What a Kung Foo Master Can Teach Community Bankers

4 min read • Mar 06, 2014 • Ty Kiisel

I have a friend who is a Kung Foo master. I don’t think he’s at the level of an IP Man or Bruce Lee, but he’s the real deal and community bankers could learn a thing or two from him. To be honest, I really don’t know anything about the marshal arts other than what I’ve seen in the movies from guys like Bruce Lee, Jet Lee, and Jackie Chan or conversations with my friend. Nevertheless, he suggests he has honed his senses to feel where an opponent might be weak and tries to exploit that weakness in combat.

Being skeptical, on several different occasions, I’ve called him out by asking, “Where am I weak today?” He’s pointed out the lower back pain, the headache, or the hitch in my knee. I’m not sure how he does it, but he’s spot on every time.

Not too long ago, Harris Polls research exposed a big bank weakness community banks should exploit.

40 percent of those surveyed by Harris who are customers at large national banks do not feel “very loyal” to their bank and 58 percent say they don’t believe their bank has their best interests at heart. 42 percent of them feel their bank takes advantage of them with the fees they charge.

I’m personally not of the opinion that national banks are particularly evil or are trying to take advantage of their customers. In fact, as a small business owner, the best “community banking” experience I ever had was with a wonderful banker who happened to be at of one of the big boys. That said, if this poll is correct, nearly half of big bank customers are unhappy and could be “…ripe for the pickin’,” as my grandmother was fond of saying.

The bad news is that dissatisfaction isn’t always enough to convince them a smaller community bank is a viable option. Discussing this same report, Bryan Yurcan of Bank Systems & Technology writes, “While 23 percent reported they’re at least ‘somewhat likely’ to switch their checking account to a local community bank or credit union this year, 63 percent of large bank customers say a recognizable brand name is at least somewhat important to them when choosing a bank.”

Our banker, let’s call him the ‘big bank community banker’ did a few things I’ve found to be unique over the last few years that made a big difference for us. Enough of a difference that when he became the president of a community bank a few years later, we took all our banking business and followed him to the community bank. What he did wasn’t rocket science, it wasn’t a bigger list of small business banking services, it wasn’t the recognizable brand of the particular bank, but it was the way he worked to create a real relationship with us rather than just talking about it.

  1. He spent time with us, at our place of business—This shouldn’t be a revelation to anyone but, but unlike all the billboards I see as I drive to and from the office everyday touting how “relationships” are what sets this bank or that bank apart, he did more than talk the talk. At least once every six or eight weeks, he would stop by our place of business just to see how we were doing. He watched us interact with our customers, he got to know us, he came to understand our business needs, and would often recommend ways we could leverage services offered by his bank to make life a little easier for us. Over the years we worked with him, he became much more than our banker, he became a real partner in our success. He demonstrated by his actions that a relationship with us was important to him.
  2. He did business at our place of business—He made it very convenient for us to do business with his bank by coming to us. In fact, I don’t remember ever doing any bank business at his bank until he became the president of the community bank and we went there to set up our new account, etc. And, after that he would still stop by to regularly check up on us. He understood that business is personal and people really want to do business with other people. All things being equal, over the course of my career I’ve noticed people will choose a brand they recognize unless they have a personal relationship or connection with who they’re doing business.
  3. He understood what we were trying to do—Because he spent time with us and observed what we were doing and how we did it, he came to understand the focus of business and became a partner who helped us achieve our goals. He became more that just another banker, he became a partner. Whenever he offered a new bank service to us, he did it from the perspective of understanding. He knew our business and never offered us services we didn’t need, he offered value to us every time we worked with him. He became our advocate at the bank.

It doesn’t matter what your radio ads or your billboards along the Interstate say. Successful community bankers who spend regular time with the small businesses in their community will be able to exploit a weakness of their bigger national colleagues and as Mr. Miagi told Daniel-san, “If do right, no can defend.”

I’d love to hear any of your success stories about building relationships instead of simply talking about them.


Ty Kiisel

Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business financing and trends accessible in common sense language devoid of the jargon.