What do bankers think?

Hank Hayes • Apr 22, 2019 at 8:00 AM

BRISTOL, Va. – An all-star team of bankers recently met at The Bristol Hotel to review where the industry is and where it’s headed.

Inside a conference room on the hotel’s first floor were American Bankers Association (ABA) President Rob Nichols; ABA Chairman Jeff Szyperski, chairman, president and CEO of Kilmarnock, Va.-based Chesapeake Financial Shares; Peter Gwaltney, president and CEO of the North Carolina Bankers Association; Colin Barrett, president and CEO of the Tennessee Bankers Association; Bruce Whitehurst, president and CEO of the Virginia Bankers Association; and the man who brought them together: Leton Harding Jr., president, chairman and CEO of Jonesville, Va.-based Powell Valley National Bank.

They addressed these questions:

So why would you guys pick Bristol to discuss the future?

Said Nichols: “One our associations work very closely together on state and national issues … it’s a great opportunity to sit down with shared members and demonstrate how the left and right hand are in sync. Leton invited us and we were happy to accept his invitation. Another part, as we look at the overall national economy, in some cases are focused on the urban centers. They look at (Washington) D.C., they look at Charlotte, they look at Nashville and those are great places but some of the rural parts of our economy are in my view and play a critically important role in the broader national economy and is the story of entrepreneurship and growth.”

How is the banking industry reaching out to millennials?

Said Szyperski: “It’s really technology. There’s been some bank consolidation over the last 25 years. I like to pin it all on the regulatory burden but really … it’s just the raw technological spending needed not just to excel but to stay in the game. We don’t use the word ‘millennial.’ I think it’s divisive. Banks really have to be technologically adept to (attract millennials), and it’s expensive.”

Whitehurst added: “In the mid-nineties when the internet became the thing, there were some people who said ‘there’s the end of bank branches.’ For the next 20 years, the number of bank branches almost doubled. Now it’s starting to turn down and branches are being reinvented in really interesting and cool ways … how do you make a branch like an Apple store or a Starbucks store? So you’re putting in technology and people … so there are surveys of millennials showing younger adults love technology but also assign high value to getting human interaction and personal advice on financial matters.”

Nichols noted: “They are not banking on desktop (computer). They’re banking on mobile.”

How is the banking industry attracting the next generation of professionals?

Said Nichols: “The labor force piece: How do we attract millennials into the banking sector? How do you get them to come into this industry when post-financial crisis the desire has waned to some degree? Banking has slipped a little bit. We’re always thinking how do you make banking appealing. We’re demonstrating you could have a tech career within the banking sector. You could have a marketing career. You could have 10 different careers within the banking sector. We’re also using the student debt crisis to appeal to millennials to attract and retain and reward them by offering very creative student debt paydown at their banks.”

The year 2008 (when the financial crisis began). Is it in your rear view mirror?

Said Gwaltney: “I’d say it’s still on our minds because we learned a lot of lessons. Our industry has been transformed since then. We made a lot of changes. It might be in the rear view, but we’re still looking at it. Where we are today, we’re much more safer, stronger, liquid, higher capital.”

Are we looking at more bank consolidation?

Said Barrett: “I think we’re absolutely looking at more consolidation. I think each of our states can be seen differently. In Tennessee, in the past four years, we’ve lost 48 banks to consolidation.”

What’s going on with new bank formation?

Said Szyperski: “There’s a focus on de novo activity, new bank formation. That is new banks being chartered.”

Said Harding: “Part of the challenge of bank mergers is developing leadership and the future of banks. One of the things that I as a banker rely on is our state and national trade associations.”

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