“Ask a group of community bankers what worries them and they’ll come up with similar answers – credit union and Farm Credit System competition, regulatory burden, and concerns about the viability of community banks,” according to Jeff Plagge, President and CEO of Northwest Financial Corp. and ABA Chairman. While I agree these are areas of concern, I would be more concerned with culture, something that Mascoma Savings Bank has had figured out since 1899, with the help of Senior VP, Samantha Pause.
In Samantha’s words, “We don’t have stockholders, which means our number one focus is not the dividend we are going to pay to stockholders. Instead our number one focus is our customers and our community. Mutuality drives everything we do. It drives how we react to our customers and community. It drives the types of products and services we offer. It drives our approach to sales and service, and it drives how we market ourselves. Are we concerned about the bottom line? Of course we are. We are a business. But, because we are Mutual, we can focus on what is best for our customers and our community, long term.”
At first I thought her bank was very unique, which in many ways it still is, but then I did some research on their origin. The first United States savings banks were envisioned as philanthropic endeavors, designed to uplift the poor and working classes. The banks were started by philanthropists, who took on the positions of savings bank trustees, managers, and directors as opportunities to teach the lower classes the virtues of thrift, and self-reliance by allowing them the security to save their money.
While a huge reason why Mascoma Savings is able to act in this way comes from the savings banks’ origins, another big reason is because they get the full backing of their CEO. Samantha says that, “Our CEO is dedicated to the mutual structure of our bank and understands that our main purpose is to be a true community bank. Because of this, he wants to ensure that everything we do is centered around the level of service we are providing. A lot of the marketing and advertising that we do is centered around providing information to the community. Whether it is information on products, services, financial education, or information about community events, our main focus on advertising is being a provider of information. When we focus totally on what is in the best interest of our customers and community, sale happen. Our customers know who we are, they know how we contribute to the community and they appreciate that. They choose us as a bank because of our culture.”
Culture?! Who knew?! Your culture is who you are as an organization. I had the privilege of listening to Alfred Lin, the COO of Zappos speak a while back and he said Zappos is a service company that happens to sell shoes. Now why does this stick out? So many other organizations claim to stand behind their service, but end up just adding to the white noise. Zappos walks the walk. For instance, they put everyone, I mean everyone, through the same 4 week training process. About a week into the training, Zappos makes what it calls “The Offer,” telling the potential future employee, “If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you have worked, plus a $2,000 bonus.” What a buy in! Imagine if banks started to do this?! They focus on the customer so much that ROI is an automatic by-product.
So if ROI is not at the core of why you do something, how do you measure success and profit? Samantha says that, “We measure success by the response we get from the public on our advertising efforts. We aren’t measuring success by ROI. Instead we gather feedback from community members and local businesses to find out if our advertising is effective. We do so through word of mouth, surveys, and focus groups. We have received a lot of positive feedback regarding these efforts.”
This really seems to work. Now, I am not saying that banks with stockholders are bad, I use to work for one, but without a shift of culture and really walking the walk, you will continue to do the same things over and over, sounding like every other bank out there. As Mr. Einstein stated, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I think it’s time to try something different…really different.