Believe In Banking Podcast: Episode #8

Following up on our guest episode, we recap some of the foundations of relationship banking brought to life during COVID and provide a powerful definition of brand for our times. Understanding your purpose and crafting everything – from your people to your products – to meet that purpose and communicating that to all of the constituencies you serve – from leadership to employees, customers to communities – is critical, now more than ever.

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: This is our podcast for Believe in Banking. I am Sean Keathley, President and CEO of Adrenaline.

Gina Bleedorn: And I’m Gina Bleedorn, Chief Experience Officer at Adrenaline.

Sean Keathley: Well, it was just such an honor to have Ryan on for our two part series of the Ask a Banker about the real life, things they’re facing. And Ryan was just so amazing in talking about the journey they’ve taken on at Origin, the culture they’ve built, their purpose and being relationship-focused, and how they’ve had to adapt with these unprecedented times that we’ve seen thus far in 2020. And it was really interesting, Gina, to hear him talking about some of the things they’re thinking about as they move forward, as they prepare to continue to serve. Do you want to maybe talk about a couple of things that Ryan teed up, and give your thoughts on that?

Gina Bleedorn: Yeah, it’s so valuable to have the real-time understanding, especially at a time when things are changing so rapidly, so we are never more in need of understanding the real-time situation that people are facing, and Ryan was able to give us that type of context. So we’re excited to talk to more bankers like Ryan, but Origin is fortunate in that they had laid the groundwork for a lot of strategic advantage that they are now able to realize in post-COVID world; the actual quality of relationships that they have with their customers and their community, their focus on their own internal culture, and their own internal brand, and ensuring that that is always exuded to customers. Those are things that matter now, more than ever, and because Origin had already put a lot of thought and focus on those things, it’s serving them well. But as they move forward, they are able to bring their head up above the fray of the moment, and think about the future. And a lot of banks and credit unions that we are talking to are having trouble doing that because there is so much fray in the now, and also so much uncertainty.

Sean Keathley: Yeah, listening to Ryan talk, it occurred to me, there’s a couple of different groups of organizations that were maybe better situated to deal with this pandemic. One is clearly the people that had invested in their brand, their brand story, and making sure that was a key part of the employee experience, and living in that dedication to the customer. And I think that kind of mentality and muscle memory, if that’s really who you are, I think in large part kicked into gear when things got difficult and people needed help, real help, and I think Ryan spoke to that. And the other thing that I think about, and we’re seeing several examples, a lot of people spent the better part of 2019 planning to future-proof, and planning, in 2020, to move into different initiatives, to be more strategic and add more value. And I know some of those people did not stop with COVID, and Gina, I’m thinking of brand launches, and maybe you could talk about one of our clients that really had a real opportunity, and could have used all the excuses to say, “This isn’t the time to do it,” and yet that’s not what they did.

Gina Bleedorn: Yeah, we actually had several clients at varying stages of brand launches that had to make decisions to proceed or not. A couple of them had already internally launched, so they had no choice, really, but to continue with external launch. But this example, you’re talking about, one that we’re really proud of is a client called Citadel Credit Union based in the Philadelphia area. They had not launched internally to their people, a new brand, a new identity, new brand platform and promise, and all of the pieces and parts to go with that, and we’re about to do so when the pandemic hit. So they had to make a decision, “Do we go forth or not?” And they chose to go forth obviously with a slightly modified strategy that was positioning everything in a relevant way and delaying it somewhat, so that it wasn’t happening in the early part of the crisis.

Gina Bleedorn: But just last week, they internally launched the brand to all of their employees over a virtual platform, and it was a resounding, amazing success. Things like that typically happen in a large group gathering celebration meeting, et cetera, of sorts, and it happened entirely online. But the upside to that approach… The downside certainly being not being face-to-face, was that everyone could react in real time with chats, and emojis, and gifs, and what understanding brand means for an organization includes the understanding of how important employee experience is, not only to the individuals and employees’ lives and fostering a positive working culture, but to the business, there are numerous studies that report on customer experience being far greater in companies that have good employee experience, and for Citadel, the importance of making sure their employees first and foremost, could understand the brand, and the new positioning, and what it means, and engage with it, get behind it, was as important, if not more important than getting that message out to the members and potential members in the markets they serve. So employee experience today, more than ever, I know it sounds like everything comes with a, “Today more than ever,” but today more than ever, employee experience really, really matters, and organizations, those that haven’t are forced to put attention on it, those that have are in a better position like Origin or Citadel.

Sean Keathley: Gina, I couldn’t agree with you more, and listening to you speak about that, one of our great clients we’ve worked with for a dozen years is a bank in San Antonio Frost Bank, and they were just such an interesting story, founded 152 years ago, and they’re just so humble. If you ask, Phil Green, the CEO, or really any of the executives, “Why have you been so successful?” It’s always the same answer; it’s a deep desire to take care of the customer. And the way that do that is by building a one of a kind culture with employees. And when Phil took over, he was the CFO, and took over, was promoted to CEO, really a seamless transition, in a public company that’s been very successful, and CEO transitions are something that you have to be very thoughtful about. Frost continues the legacy of being successful over a decade and a half, and a tradition that was carried on by his predecessor, that he is sticking to as they hit 32 billion in assets, is he would like to shake the hand of all 4,500 employees. And he attempts to do that on branch tours.

Sean Keathley: In Texas, they’ve seen their share of tragedy and challenge over the last 150 years, and I’ll think about his branch tours after the big floods in Houston and ’18, and getting hugs from customers because they had helped people get back on their feet. And I think, Frost continues to be really focused. It was actually interesting, there was a lot of media around this; Frost processed enough PPP to help 16,000 small businesses. And when asked on TV, “How did you do this?” He said it was a all hands on deck, over 500 volunteers in the bank that didn’t work in the department helped process loans at all hours of the day. And a lot of what they did was contact their customers, those small businesses, less than 25 employees. I think they said over 82% of the loans they processed were with people that have less than 25 employees. So that was the truest meaning of that entire federal initiative to help those small businesses.

Sean Keathley: And you don’t pull something like that off in a pandemic, if you don’t have that kind of engagement, and dedication, and desire to live the brand and to serve people. And I mean, I’d love to get Frost on our podcast, and I think they would do a better job of telling it. But we’ve highlighted a series of different organizations; community banks, credit unions, or regional banks like Frost and the thing they have in common is what you’re talking about, Gina.

Gina Bleedorn: What I liked most about all of this, and think it’s worth even clarifying; when we say, or I say, “Brand,” that means a lot of things to a lot of different people, but in the way that we’re talking about, it here, it really means purpose. Like an understanding of your purpose, your place in the world, your place in the ecosystem of the minds of people that you want to serve. And purpose-driven organizations are shown to have succeeded far more than those that were not purpose-driven, even before the pandemic, but post-pandemic purpose is kind of everything. And we’ve mentioned before on this podcast, Accenture’s published paper on purpose driven banking that came out in March, right before things got bad, and then was republished with a post-COVID wrapper, but the findings were basically the same, saying that moving towards more purpose-driven thinking in the organizations of financial institutions has literal, proven financial benefit. And in whatever capacity it makes sense, or that you are able to do it as a financial institution, we can’t say enough that understanding your purpose, crafting everything in the organization to meet that purpose, and communicating that to all the constituencies you serve, from your leadership and shareholders to your employees, to your customers, to your communities, is so critically important. Those that did it before are benefiting from it now, and those that haven’t as much as they could, need to do so.

Sean Keathley: Great points, and I completely agree. It made me think of the Chase quarterly results that were they’re out recently, and Jamie Dimon is really one of the godfathers of banking, and he’s often asked, “What do you think about this predicament? And what does the future hold?” It was very interesting if anyone saw what he was talking about with these latest results. There’s really a disconnect with the stock market, and the records, and the NASDAQ, and the consumer, and how they’re feeling. And the reality is, we still have double digit unemployment. And even if the market is performing, driven by a lot of these large companies, that is important, however, you know that we have success, we won’t need more problems with large companies laying off people, but there is a real pain for the consumer, and that exists today, and I think it’s going to be critical for the community banks, the regional banks, the credit unions to play the role of hero.

Sean Keathley: I think you’re hearing that in these examples, but it is going to be incredibly important. We are not out of the woods yet, and there’s going to be real decisions institutions make. And if you want to take that behavior, and penalize people for negativity, that is not going to create lasting partnerships, given the times we have now. But if you’re thinking about those one-on-one connections, helping the consumer, educate them, navigate their debt, their challenges, helping those small businesses, that’s what’s going to get us through all this. And I really do honestly believe that the financial system is going to have to play a role to bridge the pain that’s being held today, through better times. I’m inspired by the people we’re talking to, I think they’re answering the call, and we urge people to take the strategies we’re talking about; be purpose-driven, have employees that are part of the cause and mission, and really help people in a time of need.

Gina Bleedorn: Bankers as heroes, and banks as heroes, imagine that. That’s actually the premise of Believe in Banking. What’s cool is that we are seeing banks and credit unions rise to that challenge, and be real heroes. As we’ve said before, we can talk, and talk, and we’re not living it every day. We would love to hear from banks and credit unions out there, what are you thinking and feeling? Do you agree with us? Disagree with us? Tweet us at #believeinbanking, and we will answer your questions in an upcoming episode,

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,