Growing Community: A Conversation with David Trautman of Park National Bank, Pt 2

In Part 2 of their conversation, Sean and Gina welcome back David Trautman, chairman and CEO of Park National Bank. They discuss how a realignment and rebrand provided the bank the perfect platform for Park’s spirit of service, giving a streamlined and simplified brand for Park’s people to rally around. He addressed how launching during COVID continued on a tradition of steadiness in the storm for a bank that has always thrived during even the most chaotic times. Finally, David reveals why he believes so deeply in banking and how Park remains so committed to supporting people in all aspects of their lives.

Text Transcript

Intro: This is Believe in Banking, a podcast series for decision-makers, influencers, and leaders, featuring experts taking on the financial industry’s most pressing issues with insight and empathy. The podcast features information and conversations designed to enlighten and empower. Here are your Believe in Banking hosts, Sean Keathley and Gina Bleedorn.

Sean Keathley: Welcome to our Believe in Banking podcast. I am Sean Keathley, President and CEO of Adrenaline. In our last podcast Gina and I were so happy and honored to welcome David Trautman, Chairman and CEO of Park National bank. Our conversation covered how he balanced the demands for growth and unification as they expanded into new markets. It’s a truly fascinating story about leveraging the spirit of service they’re known for, but also infusing that into this new refreshed brand. In part two of our conversation, we discuss how Park leaned on its history, to weather the storm of COVID and launched their new brand in a streamlined and simplified way that all people could really rally around. Finally, David tells us why he truly believes so passionately in banking and how Park’s heart of service supports people in every aspect of their lives. There are a lot of learnings here from this inspirational leader.

Sean Keathley: So without further ado, here is part two of our conversation with David Trautman from Park National bank enjoy.

Sean Keathley: Well Gina mentioned how long ago it’s been. And one of the things we were thinking about is what else kind of happened around the time you decided to go with this and it was this pandemic we’re living through. So just talk about how that became a headwind. That didn’t stop you guys. It certainly created more challenges, but Park is not an organization that cowers to opportunities to overcome. And I think what you guys have done has been heroic in the conditions we’ve been living in, but just talk about that as an experience, because many people maybe chose not to make big brand decisions in COVID and you decided to move ahead and use the evidence to guide you. Despite the challenging environment around you,

David Trautman: You may have noticed Gina and Sean, your colleagues over time that we value the wisdom of history. And if we found someone who can capture a sentiment for us, we’re not shy about using it. So with respect to your question, Sean, there really two quotes guided us first is from Martin Luther king. “The time is always right to do what’s right.” And we knew it was the right time to do it. And we had to do it. There was a whole bunch of stuff going around us, but so be it, we had to do what was right. And then the second one is from CS Lewis “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable, favorable conditions never come.” Now he was writing this in the aftermath or the final stages of World War II.

David Trautman: But if you think back world war II wasn’t that long ago and whatever chaos we had with respect to COVID or, challenging economic times, at least in my judgment, pales in comparison to that. So we wanted the knowledge, we got the knowledge, and then once we had the knowledge, it seemed inconceivable to us to not act on the knowledge. So hence the Martin Luther King, “The time is always right to do what’s right”, interestingly for us, we had a head start because we were all already, trying to unify and simplify and clarify our brand. And our names is part of reacting to the evidence that you all helped us obtain. Historically, we have almost, always not only been steadfast when times are tumultuous, but we kind of thrive when the world finds itself in chaos. My own sense of that is because we’re sort of like a trawler in a storm.

David Trautman: We might be traveling like three or five or eight knots, but our bow is always pointed in the waves and we ride them out. And when the waves calm down, others may travel faster, but in a hurricane they don’t survive. So how can we hang around for 110 plus years? It’s that. And the final thing I think is maybe more of a philosophical inclination and that’s we try to resist labels of any type. So you hear about triumphs, tragedies, good or bad or troubled times. Our sense is that every season holds lessons and it’s our duty to learn them and apply them as best we can. And one lesson that we learned from prior seasons is that customers like predictability when the rest of the world is signaling unpredictability. So for all those reasons, Sean, that’s why we remain unwavering.

