Executive Letter: Taking a Step Back in Time to Look Forward

By Rose Oswald Poels

Attending the Central States Conference with some of the WBA officers is an annual tradition I’ve enjoyed since becoming president ten years ago. After a year’s hiatus, this group of eighteen state bankers associations located in the heart of the country are back together on Mackinac Island for a few days of programming, conversation, and planning.

If any of you have ever been to Mackinac Island, you know it is like going back in time. There are no motor vehicles allowed on the island so your methods of transportation are walking, biking (as in bicycles, not even e-bikes!), or horse-drawn carriages. The Grand Hotel, which boasts the world’s longest porch, still carries on traditions dating back to over a century ago, including afternoon tea and dressing up for dinner.

It is in this special, historic venue that we are hearing from speakers about leading with empathy, building a culture of engagement and re-thinking strategy to move our trade associations and banks forward. Like any WBA conference, this Central States Conference offers the opportunity to meet and network with trade association executives and their banker leadership from across the 18-state footprint, as well as provides the officers and me with an opportunity to discuss WBA’s activities and strategy without the interruption of our daily work. Several of the themes we’ve heard so far are relevant whether you are running a trade association or a bank.

One key to developing your organization’s path forward is heeding the lessons we’ve each learned from the last 15 months. Joe Sullivan, CEO of Market Insights, spoke to the group and emphasized that re-thinking strategy by looking at trends and data will help you develop a new strategy that, among other things, will help reimagine your customer’s experience and reshape your culture. We’ve all learned that as humans, we need to have face-to-face interaction to make us all feel better. Not seeing people in person for such a long time, or when we do, hidden behind a mask, has been psychologically challenging.  Joe further emphasized that empathy is the new “currency” of our post-pandemic world and it is imperative for management to understand the need to lead with empathy and “practice radical authenticity.”

If you think about why your customers still want to come into the branch to see bank staff, it is more about being physically seen and listened to than it may be about the transaction they are there to conduct. For WBA, this also means listening to each of you about your needs in this post-pandemic environment and shifting our activities as necessary to provide value to your team and bank. I welcome any ideas or suggestions you have at any time as the staff and Board together work on WBA’s path forward.

Sullivan will be the opening speaker at the WBA Management Conference, held in Green Bay on September 13 & 14. This conference is ideal for community banking leaders to come together for networking and education about the ever-evolving banking industry.