The start of a new year is always a good time to take a step back and look forward at what's coming. With the Wisconsin Economic Forecast Luncheon right around the corner at the time of writing, I offer you my predictions for the rest of 2020.
I expect bank consolidation will continue, but that fact doesn't keep me up at night. The community banking model—and the value we bring to the people, businesses, and communities we serve—isn't going away. Even if the number of Wisconsin institutions shrinks to 100, I don't foresee us ever dropping to the single-digit numbers common in other countries. The U.S. banking system is unique and delivers tremendous value, so community banks will always be around to serve our customers.
Advancements in technology will continue to present both challenges and opportunities for banks. While addressing cybersecurity risks will place stronger demands on both person-hours and IT budgets, local institutions will gain more ability to compete with regional and national players in the market through applications such as mobile business banking.
The Wisconsin economy continues its slow and steady growth, despite headwinds from trade and demographics. The banking industry has been a key supporter of our state's ag sector as it faces challenges on several fronts. In addition, an aging population and strong employment have led to an unprecedented talent war, not just in banking but across industries. Culture, community support, and a focus on diversity and inclusion are all important elements of crafting an organization that will attract top talent.
First Business Bank has conducted an annual economic survey of businesses for 17 years. Again this year respondents show strong optimism for 2020, yet are still cautious when compared to optimism heading into 2019. Our survey administrator, Dr. Moses Altsech attributes that difference to entering a presidential election year which often causes businesses (and consumers for that matter) to take a "wait and see" stance, though election year caution historically is short-lived regardless of the outcome.
Another takeaway from the survey is the largest obstacle to even better performance in 2019 was a "skills shortage." Looking forward to 2020, businesses most commonly cite the following areas of focus: diversify client base; create or expand leadership training; create a process for generating innovative business ideas; and make efforts to further integrate millennials in the company culture.
Here's to 2020 — may it be good for everyone!
Meloy is CEO of First Business Bank, Madison and WBA Chair.