Perspective points out community banking’s value. The lens of time focuses on what’s important.

Change needs perspective to be appreciated, especially the kind of change that makes a real difference. To think about where banking is today, those of us who work in its midst have to consider things from a much different point of view. As it turns out, our world is more different than we’ve probably ever realized.

In his book, “Rise of the Creative Class,” sociologist Richard Florida poses an interesting thought exercise: Imagine someone in America transported from 1900 to the middle of the century, then someone else transported from mid-century to the present day and considered who would notice the greater change.

Florida posits the traveler from 1900 to 1950 would marvel at society’s technological advancements. You could broadcast a live image of a human from one coast to another almost instantly. Automobiles replaced horses. Skyscrapers lifted cities into the clouds. The traveler from 1950 who arrived in 2000 would likely be disappointed in the incremental shifts in technology. Televisions, cars, and buildings advanced mechanically but showed little obvious, fundamental improvement. The changes that would drop the jaws of this traveler are more in the social sphere. On the negative side, television now drips with profane language, and everything is sexually charged. Far more importantly and on the positive, attitudes toward race and gender have progressed tremendously and, while still far from ideal, demonstrate we are headed the right way.

Perspective matters.

As specialists in bank marketing, we thought it would be interesting to send each of those travelers to the bank and see what turned up. We found the enclosed newsreel on YouTube. With this video from the BBC. Take four minutes to travel back in time and rejoin us below… 

What you saw captures some of what our first traveler would have seen when he arrived in about 1950 from 1900. Instead of counting coins by a smoldering candle or finely wrought promissory notes, you see the birth of virtualized currency. Cutting edge for the day, computer-assisted banking and record-keeping were sufficiently noteworthy to merit a short, general interest feature by the BBC.

For the first traveler, the computerization of banking would be mind-blowing. Would his counterpart, someone from 1950 brought to today, be as startled? Granted, computers have come a long way since then, but, at their heart, the mechanics are the same. There are differences even more striking than those the first traveler saw, though; they just take a little more noticing. So what would the second traveler notice? Certainly, the ability to conduct a full suite of banking services on a computer/television/phone/camera that fits in your pocket would be impressive. But consider the common thread of communication from most banks.

Since the days of the video, banks have run a race against technology as they’ve been saddled with more and more compliance and regulatory oversight.

In the 1970s and 80s, it was all about traveler checks and debit cards. In the 1990s to 2000s, it was online banking and at-home computerized financial tools. In the 2000s and beyond: mobile banking of all sorts.

These advances have driven our external messaging. When the neighboring bank launches a new bell or whistle, we feel the need to add something comparable—and promote it. When the big banks roll out new technology, we stand panting at the doors of our core providers, waiting for them to give us comparable technology.

Through all this, we’ve adopted a mantra: all the technology of a big bank with the service of a community bank. However, we’ve put much more emphasis on the technology than the service—at least in our messaging.

The biggest difference a traveler would notice in the post-modern world is banking no longer requires a banker.

And while “requires” is the operative word, we’ve also forgotten to let our communities know why they need a banker.

Whether chasing efficiency, running out of budget, or overfocusing on the techy aspects, banks stopped connecting customers’ needs to the type of help a real human can provide. And this doesn’t mean the standard banker ad that just shows a lender’s face and does nothing to communicate his or her value to the audience.

We don’t like artificial colors or flavors, so why would we value artificial intelligence over real intelligence? More importantly, why would we insult our customers with artificial interaction when real interaction is available with our bankers?

Big banks have tried to convince their customers they don’t need a human to help them bank. In so doing, they’ve convinced some community banks technology comes before connection. Nothing could be further from the truth.