By Dana Wilkes, Senior Affiliation Manager

Season after season, one of our most popular Affiliation Program sessions is the High Performance Idea Exchange, which gives our members the opportunity to do just that – exchange innovative ideas with one another and as a result, get valuable tools to help their banks achieve a higher level of performance. While the Idea Exchange is designed to encourage natural discussion between members, a few topics last fall proved to be of particular interest with all of our bankers across the board. In December our fall meeting attendees received a detailed recap of approximately 350 of the best and brightest ideas from these sessions, but we have summarized the top three categories and a few highlights as a sampler.

Expense Concerns.  Since many recent forecasts have been indicating a potential economic slowdown (and perhaps a recession), expense management ideas proved to be extremely popular with our fall Affiliation Program attendees. Several members have achieved cost savings by conducting comprehensive expense management projects at their banks, examining under-utilized technology, redundant tasks and functions, and reducing personnel through attrition and/or early retirement or redeployment. All members agreed that soaring healthcare costs have made managing those benefit expenses challenging to say the least. To mitigate these costs, several have migrated or are in the process of shifting away from traditional health insurance plans to high-deductible plans that are coupled with a health savings account (HSA). Members concurred that high-deductible plans are more economical for their banks and employees in the long run, and HSAs are proving to be more and more popular with younger employees, especially since they have the ability to stockpile these funds and use them at a later date for retirement or to pay for their children’s college expenses.

Talent Management.  Ideas for attracting and retaining younger employees also sparked dynamic discussions at each of the fall Idea Exchange sessions. Many members admitted that the issue of succession planning has been consistently “keeping them up at night” because so many employees, including senior executives, are rapidly approaching retirement age. While healthcare benefits certainly appeal to employees in every generation, several shared that their employees in the 25-to-35 age group have also responded positively to having complimentary snacks and high-end coffee machines in the bank’s breakroom areas…and maybe even the occasional beer or margarita available after hours on Fridays! Another popular benefit geared toward millennial employees entailed providing monthly assistance with paying off student loans, something that has helped several member banks retain their “rising stars” in this demographic.

Branch Strategies.  Another area that generated constructive dialogue during the Idea Exchange involved branch network strategies. Our Affiliation Program members represent community banks from throughout the United States in both urban and rural markets, and as a result, opportunities and challenges vary widely depending on the area. Discussions centered mostly on right-sizing branches and doing more with less square footage, including taking advantage of more open design concepts and newer technologies like interactive teller machines (ITMs). In general, members who have had ITMs as part of their branch network strategy for three to five years asserted that this technology has allowed their banks to consolidate branches, operate more efficiently, and better serve their markets. For example, one bank with an ITM network shared that they have made it a priority to hire bilingual customer service personnel for this area, enabling them to significantly increase their ability to build relationships with customers in their market who may not speak English as their primary language.

For more information about the High Performance Idea Exchange and our upcoming 2020 Affiliation Program meetings, please visit us at https://affiliation.smslp.com/.