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5 Realistic Questions Community Banks Need to Ask for the New Year

What do you want your bank to “look like” this time next year? (seriously!)

At the risk of throwing one more “Top 5 for 2018” blog post on to your feed, let me explain my reasoning.

Before a bank (or any enterprise for that matter) can embrace any sort of cultural change, they must first identify honestly who they are, who they are not, the things they do well, and the areas in which they find a need for improvement.

There is no such thing as a perfect business.

We are all in need of a review on our strategic vision and the message communicated to our customers and the first few weeks of January are a natural fit for this process. All of this should seem obvious, but, as an executive, are you 100% that every person across every area of the bank can tell any customer what your bank does better than any other bank in town?

Is that message consistent?

If there is not 100% certainty, then take a few minutes and ask yourself these questions…and be honest with yourself about your bank. If you cannot answer the questions with the information you have, you might find it worthwhile to ask various employees these questions and see their responses. Their answers and what you would like their answers to be will provide you guidance on your strategic vision for 2018.

1. What is the one unique thing you would like customers to know about your bank in 2018?

Note the word “unique” here. If you had 15 seconds to talk to your biggest prospect, what would you tell him/her that would differentiate your bank from your competition? The sad truth in banking is that banking has become commoditized and our customers we love so much can, in truth, get their banking needs met in a myriad of ways. What do you want to tell your customers this year about why they should keep doing business with you?

2. Does everyone in the bank at every level know the answer to #1 verbatim?

Remember the game “Telephone” we played as a kid? You’d whisper a word or phrase in the ear of the person next to you and it would go around the circle until the end where it would, normally, be garbled and everyone would laugh. It’s not so funny in business. Many times, strategic visions and management’s objectives do not get translated to all levels of the bank. They are filtered through layers of middle-management who do not fully understand the objective and, let’s be honest, are simply passing on the latest memo from corporate so they can go about their day. It isn’t their fault…this is yet one more “rah-rah” message sent from on high that, they feel, does not apply to them in their worlds. They’ve seen this before. So, asked another way, are you taking ownership of your message through all levels of the bank in an ongoing manner?

3. What are three specific areas of concern that you have for your bank that can be addressed within the next 12 months?

This is an easy one. Most executives could find more than 3 things that give them heartburn within their bank…but let’s just keep things simple right now. What areas can you improve in your bank to either save money, make money, or position your bank for a coming event. How do those areas feed into your vision?

4. What are 3 specific areas in your bank that you do better than anyone else in your market? What can you do in the next 12 months to accentuate those?

Most management books talk about your “hedgehog concept” or “competitive advantage”, but in short they are referring to what you do better than anyone else in the world. “But wait”, you’re asking, “I’m a small bank in a market of 3,000 people!” Exactly. Other than your existing competitors, you own that market. There are high barriers of entry into your market that could prohibit new entrants with deeper pockets and lower cost structures from stealing your business. That’s powerful. So, what can you do that your market competitor is not doing to gain business? I once had a manager tell me “go and do what the competition is not doing and be the best at it.” It was great advice. What do you do better than the bank down the street? Do your customers know that? Do your employees? What are you doing to make those areas even better, more profitable, and visible in the market?

5. What do you want your bank to “look like” this time next year?

This question, I will admit, is a bit odd, but there are some truths that will present themselves here. It speaks to culture. Does your bank conduct business the same way it has for the past 5 years? 10 years? 30 years?

Are you customer interactions the same as they have been forever? Do your employees love to come to work or is this a j.o.b.? Twelve months from now, how would you want your employees and your customers to describe your bank?

Hopefully, you have begun to identify some areas in your bank that you can innovate upon and begin to move forward with your strategic vision for the new year.

Happy New Year to you and your families and many happy returns!


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Byron Earnheart is the Programming Director for the Barret School of Banking in Memphis, TN and the host of the “Main Street Banking” podcast…the only podcast solely devoted to community banks. He has over 15 years experience in the financial services industry; 11 of which have been in banking in various roles from teller work to branch management. He spends his time playing guitar and singing in Delta Heart (the “house band of the Mississippi Delta”), writing music, cooking, reading, and enduring the University of Tennessee Volunteers athletic seasons. He is married to his wife Kelly of 11 years and has two children, John Aubrey (11) and Mary Laura (7). If you'd like to hear Byron's music, check him out on Spotify:
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