vendor. Things like the on-line banking applications and mobile banking issues are more and more the conversation around the water cooler and the board table. Even social media ideas are starting to bubble up in the conversations of those of us old enough to have known and loved the advent of 8-track.
So if the question is, "Are things in banking going to change?" The answer is easy: YES. But we still don't intend to change the simple approach that makes us who we are: use of technology is a result of your choice, not of our demand.
We are committed to offer our clients a wide range of ways to work with us. Some like face to face – we will continue to have branches and real people working in it. Some like to call in – the phones ring and we answer (unless you're fortunate enough to get my daily voicemail, but that's a different service all together). The on-line, internet based systems will continue to garner our attention and we will work with our vendors to improve them.. Our future includes enhancements in merchant capture and bankcard and payroll services and, and, and… There is and always will be room for more innovation.
All that being said, if your choice is to talk to me (uh...that would be Greg Patton with 2 t's),you can do that too. I love email. I love text. I call you back if you leave a message. I stop what I'm doing if you stop by to talk. And that goes for all the old time bankers that are on our team, regardless of what year they were born. Even if our new hire is a new age, computer literate, social media savvy, Gen X, Y, Z'er – we want to embrace how they see the future too but we'll make sure their motivation is to deliver bank services to you as you prefer.
What is that strange feeling I feel? It's been such a long time but I do believe it might be a glimmer of optimism!
This is not the kind of dance on the table, open the champagne, sing a chorus of "Happy Days Are Here Again" optimism. This is the kind of optimism that slowly fills the house like bread baking somewhere. This outlook works through a whole bunch of stories notes, observations and conversations that start to emerge much as the promise of spring starts to make its way into our conscious somewhere in mid March.
And of course any nice spring day can be followed by some residual blast of winter that makes us doubt. There are plenty of channels that are sharing their gloomy forecasts lately that have disturbed the market and given us concern. We have to be concerned about jobs. We are inescapably tied to Europe's ongoing and extended pain; their shaky debt translates through financial and psychological impact like wartime correspondence from the Eurozone. Then the Dow goes down but the S&P goes up and the Nasdaq Composite is posting a 5.5% gain. Then they stop the music and all change places and partners. Why can't we look at just one place and know what the financial forecast will bring?
It's just not possible: we are talking about money and we are talking about people. Both of those things behave in ways that are difficult to predict. So much of what happens is the result of how we 'feel' about things. Turn it around and much of how we 'feel' about things is the effect of result interpretation. With all the bad news we can find, how could there possibly be anything that might introduce those glimmers of optimism?
Let's eliminate the introduction of intoxicants as the cause, as they generally either make us feel sleepy or silly. And for the moment let us assume that the world financial asylum is operating in a regular and customary fashion. While it's always 5-o-clock somewhere and Nurse Ratched may or may not be in control, I think this brand of optimism is more likely found at 7 a.m. where optimists stand on the edge of their day, roll up the sleeves of their shirt or blouse and declare their intent to work with all their might for they know that the night is coming.
Thankfully, there's some good news and signals being flashed by a resilient economy. Inflation remains low (even with all that liquidity that was dumped into it at the beginning of the downturn). The sale of some things has returned: auto sales and other consumer goods are improving. Especially at the lower values, homes in the area have started to turn over and the current inventory of homes for sale is very low. The Rate Cycle tends to be very low – generally good for borrowers, generally not so good for depositors. But that is also a motivation to put capital to productive uses. Gas prices are down recently as well. We have trimmed inventory; we have trimmed (slashed) overhead; in some ways the national capacity for production is sitting at the starting line and waiting for starting gun to be fired.
So what do we need to fuel the fires that are starting to burn? We need confidence. As consumers and business owners, we are looking for indicators that proverbial starting gun has fired and we need to be off. We need that collective confidence that the fruit of our labors are not in vain and that our systems and their leaders in both our public and private lives are ready to do their jobs so we can do ours. We can't predict the future, but we certainly can and should look for the opportunities to exercise our optimism that there will be one.