Joint Forces

Article excerpt

Uniting in the spirit of Community Banking Month

Community banks are few and far between in Friendship, Ind.

Once common, many of the institutions have merged out of existence over the years, leaving behind The Friendship State Bank and a couple of other like-minded institutions whose primary markets don't overlap much. This lack of head-to-head competition has inspired Friendship State, with $188 million in assets, to embrace its namesake.

Each April as community banks around the country celebrate Community Banking Month with promotions, parties and giveaways, Friendship State partners with The Napoleon State Bank, a $39 millionasset bank 25 miles away, to offer area residents a firsthand look at the cooperative spirit of community banking. With nearly 100 years of history a piece, bank management realized three years ago the community banking message would be stronger and the impact greater with a united effort. Since then, the two banks have teamed together to focus their celebration on their most well-known and visible assets-their employees.

"Our banks wanted to honor the people the customers see the most, which are the tellers," says Chris Meyer, marketing and training coordinator for Friendship State. "Tellers tend to be almost icons in the area and people see them every week and really get to know them."

The result was the Terrific Teller contest. Picking up entry forms at the bank or in a joint ad in the local newspaper, customers can vote for their favorite tellers at each of the two banks and explain what makes that teller so special. They are also entered into a prize drawing.

The contest has brought a strong turnout and stories of stellar customer service from tellers who go the extra mile. But just as important, says Meyer, is the way the contest highlights the benefits of a community bank without shouting it from the rooftops.

"We didn't just say we're a community bank, so we're great," he says. "We showed why we are great without saying it. It's promoting with a little bit of a soft peddle. It implies confidence."

Joint celebratory efforts like that between Friendship State and Napoleon State are a show of strength, according to Ed Stroesser, president of Communique, a Jefferson City, Mo., marketing firm with a focus on community banks. "There is definitely value for the banking industry as a whole when the general consumer out there sees banks uniting for any common cause," he says. "Banks that put their resources together do even more than they could individually."

Among the more popular ways to leverage their resources are sponsoring an event, reaching out to local schools, making a donation or even distributing a joint press release about Community Banking Month

Most importantly, banks should emphasize the value and commitment of community bankers to their community. …