Banks’ local touch goes a long way

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With ever-increasing technology for customers to manage their checking accounts from their smartphones or tablets, community banks are proud to offer continuous customer service with a personal touch.

While also keeping up with the times, community banks know the services they offer in comparison to larger, national banks is what keeps their customers coming back for more.

Jerry Ledet, president and chief executive officer of Synergy Bank, said since its organization 15 years ago, Synergy has set out to be a bank for, by and of the citizens of the bayou region.

“The bank was founded by the industries and individuals that form our community,” Ledet said. “We recognize and embrace the fact that the strength of our association is derived from our diversity, much like our community. That is what the word Synergy means.”

He added it is understood customers need banking on the go, but while providing up-to-date technology, it is important that Synergy does not sacrifice the personal service their customers have come to expect.

John Rogers, vice president of retail banking and customer service for Coastal Commerce Bank, said the bank’s managers and lenders have a unique availability to the people they serve.

Rather than talking to a stranger on a customer service line, many community banks are proud to have availability to their customers at any time of the day. At Coastal Commerce Bank, they take it a step further by advertising their cell phone numbers.

“If you want to talk to your banker, whether it is on the weekends or a holiday, you can call one of our employees and get in touch with them,” Rogers said. “You don’t have to call the bank, you can talk to them directly on their cell phone.”

Reigning as the oldest bank in Terrebonne Parish, South Louisiana Bank’s model for personal banking remains strong after 34 years.

Mickey Thomas, president and chief executive officer for South Louisiana Bank, reminds the bank’s officers and employees their clientele is comprised of friends and family members that “live, work and raise their families right in the same community.”

Community banks such as South Louisiana Bank are known for having lower turnover rates with familiar faces at each of their branches to help build customer relationships.

“If you want to see a familiar face, chances are this is the one place you are coming to.” Thomas said. “We’re very proud of the longevity of our people and their confidence serving our customers.”

Some of the toughest issues facing smaller banks recently are the regulatory burdens and compliance costs brought on by legislation. The increase in changes causes local banks to adjust how they offer mortgages and overdraft protection as quickly as larger, national banks do.

Ledet said the 2008 “Too Big to Fail Banks” financial crisis resulted in a general distrust of banks, which caused congress to pass the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010.

“While it has always been our philosophy to make sound loans and adhere to all Fair Lending laws, these regulations unfortunately take away some of our ability to offer repayment schedules and other terms that could be beneficial to customers,” Ledet said.

He added compliance has always been challenging for banks, and the recent regulatory requirements have resulted in an increase in staff at Synergy to implement the regulations.

Thomas agreed the new regulations make the process of delivering a compliant loan more costly and difficult for banks.

“From the bank’s perspective it has been difficult because the rules change all the time. We try to educate our customers on what the rules are,” he said.

At a time when banks are plagued with the notion of no longer loaning money, Rogers said most local banks such as Coastal Commerce offer a mixture of commercial and consumer loans.

“As a community bank in our economy, we never really stop loaning money,” Rogers said. “For a customer who is trying to open a business, we’re there to help them.”

He said the amount of loans local banks are able to provide differs from some of the national banks. Coastal Commerce’s presence in the community with six banking locations allows the bank’s lenders to make decisions based on what is going on around them.

“We know our customers and we know our area,” Rogers said.

Representatives from each bank agreed their institutions strive to deliver the recent changes to their customers “seamlessly.”

“These are all regulations we can’t hide from,” Rogers said. “We have to be able to keep up with the mandates given to us by the government.”

Despite the new regulations initiated for banks, community banks continue to help their customers grow and the region prosper.

“We take the time to get to know our customers,” Ledet said about Synergy Bank. “We recognize them by name, not by their account.”

“It’s very exciting to watch people you make loans for create their businesses. Community involvement goes such a long way,” Rogers said of Coastal Commerce. “What we’re doing is making a difference.”

Nataria Thompson handles a transaction with a customer at South Louisiana Bank’s Main Office on West Tunnel Boulevard in Houma. South Louisiana Bank is one of several local banks throughout the area where personal service has become the center of what they have to offer the community.