COVID-19 ushered in significant changes to community banking, forcing us to rethink how we perform essential functions and engage customers in a digital-first environment. Social distancing, working from home and quarantining have challenged notions about the use of technology and the automation of historically manual processes. The explosion of new solutions, coupled with the need to interact with customers using digital platforms, puts more pressure on community banks than ever before to innovate and perform.

It’s no secret that innovation drives performance. To level set, performance is about becoming more efficient and effective at what we do: reducing expenses, growing top-line revenue, creating better margins and doing more with less. With the advent of new, innovative solutions ranging from artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to automated governance and digital onboarding, community banks have many opportunities to eliminate or reduce inefficient manual processes and replace them with innovative technologies to enhance performance.

Challenging the status quo

It’s always in a community bank’s best interest to empower its employees to look at their tasks and ask: Can this be enhanced by a more effective solution that improves performance and/or the customer experience?

Executive teams, too, could benefit from introspection and asking: How can we improve? How do we acquire new customers and deepen existing customer relationships? How can we make our bank more valuable and effective? A willingness to interrogate and evaluate everything your bank does is a critical component of innovation and high performance.

It’s equally critical that executive management invite employees to share ideas. This helps to identify employees who model innovative ideas and behaviors and who may suited to leadership roles.

Still, it might be necessary to acquire new talent from outside the bank, such as those who offer a different perspective and challenge cultural norms. Some community banks have recently begun hiring from adjacent industries with great success. Staff who understand customer engagement, the qualitative and quantitative nature of data, and its application to improve performance, could be a significant asset.

Digital natives—people raised on mobile and digital communication—are another value-add for community banks. The skills they bring to community banks are critical to promoting innovation and bridging gaps in today’s workforce.

Although the challenges we face are many, the opportunities are greater. Take advantage of the wealth of knowledge, expertise and opportunities offered through ICBA’s ThinkTECH Accelerator, ThinkTECH Network, conferences, webinars and more. Opportunities to get involved are at your fingertips. Now is not the time to settle for mediocrity or the status quo.