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Here are the lessons banking leaders learned from pandemic


While the COVID-19 pandemic weakened many businesses, Kyle Kennedy says it made his stronger.

“I truly believe our culture at Bell Bank would not be as strong as it is today without the pandemic,” says the president and Phoenix banking director for Bell Bank. “The Payment Protect Program process was like trying to drink from a fire hydrant, but it unified our team, as we were all working tirelessly — literally 15-20 hours a day — toward a common purpose, which was helping businesses in our community.”

Kennedy says he witnessed an unparalleled atmosphere of hustle and grit at Bell as bank team members rallied to help as many businesses as they could.


READ ALSO: Here’s how Kyle Kennedy plans to build Bell Bank in Arizona


“And when we emerged,” Kennedy says, “we were a stronger and more cohesive team because of the experience.”

Kennedy isn’t alone. Many of Arizona’s most influential leaders in the financial services sector learned lessons about their businesses and about themselves during the pandemic. Here is a look at some of those lessons learned.

G. Vernon Babilon, CEO, Tucson Old Pueblo Credit Union: “Open communication was the key.  To allay fear and worry, I quickly formed a committee of department leaders. By utilizing information from reliable sources and sharing it with the entire staff, it was collectively decided to keep our lobbies open, with no disruption to account holders or our employees’ livelihoods.”

Vickie L. Larsen, senior vice president and market director, BOK Financial: “Communication is key. While 2020 and 2021 were unprecedented with most of us working remotely, 2022 will bring new adjustments as we all come back to the office. Stay in front with communication and do not leave it to employees to make assumptions.”

Kevin Cutter, executive vice president and regional president for Arizona and Nevada, Pacific Premier Bank: “During the pandemic, my teams quickly switched to working remotely, which led me to look for new ways to keep everyone engaged and motivated. Through this experience, I’ve learned to communicate with greater transparency, urgency and empathy.”

Ronald T. Evans, CEO, West Valley National Bank: “COVID taught everyone the importance of flexibility. This means not only operational flexibility but also flexibility in understanding the concerns of each employee, especially related to their mental and physical health.”

Robert Faver, Arizona region president, UMB Bank: “The ability to be there for people was difficult during the pandemic, and I learned to be more intentional and empathetic. I did more proactive outreach to both our clients and my colleagues and had more personal conversations to ensure they felt supported both personally and professionally.”

Patrick Joyce, Arizona commercial lending manager, Bankers Trust: “One lesson I’ll carry forward is to lead with even more empathy and kindness. COVID affected everyone differently. Bankers Trust really focused on taking care of its team members and customers while staying committed to its communities. This helped our teams stay engaged and come out of the pandemic stronger.”

Jeff Meshey, president and CEO, Desert Financial Credit Union: “COVID-19 taught us that we are capable of making significant changes to our business models much more quickly than we ever thought possible.  Let’s keep that spirit of innovation alive and embrace the technological renaissance that is occurring in our world.”

Mark Mistler, regional president for Tucson and Southern Arizona, PNC Bank: “The pandemic reinforced my belief that building strong, long-term relationships with co-workers and clients is very important. While we have been limited in our ability to be together in person, the relationships and trust built over a long period of time have been critical in getting through the pandemic.”

Don Garner, CEO, Alliance Bank of Arizona: “The pandemic proved that Alliance Bank’s relationship-based approach is more important now than ever before. As technology continues to take on a bigger role in our industry, it will never replace getting to understand our clients’ needs and goals to help them succeed in even the most stressful of times.”

Don Pearson, lead region president, Wells Fargo: “The true resiliency, perseverance and adaptability of our employees, customers and our community — it was inspiring. I learned the importance of strong leadership and teamwork. Our team worked hard to continue delivering the best possible service. I learned how much our employees and customers care about each other.  I learned the meaning of tenacity overcoming adversity.”

Dave Ralston, Arizona market CEO, BOK Financial: “Responding to the pandemic really pushed many…



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