Juliet D’Ambrosio: David, this is Juliet. I was interested to hear from your standpoint, you’ve talked about how the brand was sort of that sure steady line. The decision that you made was the right line to do even amidst chaos. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about anything that surprised you, going through the process of the rebrand, both with your own sort of the unraveling that you already mentioned, but also how people reacted. What was most surprising to you about the entire experience?

David Trautman: It was the wonder of things that we didn’t anticipate. So for example, we had planned for a bunch of discontent, a bunch of emotional dislocation and the pool of people I alluded to before who were relieved, became somewhat vocal and said, thank goodness we’ve done this. Now let’s get on with it. So that was kind of neat. And then a side benefit, once COVID happened, there were things that presented themselves like the payment protection plan and other things. There is no way we could have done what we did with, for example, the PPP loan program in the fragmented world that we had operated in for so long, we just couldn’t have done it. So it wasn’t the things that surprised us as much as things that amazed us and how our folks stepped up because we were unwavering and said, this is the way we’re going to go.

David Trautman: We want to serve more. We want execute with excellence and we want to treat customers, colleagues and communities like they’ve never been served before. And all sorts of possibilities start popping out about that. Many of which I don’t even know about because people just got after it and did it, it was sort of the liberation alluded to this when I was talking about franchises. Sometimes it’s paradoxical, but the more you put in this is the way we’re going to do it, where going to have this brand, this name, this menu, it liberates people. It liberates a section in their mind to permit them to creatively say all right, within these guardrails, how can we ennoble this job? How can we increase our service? That brain power that used to be dedicated to untangling the hairball, that was our 12 name, 12 fragmented brand world was now redeployed towards a more creative, imaginative ability to pivot mindset.

Sean Keathley: I was just going to say, David and our one big part of our business as you know, is designing creative. And our leadership always says that creative needs boundaries to be most successful. And I think you’ve just talked about that, simplifying it for people and allowing them to explore within those boundaries is a wonderful recipe.

David Trautman: Well, it’s almost and this is a fairly recent phenomenon, but if you think about it, if you’ve ever used a Garmin or GPS or some sort of navigation thing in your car, whatever concern you had about how I’m going to get there, some incremental piece of your mental capacity is now released because you’ve dialed it in. You follow the magenta, the blue line. So it is with setting a clear direction. This is what we’re going to do. We have one brand, one name we’re going to serve more. Now everything falls under that umbrella. Can I serve more by saving three steps, three clicks, answering the phone quicker. All of it gets pulled into that. So yeah, it’s pretty cool.

Gina Bleedorn: That really is beautiful much as the quote you shared earlier was when you have a problem you can’t solve invert it. And, and that is really the underpinning of the story that you’ve told you turned what was autonomous pride into autonomous empowerment by unburdening. So the perceived limits and constraints of unification were actually liberating and unburdening just as you said, which is a wonderful way to think about it. Talk about things in addition to the things you’ve already explained, like what you were able to do during COVID things like your Park Direct app, as an example, even though that’s a piece of technology, it’s one that’s connected to your values of serving more via real people. How are people connecting there? How has that just yet another manifestation of what this unified brand can do for you? How is that going and what does that mean for Park’s future?

David Trautman: Well, we’ll see I think it will be transformational for our future, but to go back to the beginning, we had suggested when we started the brand unification. One of our hypotheses is that we would unearth possibilities that we couldn’t imagine. No one could imagine. And Park Direct happened to be one of them. We had been developing an app that had as its goal blending digital elegance in efficiency with humanity, the human touch that we think we have. And we’d started this before the COVID lockdowns. And it turned out to be a tremendous connection tool for our customers, because everything from resetting a pin to applying for a loan, to changing an address, you may recall in the early days of COVID simply getting someone on the phone was tantamount to solving a Rubik’s cube.

