Pub 8 2020 Issue 2


Immense Regret Or Gratitude?

We all know why things have been strange. But it is another level of strange when you are helping your banking clients manage a crisis as critical infrastructure workers (IT) while they are helping you manage a crisis as essential workers of infrastructure (bankers).

If that doesn’t make sense, I understand. What does right now?

As a customer of an independent bank, we needed advice, hand-holding and a lot of trust given all the unknowns. We also needed bankers to pull together and push through during a critical time on our behalf.

As an IT, phone system and cybersecurity vendor for our banking clients, they needed us to ensure they didn’t have any disruption in services. We also had to make sure their IT and Voice systems flexed based on the rolling needs of their staff and the variables involved.

It was a pressure cooker. The results?

  1. New levels of customer satisfaction and confidence
  2. Stronger relationships
  3. Appreciation for the decisions made (and advice given) before the crisis that made it possible for people to navigate unfolding events

Not everyone had that same experience. I participate in a national organization of IT Service Providers, and during the weekly status calls, some people vented frustrations about their big bank “relationships.” Eventually, the outcomes were achieved, but the experience led to weaker relationships, low confidence and, ultimately, regret in the decision to partner with their chosen banker.

Many financial institutions ran into roadblocks with their IT and phone systems. They got by, sure. But getting by isn’t how you want to characterize your tech systems, given the level of dependence banks have on them and the forces that are in play:

  • Mobility
  • Workplace Norms
  • Changing mechanics around teamwork and working with customers.
  • Cybersecurity
  • Modernization in banking

Over the last several months, banking customers and employees (even compliance folks) have shown patience. But as things settle and people begin to pick up the pace, everyone will be looking to the leaders of the bank. Where are we going, and what’s our IT strategy? How will we modernize, improve and grow?

Some words of advice and caution: COVID should not drive the answer to those questions. Solutions should be driven by the needs of your customers, your employees, operational alignment and risk management. If you are like most independent banks, you will need advice, hand-holding and a willingness to place a lot of trust in your partner. Sound familiar?

You have options on where you turn to, just as I do when considering who my organization of 30+ IT professionals should bank with.

There are big shops and their one-sided contracts, where you will be treated as a number and asked to get in line (crisis or not). Then there are a small number of qualified IT firms in Montana that have deep experience, long-standing relationships and an excellent service record meeting the needs of Montana Independent Banks.

If you are revisiting your partner and approach, it’s a great time to ask questions: How did you handle the COVID crisis for your existing banking customers? Can I see the satisfaction scores from your help desk as you helped customers reconfigure? What advanced security options did you implement to help them? What ways did you help them flex? How did you handle their after-hours calls when they were working evenings and weekends trying to help their clients process loans? Did you help them with just IT? What about printing? Phones and call flow?

We knew the stakes for the independent banks, rural hospitals, food banks and other critical infrastructure industries we serve. Our experience with our banking customers was that they knew the stakes too. We were alike in that it was going to be a time where we were going to strengthen our relationship and value significantly, or we were going to diminish it significantly.

COVID has been many things, but it has undoubtedly been a time of immense pride and gratitude for the good work people do in their efforts to help others succeed in their work. We’ve seen it in our people and the people hard at work for our clients.

Montana Independent Bankers, pat yourselves on the back! And If you are happy with your IT partner, be sure to pat them on the back too. They were a critical part of the outcome. If you are not satisfied, my advice is simple: find a capable, independent IT service provider in Montana. You won’t regret it during regular or critical times.

Conor Smith, CEO First Call

This story appears in Issue 2 2020 of the Community Banker Magazine.