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The Digital Age Hasn’t Killed Relationship Banking

By Owen LaFave, Pinellas County Market President, The Bank of Tampa

Like many businesses, technology and innovation have dramatically evolved the banking landscape and many community banks have accelerated the pace of digital adoption as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. From automated loan underwriting and remote deposit capture, to a future that includes artificial intelligence, the way we handle our financial affairs continues to move forward at warp speed. There is no doubt that the power of digital transformation has made the banking experience faster and easier than ever.

The Amazon effect is real and has impacted client’s expectations for banking—we are feeling the pressure of not being able to deliver the same level of service clients have become accustomed to. Banking at its core remains a relationship business and for community bankers especially, we do our best work when we are able to personally connect with and advise our clients. If we remove the human aspect of banking, our clients notice.

A 2019 J.D. Power study on the banking industry revealed that small business owners are seeking a stronger partnership with their bank. Only 37% of small business owners feel their bank appreciates their business. We don’t think it is a coincidence that this feedback coincides with the rise of digital banking. Bankers are still a key part of banking, but it appears many traditional financial institutions have gone digital too fast.

Through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the entire team at The Bank of Tampa learned firsthand how relationship banking plays an important role in our clients’ success. We funded more than $533 million in loans for our clients, many of which were new and came to us because a larger bank didn’t respond to their calls for assistance. That’s 3,202 examples—the amount of loans we processed through the program—of how community banking, and more importantly relationships, can make an impact as each PPP loan was individually processed through one-on-one communication between the banker and the business owner.

As a banker, we learn about every detail that affects our clients’ financials. We learn about their families, their aspirations and their business goals. This knowledge allows us to act as their trusted advisor at every stage of their life. We get to go through it all with our clients. We know their stories and we are here to help them through whatever chapter they are experiencing in their lives and businesses.

When you have a relationship with a community bank, you have the whole relationship. We walk with you through all the phases of life. Of course, we use technology to enhance the client experience and elevate the ease of doing business. The key difference between us and larger banks is that we never do it at the expense of the face-to-face experience forcing you to use the less expensive and often impersonal digital channels. Our reputation was built on valuing personal service above all else, and that will always remain a core value.

Leveraging the power of digital transformation in today’s world is no longer a choice; it is a necessity. But financial technology must be used to enhance meaningful connections rather than replace them.

Building trusted, meaningful relationships is how The Bank of Tampa has always conducted business, and that is never going to change. As we continue to invest in technology and innovations, we will never stop investing in you.

About the Author

Owen LaFave serves as Pinellas County Market President at The Bank of Tampa. Owen has more than 20 years of experience in banking, all of which has been spent in the Tampa Bay area. He is a graduate of the University of South Florida and holds a Bachelor of Arts in business finance. Owen currently serves on the board of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and Neighborhood Lending Partners, Inc., and had multiple leadership roles in the past with various organizations in Tampa Bay. In 2016, he was selected as an Up & Comer by the Tampa Bay Business Journal in the 40 under 40 category. Additionally, he is a graduate of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Tampa Class of 2015.

The Bank of Tampa I Member FDIC