Banking with Balance: How Trust, Tech and Culture Work Together
Common complaints about banks usually focus on the customer experience: interchangeable employees, limited customer service and a pervasive “we’ve always done it this way” mentality.
But people who feel that way may want to try a different kind of bank. North American Banking Company, based in Roseville, Minnesota, was founded in 1998, and still has its founding members at the head of the organization.
“We are just like our clients,” says Brad Huckle, president and chief lending officer of North American Banking Company and a co-founder. “We came across an opportunity and we took it. We can relate to the small business owners we work with when it comes to raising capital and capitalizing on an opportunity.”
An entrepreneurial approach backed by deep experience
For Huckle and North American Banking Company CEO Michael Bilski--a fourth-generation banker-- the decision to start their own bank came after years in the business. “One day, something just snapped,” says Bilski. “It was a sense of frustration with what was going on in banking at that time. I started thinking, ‘Why couldn’t we do this?’”
At a time when banks were consolidating and getting bigger and less personal, Brad and Michael raised $4.5 million from 97 investors and struck out on their own. Michael’s family history and years of personal experience meant he knew how to navigate regulatory channels, while Brad’s long experience in business, real estate and small business lending helped North American Banking Company carve its niche.
Today, North American Banking Company has five branches in the Twin Cities with $540 million in assets. North American Banking Company is also a leading originator of automated clearing house (ACH) electronic funds transfers nationally.
High tech tools and high-touch service
Brad and Michael take special pride in their employees – many of the first employees on board are still with the company, while the newer employees who have enabled the bank to expand are steeped in the culture of customer service that emanates from those founding members.
The core of original employees possess a level of mutual trust that only comes from years of working together – in many cases, for a decade or more before North American Banking Company was founded.
With that trust in place, North American Banking Company gives its bankers wide latitude to make decisions, a marked difference from many larger banks, where regimented processes can slow or even derail transaction approvals, or where algorithm-driven technology tries to fit customers into pre-sized boxes. This translates to local decision making by people that know and understand the market, meaning faster decisions can be made.
At the same time, North American Banking Company embraces technology where it can speed processes or open new opportunities. The company has invested heavily in online and mobile banking and isn’t burdened by supporting or updating legacy systems like large banks are.
Where North American Banking Company shines is when both philosophies – personal and technological – work in tandem. “We like to say we have the best of both worlds,” says Huckle. “Customers today want the convenience of online and mobile banking, but they also want to know there are people ready to help them when they need it.”
Banking for the 21st century
From the outside, North American Banking Company seems like many banks. But even its facilities reflect its focus on the customer experience and embrace of new trends.
“We still have walk-in customers, but we were one of the first banks to get rid of teller lines,” notes Bilski. “Our facilities are designed for how people bank today, where customers are coming to see us for longer, sit-down conversations and less for their day-to-day transactions.”
North American Banking Company continues to innovate, too. It has launched ExcheQ, its own mobile peer to peer payment app which ties directly into the existing ACH system that most banks already use. Customers can send money to their friends and family for free, in one business day or less.
But at the end of the day, it’s about relationships and going the extra mile for customers. Michael recalls one customer who called from the airport and had forgotten his wallet and cards at home. “I said, ‘The vault’s open, how much money do you need?’ I grabbed what he needed and drove out there, he was waiting on the curb, and handed it to him. That’s what we can do if we need to.”
“We offer little ingredients that make up a unique banking experience,” says Brad. “Like any other business, when we treat our clients like they are unique, which they are, they will be loyal.”
Four things to look for in a business banker
- Experience: Business owners experience many financial events only occasionally – raising capital, financing real estate, taking out loans. Business bankers encounter these over and over. With experience, they can find lesser-known advantages or tools for you
- Trust: It cuts both ways in business – you want a bank you can trust, but you also want a bank that knows you well enough to trust you, so they will stand by your side when you need them most.
- Personal relationships: If you get passed from representative to representative, you dilute the trust you are building. Find someone you can relate to and stick with. The better a banker knows you and your business, the better they can serve you.
- Innovation: Banking is as dynamic an industry as any and is in a period of disruption and reinvention. You want a banker who will embrace that and look for new ways of doing things – without sacrificing personal attention.