David Trautman: The Park Direct app is something you can download. And once you download it, you have your choice of a number of bankers. You have their pictures, three or four items of interest to them personally and professionally. It’s a way to connect with someone who may have a common interest and in times of stress and dislocation and fear and anxiety, all the stuff everybody’s felt in the last two years, simply having someone that says, “Oh yeah, I can reset your pin, I’ll be right on it.” And the Park Direct banker is your concierge for all things banking and sometimes, introductions or connections to other Park customers. In the last month, one of our Park Direct bankers had been working with two different customers and was aware by virtue of her connection with both of their current journeys in life. And as it turned out, they were both seeking someone else in their life. And she, this particular banker was their connection and they announced their engagement on Park Direct.

Gina Bleedorn: Wow.

David Trautman: With a picture of the ring and the couple. So that was, that’s the kind of stuff. I mean, life happens, right? Why not celebrate the joys? If we can connect people who are trying to find love or information or people with similar interests and oh, by the way, maybe we’ll do banking, but the Park Direct connection thing, there’s no way we could have done that with 12 names, it just wouldn’t work.

Gina Bleedorn: Wow, Park Direct is helping people find financial advice and helping people find love. And partnership.

David Trautman: That goes back to that physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. In this case, probably emotional and, and mental for sure. If one is fortunate to find a friend of a lifetime or the love of a lifetime and we can help with an introduction, I don’t want to be glib, but the whole financial stuff pales in comparison to some life events that you all have gone through. And some we all have seen if we can help people through that, that’s a great privilege for us to do.

Gina Bleedorn: I believe that everything is so connected in life. There’s not really work-life balance, just life. And there’s not just financial advice, there’s how it affects your life. So everything you’ve talked about in helping people holistically with life and helping in a way, humanity at the souls of who we all are by yes, providing banking services, but so much more is inspirational.

Sean Keathley: Well, that leads me to the next question, which is when we ask all of our guests, it is clear. You do but why do you believe in banking

David Trautman: If you like to serve people? I love to help people, if people like to help people, banking in my judgment is the best. We’ve served as psychologists, personal trainers, life coaches, mentors, sympathetic ears, asset managers, travel agents and shuttle drivers, all sorts of things. And every once in a while, as a financial advisor, some years ago, I found a quote that I think captures it. And it’s from the Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. I think he won the Nobel prize for literature in 1914 or 18. And it goes like this. “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I woke and found that life was service. I acted and behold service was joy.” So to me, banking is a noble profession and to be a banker as a privilege when one acts on the sense to serve and help, at least in our experience, one finds joy. And that is something we all sorely need more of.

Gina Bleedorn: David when we began Believe in Banking a year and a half-ish also ago trying to make sense of the pandemic mid 2020. You quite literally were a figure in our mind of what we wanted this platform podcast to represent. And everything you’ve said today has really exemplified that. And I thank you for that. So now as you think about heading into 2022, tell us what does the future hold for Park?

David Trautman: Well, thanks Gina, you’ve been very kind and for what it’s worth the listeners need to know how incredible the Adrenaline team has been. Every Adrenaline associate I’ve met, is absolutely a first ballot hall of fame, human being. And oh, by the way, has incredible gifts and talents in their respective professional fields. So I’m grateful each one of you and your colleagues. To your question, Gina chaos at some level seems to be ever-present. We don’t see that changing much and as I suggested before, we’ve been fortunate to typically flourish during unsettled times. We don’t think that serving more is ever going to go out of style regardless of what life brings. And when the world turns upside down, we found people always appreciative connecting with someone they know, and in whom they have faith and we strive to be that source.

Gina Bleedorn: Service is joy.

Sean Keathley: Well, David, thank you for giving us some of your precious time. It is clear to us and our listeners, why there is current and future success with your organization. We echo the sentiment and appreciate your comments, but you’ve got an amazing team. We wish you the best this year and beyond, and look forward to continuing our partnership. Thank you so much.

David Trautman: John, Gina, Juliet, grateful to each one of you for your time and support of Park National, it’s been my great privilege.

Gina Bleedorn: Thank you. It’s our pleasure.

Outro: You’ve been listening to Believe in Banking. A podcast series created to empower decision-makers, influencers and industry leaders in financial services. Be sure to also join us on our flagship site