A Powerful Evolution

By Brad McEwen

As an optimist, and generally positive person, I have to say that most years are pretty good ones for Brad McEwen.

While there are always challenges and difficulties to overcome, I just find that overall, life is pretty good regardless of what year is showing on the calendar.

That said, as 2017 draws to a close, I find myself overwhelmed as I think back on what has undoubtedly been a banner year, not only for me but also for the company I fortuitously joined back in April.

Having already written about my decision to leave a job I loved at the Albany Herald to return to the world of banking in the past, I won’t rehash all the motivations that led to that leap of faith. But I do want to share a little bit about the notion of change and the interesting way my personal evolution in the past nine months has in many ways mirrored the important changes taking place within AB&T.

I’ll start by saying that one of the coolest things about the offer Luke Flatt and Perry Revell presented when I first met with them back in March, was the fact that while the two leaders had a clear vision of bringing me onboard to improve communication among associates and help the bank better connect with the community it serves, they left things somewhat nebulous when it came to what my day-to-day might look like.

During those initial meetings, which at first I didn’t even realize were part of an informal interview process, we discussed a few particulars, like my having a hand in managing social media, but the full extent of what I would be doing was purposefully left open-ended.

We knew I would handle media releases and some public relations stuff once I got up to speed on the AB&T way, and we definitely talked about using my experience as a writer to effectively engage the Albany and Lee County communities, but at that point what has become Beyond the Bank was somewhat of a blank slate.

The door was left open to allow me a chance to add my stamp to some important things going on within the company and that, more than anything, was what swayed my decision. It’s certainly not every day that two people for whom I have great respect offer me a job, and I’ve simply never had an opportunity to step into a role that I would have a hand in defining.

Despite the uncertainty that comes with such an important life change, I was bolstered by the fact that those two men had a plan and real conviction that bringing me on board was the right move for AB&T.

While I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I showed up for my first day on the job, right from the start the primary focus of my mission was made clear as I began learning more about the bank’s recent past and the important evolutionary process that was well underway.

In a nutshell, the months leading up to my arrival had been marked by a complete evolution of the AB&T brand. For those unfamiliar with the concept, establishing a brand identity allows a company to create a clear image of itself in a consumer’s mind to differentiate that company in the market, thereby attracting and retaining loyal customers.

While that might sound somewhat simplistic, it is anything but. To truly create a solid brand, a business has to commit—from top to bottom—to embracing a unified vision and then putting in the time to make sure that every facet of the businesses’ operations reflect that vision.

Sure there are the obvious things like coming up with mission statements, establishing a set of core values, developing slogans, catchphrases, logos and other marketing pieces designed to catch an audience’s attention, but a truly effective branding campaign requires keen attention to every detail—including determining the types of products and services being offered and the manner in which those products and services are delivered to the customer.

In short, when it comes to a true brand evolution, like the one that was in process when I arrived at AB&T, details matter. All of them.

And while many of those details had already been addressed by the time I came on board, there was still some major work left to do to fine tune and strengthen the brand—both internally and externally.

While I knew part of my charge would be giving an important voice to the bank’s mission through subtle changes in our internal communications and our social media messaging, I was truly blown away when Perry wasted no time having me run point on one of the bank’s most important undertakings, thus allowing me to evolve right along with the bank.

As a loyal customer of AB&T prior to joining the team, I already knew that virtually every banking solution they offered was top shelf. The features contained in Gold Choice Checking are unmatched in our market and the bank’s ABT Go mobile app is in a class by itself. Combine those things with a deep commitment to relationship banking excellence, the wealth of experience offered by the entire banking team, and a dedication to providing customized, needs-based solutions to each and every customer, and you have what I already considered the best bank in Albany.

However, every visit I made to abtgold.com brought me face to face with one glaring weakness in the bank’s arsenal—a dynamic website reflective of the excellence shown in every other aspect of company.

Quite honestly, for a bank that can say with utter conviction that it offers its clients the absolute best in so many areas, AB&T’s website is somewhat archaic.

Visually it is unappealing and functionally it's a mess. Navigating through the site, sadly, is a boring chore, and the fact that there was no way to easily open an account always leaves me wanting more.

The good news is, that’s about to change.

The process of redesigning the company website was in its infancy when I arrived, but within weeks I was totally immersed in the design and implementation process.

And as exciting as it was to be working with awesome marketing and design teams like the Levee and Digital Insight, I have to admit that going in I really didn’t know squat about website design, outside of what I liked and what I didn’t like, so it really was an amazing thing that the bank’s leadership trusted me enough to play such a critical role in its development.

Honestly, it was a little bit overwhelming to suddenly be thrust into that world, having to essentially learn a new language—understanding things like “heroes” and “hamburger menus”—all with the goal of helping give birth to one of THE most important advances in the bank’s history.

It was explained to me from the start that what I was working on would not only have a huge impact on the way bank serves its clients, but would mark a pivotal moment in the company’s evolution.

Yeah, no pressure there.

Of course, like most challenges, as daunting as it was to wade into those uncertain waters, it’s been unbelievably fulfilling to have gotten a chance to work on such a meaningful project.

I mean, it’s just downright humbling—as we prepare to finally unveil the new site to the public—that I was able to assist the bank’s leadership in creating the look, feel and functionality of such an important piece of AB&T’s commitment to its clients. So many people—bank leadership, directors and fellow associates had worked so hard to bring the company to this point, and to be a part of that effort has been incredible.

Even cooler is the notion that in working on such a vital part of the bank’s continued evolution, my own role here has continued to morph and expand. Certainly if I had any doubts or fears about what I’d be doing here, they have been allayed as things continue to take shape in new and exciting ways.

Through this process I have become intimately familiar with a subject I knew little about while also having an opportunity to become more deeply ingrained with such an incredible company that is completely committed to excellence.

It kind of takes my breath away to know that the folks here believed enough in my abilities and my work ethic to allow me to help them on this important journey.

In fact, after this week’s Beyond the Bank it’s really going to be impossible for me to write anything that reads “them” and “me” as it is so clearly an “us” situation now.

That’s why I’m as proud as anyone here that next week we get to present the fruits of considerable labor by many hands and hearts and share the new abtgold.com with our clients and our community.

The most important part of AB&T’s brand evolution has always been to provide the absolute gold standard in with everything we offer our clients and our new website will finally provide an online banking experience that measures up to the high standards we’ve set for ourselves.

It truly is a proud moment in our history.

It’s also proud moment in my personal history, as I’ve had an experience I won’t soon forget.

I’ll certainly never get into the full time business of designing websites—I just don’t have the expertise of the folks at DI and the Levee—but I can tell you, if the future is anything like the last nine months (which I earnestly believe it will be), I hope to remain a part of the ongoing evolution of AB&T into a dynamic and impactful force in this community, for a long time to come.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen