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Community Banks Can Leverage Unique Benefits to Gain and Keep Customers

By Marc Valerio


The Federal Reserve’s 2019 Small Business Credit Survey ( shows that 79 percent of independent businesses that used small banks were satisfied with their overall experience, compared with 67 percent for large banks and just 49 percent for online lenders. 

As experienced by many business leaders and entrepreneurs during the recent Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan process, community banks and smaller regional banks can provide a higher level of personalized service to accounts of all sizes. However, even with a strong reputation, community banks have long struggled with the perception that their larger competitors are better equipped to help businesses through their financial difficulties. 

The business challenges of 2020 have been unique to say the least. These circumstances have brought about a renewed understanding of the benefits of working with community banks and these institutions are currently in prime position to leverage their positive qualities to attract new customers. With that said, recent events have impacted customer behavior in many different ways. Community-bank leadership must also keep in mind that amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are looking for safety and comfort anywhere they can find it. This emphasis on consistency for individuals and businesses alike, may make it more difficult for community banks to convince prospective customers to make the switch. Therefore, they must actively promote the ways that their services can benefit these prospects. 

Less red tape equals faster results

One advantage of community banks over their larger national competitors is that these regional organizations are often able to work faster as they are dealing with less red tape from both a regulatory and institutional standpoint. As the number of business regulations increases — from the local to the federal level — community banks should not undervalue the benefit of giving business leaders a smoother banking experience.

Decisions made locally 

Another factor contributing to community banks’ ability to move quickly is that decisions are made locally. Customers work face to face with those close to the decision-making process instead of trying to reach a distant corporate office or having a local relationship manager who has to obtain underwriting approval from a corporate office. As such, customers are able ask questions and request information with the confidence that the person they are speaking with has a direct hand in policy/decision-making or direct access to those who do. 

Better understanding of local climate

Community-bank leaders and their relationship managers live and work in the same region as their customers, giving these bankers a better understanding of the challenges facing local business owners. During the COVID-19 pandemic, each region has faced different challenges and economic circumstances based on local and state regulations to combat the spread of the virus. More than ever before, banks need to provide customers with personalized advice and solutions based on their unique situations, and community banks are best positioned to do so. 

Room for improvement in some areas

While community banks have myriad integral benefits that can help attract customers and maintain positive customer relationships, there are areas where these organizations still lag their larger national peers. Technology is one common opportunity for improvement among regional banks. Over the past several years, customers have placed increased emphasis on access to technology when selecting a banker and this trend has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. From mobile deposits to online bill pay to immediately responsive chatbots, customers want the banking services they need at their fingertips. Additionally, in an era of growing fraud and cybersecurity threats, banking customers want to feel confident that their financial institution has implemented the proper technology and procedures to reduce the risk of an incident or data breach. 

There is no doubt this is an era of change for many industries. For community banks, the key will be to understand business needs and consumer behavior and leverage all the ways their services align with evolving customer priorities.  

Marc Valerio is a partner in The Bonadio Group’s Commercial Division and an active member of the Financial Institutions Team. Contact him at

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