To say 2020 was a tumultuous year would be the understatement of the century. For bankers, it was an interesting year, to say the least. Most of us were flooded with the liquidity we desperately lacked just a few months prior. Real estate departments and title companies have wilted under the weight of non-stop re-finances and purchase money loans as real estate continued to trade at unprecedented levels. Interest rates hit rock bottom, and we are facing management decisions covering unfamiliar topics. Interesting times, indeed.
As I write this, we are 20 days from what I can only hope will be a peaceful transfer of power. We’ve lived through a contentious Presidential election and the nation remains divided. With the 24-hour news cycle, information bombardment never ends.
How, in times like these, do we keep our sanity? For me, it is simple. I worry about the things I can control and don’t about those I cannot. Family, friends, customers and community are things we can influence directly. To stay sane, I spend my time focusing on these priorities. I do my best to engage those who mean the most to me and keep my world positive, even if it is on a micro-level.
Interestingly, if a large enough group focuses on bettering things locally, the collective benefits as well. We all have a lot of decisions to make within our banks in the coming months. There is so much uncertainty right now; it makes managing a community bank anything but an easy task. Sticking to safe and sound, time tested banking principals is probably a good place to start. The pressures on our bottom lines will likely be felt in 2021 as the re-finance boom wanes and interest rates remain low.
All we can do is roll with it and use innovation and efficiency to ensure our organizations continue to run well. For me, the fun of banking is the never-ending array of challenges. This is why I love getting up and going to work every day. It’s always something new, keeping the little computer between my ears sharp and running well. Every day is a gift, and every day we get the opportunity to work and make a difference in our customers’ and employees’ lives is a great day.
Sooner or later, things will settle down, and we will all be sitting around having a drink telling our younger protégés how we survived 2020. We will regale them with “uphill both ways in the snow” stories and they will likely roll their eyes thinking us outlandish and exaggerating. You and I will know better, and in the end, we will all be better bankers for having survived 2020 — kind of like those of us who survived 2007 and the subsequent “fun” years in banking. Many valuable lessons were learned then and many are being learned now. Opportunity is always present with a crisis. Always.
The opportunity before us now may have yet to reveal itself fully, but I can think of a couple of examples. One is we had a chance to connect with and help many customers this year. From SBA PPP loans to the MBOI programs to helping customers get lower interest rates on their mortgages. They won’t forget what you did for them. In the end, as we all know, banking is about relationships. I can think of no better example than the year 2020 for strengthening customer relationships. I know we have all worked hard to help our customers and friends who were in trouble because of the pandemic. This is a privilege we enjoy because of our unique position in the business community. I assure you this has not been unnoticed by many across Montana.
All of this is about so much more than bank performance and profitability. It is about doing the right thing, repeatedly, in the name of helping people. This is the definition of character and I know you all are of the highest order. It is special to be part of such an amazing industry in such an amazing state. Montana is one big small town, and the quality of life we enjoy here is unrivaled. Our relationships with our customers and our co-workers are unparalleled anywhere in this country. We are blessed in so many ways.
Thank you all for carrying on and masterfully handling the difficulty surrounding us. I’ve said it before, but it deserves saying again; I am proud to be among you and call you friends. I honestly cannot think of anyone who better illustrates what community banking is all about. You make banking great and you make your communities better places to live. Because you care and because your caring carries through in everything you do. Keep the faith, keep smiling and keep being a friend and hero to those you serve. It is appreciated more than you know.
Andrew West, President