On June 6, 2018, David P. Werner, president & CEO of Park Bank, Milwaukee, was installed as Chair of the Wisconsin Bankers Association for 2018-2019. During his term, Werner will lead the association and the industry in its efforts to continue the ongoing mission of service to the community and bolster banking's reputation by deepening connections with stakeholders. 

Werner has been in banking since his 1981, his first summer in college. He started working at West Allis State Bank filing checks in the bookkeeping department and returned each subsequent summer to work in a different department or role—accounting, teller, and personal banker. After graduating, the bank offered him a job as a personal banker. "Within two weeks of that, the bank was sold," Werner chuckled. "So I got to experience a merger very early on in my career."

Over the next quarter-century, Werner shifted focus and institutions, moving to First Interstate Bank's commercial department, and eventually becoming a commercial banker and then Market Manager at Park Bank. He accepted the role of President in 2010. "It's been a great experience, learning banking from literally the ground up," he said, referring to his summer filing checks in the basement. "It's a career that I really feel called to," he continued. "I love the ability to sit down with a customer and see what they do and how they do it, then come up with ideas to help them realize the success they envision for their company." 

New this year, the WBA Installation Ceremony (normally held at the WBA offices with only staff and Board Members in attendance) was expanded to include all WBA committee and section board members, as well as a leadership development component. Speaking to this large group of industry leaders, WBA staff, and his fellow board members, Werner outlined his goal for the industry and the association over the next 12 months: elevating the industry's reputation by creating and deepening connections to customers, consumers, and communities. "As an industry, as an association, and as individual bankers, we need to do a better job of painting the whole picture for elected leaders, customers, and maybe even ourselves," Werner said. "We provide a wide array of banking and advisory services that we simply don't do a good job of describing or talking about."

Trusted Advisors 

During his term as WBA Chair, Werner will urge the industry to focus on deepening relationships with customers by returning the emphasis from product specs to advice. That advisory role has always been part of the business of banking, but it's even more critical today because of the commoditization of banking. "If all we do is focus on rates, terms, and fees, we've turned what we do into a commodity," Werner explained in an interview with WBA. "We need to continue to deliver on the special value we offer as bankers. Otherwise, everyone could just do it online. There's something to be said for that personal interaction and extra effort to help someone with their financial needs and services."

Banks need to shift their focus from what they do to how they do it. As Werner puts it: "All money is green." Consumers can and will choose to do their banking with non-industry competitors if banks cannot demonstrate the added value they offer. "We need to focus on the advisory role," said Werner. "What we bring that you can't get through online lenders is a belief in that business owner, being a champion for our customers." Even as the delivery channels for banking transform (including online and mobile banking), fulfilling the role of trusted advisor is what sets bankers apart from the competition. "That's why we'll never be replaced," Werner said.

Better Together

In addition to deepening connection to customers, Werner says the industry must focus on fostering connections with fintech companies. "Focusing on personal interaction rather than commoditization doesn't give us a pass on delivering high-quality products and services with a depth of knowledge of the customer relationship," he said. "That's what customers expect now due to Amazon." Fintech companies have developed products, services, and platforms that can help banks meet those high expectations. The good news is, banks have something that fintech companies want and need, badly: data. "We banks have been collecting data on our customers longer than any fintech business," Werner explained. "We need to get better at using that data to enhance those relationships and serve our customers in the way they want to be served." 

By leveraging their data and understanding of their customers, banks can position themselves as valuable partners to offer products from top fintech companies. "We have the data and the knowledge, so there will be advantages and opportunities for banks to partner with the best fintechs in order to assist our customers in the banking relationship," he said. "We need to be more open to looking at and trying those products that could be helpful to our customers." Person-to-person payment app Venmo, for example, is a non-bank product that requires a bank account and could be recommended to customers as a solution alongside personal checks. "It's an evolving space," Werner said. "We can't afford to put our heads in the sand."

Reputational Revival

Finally, during his term Werner will emphasize the importance of improving the banking industry's reputation through educating and connecting with stakeholders, including media, legislators, and potential customers. "Among young businesspeople, we're still relatively unknown in terms of our ability and willingness to help," Werner said as an example. "The perception is still that bank loans are hard to come by." He relayed a story during his comments at the Installation Ceremony of a conversation he had with a young business owner at a recent reception. One of the attendees was sharing to a larger group his frustration at being unable to get the capital he needed to grow his business to the next level. He commented that he didn't believe a bank would lend money to his business for a variety of assumed reasons. "After listening to his story and visiting his company, we extended a $500,000 business line to him," Werner told the audience. 

Part of the problem is that the bank's role in developing companies and communities isn't often obvious to onlookers. "There are many businesses that would not have launched without a banker believing in them and helping them do it, and some of them now have over 1,000 employees," Werner explained. "We do it behind the scenes. We're not recognized for it, but we take joy in seeing that success." Telling those stories will not only deepen connections with potential customers and the community, it will also help promote banking as a career. "I think once we get people into the bank and they see how we help their community they will see it as a great career for them," Werner said, citing BOLT as a resource for those efforts. 

Werner concluded his speech at the Installation Ceremony by thanking his fellow board members for the opportunity to serve and by encouraging the bankers in attendance to look for opportunities in the challenges they will face in the coming year. "I truly believe this is a great time to be a banker," he said.