Innovation Station: Setting the Stage For Banking The Next Generation

by Charles E. Potts, ICBA Executive Vice President & Chief Innovation Officer

In recent years, community bankers have embraced constant change to drive the future of banking. As you follow your innovation journeys, you also are leaning into a cycle of continuous improvement: hiring, recruiting, building products and offering solutions on an ongoing basis. The start-and-stop approach of the past has given way to an approach that’s more fluid and responsive to today’s needs.

Part of that decisioning stems from the pace of technology in today’s landscape, but it also grows out of the fact that the needs and attributes of customers and staff themselves are ever-changing. Remember when preparing for millennials was our primary focus? The oldest members of that cohort are now in their 40s, with elder Gen Z already in their mid- to late 20s. If that isn’t indicative of how much change is happening at all times, nothing is.

Generational evolution

We’re really getting at the important business concept of generational evolution, where preparing for the next generation develops into a continuous, cyclical flow. For instance, if you’re going to invest in a banking product for teenagers, you have to consider what happens when those customers aren’t teenagers anymore. Or, if you put an emphasis on a banking product for seniors, what happens when you have fewer senior citizen accounts? You must factor in the generational evolution of your customers, not just build point-in-time solutions.

To that point, next-generation customers may never step foot in a branch. While people of my generation are digital migrants having moved into a digital space, Gen Z comprises digital natives who have never known anything but digital-first solutions. This leads to a profound generational and cultural difference in how Gen Z views acquiring services of all kinds: their expectations start with digital and self-service. While they will still seek the high-touch support of community banks, that digital banking experience becomes the entry point to banking for this generation.

Designing next-generation banking

As community banks continue to advance on this intergenerational path, start with your current and target customers. Talking to them and getting their perspectives on how they acquire and consume banking services can provide the insights necessary for what’s next. The more you talk to them, the better you can anticipate their continuous evolution so you can effectively position your bank to reflect the customers you are trying to grow and nurture.

With that in mind, I hope you’ll peruse this month’s leadership issue and the 40 Under 40 feature with an eye toward building for the future. Because while change is constant, it also provides an opportunity to strengthen your standing in your community with customers of all generations. And ultimately, isn’t that focus on the customer what it means to be a true community banking leader?