A Bright Future for Beyond the Bank

By Brad McEwen

Well, I probably should have known better.

It’s not as if it was my first rodeo.

Having spent a good 10 years of my professional journey fully immersed in life within the confines of a retail bank branch, the myriad things that go into making sure a branch runs smoothly were certainly not new to me.

I mean I knew full well the delicate balance that must be struck to ensure branch staff is ready to meet client needs, while also remaining operationally sound and making sure the bank and its clients are protected.

I was well aware of the time and effort that goes into effective training and coaching to help bolster skills, and about the intricacies and quirks that go into scheduling. The vital role the branch plays in being the front line of our public interaction, and the importance of building and nurturing a successful team, were not alien concepts.

In fact, I’m sure my familiarity with those very things was what senior management was considering when they first approached me a little over a year ago to discuss an expanded role for me within AB&T.

And they were certainly the things I considered before making my decision to step into the role of Vice President of Branch Banking and Brand Execution at the start of 2019.

But while my mind could no doubt recall all of the important (and sometimes difficult) things that come with overseeing a successful branch network, I don’t know that the enormity of that role change really hit me at first.

In fact, I know it didn’t.

The reality is, the early days of that transition went about as smoothly as possible. For the first 8 months of 2019 my reality didn’t seem to change much. Sure, I now had to work with our branch team to help them understand concepts crucial to their individual successes. And I immediately began devoting time each day to coaching and planning out how the branches would help fuel the success of the bank as a whole.

But even with those added duties, I was still able to devote much of my time to my marketing and communication tasks—and especially to our Beyond the Bank series which has been a source of pride for not only the bank, but for me personally since we first started highlighting the incredible people who make up the rich fabric of our community.

Sure, we had to alter the frequency (a story a week is a tall order when you’ve got additional responsibilities and you’re committed to always producing quality work), but we were also able to expand the series, creating features not only about incredible people in our community, but also about various issues impacting all of us.

In 2019 we also began highlighting some of the incredible people working right here at AB&T, as well as introduce video content to the series as a way of widening the appeal of Beyond the Bank and providing a broader platform for drawing attention to things like the T-SPLOST referendum that was passed by Dougherty County voters last spring.

Of course, none of that would have been possible, in light of my new responsibilities, were it not for the incredible team already in place at AB&T, so like I said, for the most part 2019 was smooth sailing.

Until it wasn’t.

Now I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression here—2019 was an awesome year for AB&T. There’s no doubt about it.

I believe it will be remembered as pivotal year that saw the bank double-down on its commitment to excellence by revamping the internal systems and processes we use to meet needs and delight our clients, while also bolstering the skills and talents of our already incredible AB&T family.

But it was also an extremely busy year, one that saw the entire group stretched to their limits as they diligently began learning and implementing the things that we believe will have exponentially powerful benefits for our clients and team.

As those of you who bank with us well know, if the fall of 2019 was anything, it was a time of change.

But, like any action worth undertaking, we were well aware of what was coming and we worked diligently throughout the year to ensure as smooth a systems transition as possible.

And I’m proud to report that aside from a few hiccups, our recent conversion (which in many ways is still ongoing as we begin to utilize the full power of what we can now provide to our clients) went very well. I know some folks out there might disagree, but having been through more than one bank conversion in my day, I have no pause making that assertion.

Were there some things that didn’t roll out as planned? Yes.

Did those things keep us from honoring our commitment to our clients? Not at all.

Will the changes we’ve implemented continue to benefit the bank and its clients for years to come? Absolutely.

By all measures, I can honestly say that every aspect of the AB&T organization was improved during our 2019 conversion. All except one.

As I know many of you have noticed—I’m looking at you mom—the one area of our operation that I’d say suffered a little during last fall’s conversion was Beyond the Bank.

Now that’s not because we think Beyond the Bank’s mission to unite and strengthen our community is any less important than it was at the start of 2019. It’s just that we realized it was more important to make sure all of us devoted our full attention (myself included) to the day-to-day operation of the bank and to ensuring that our team and our clients were the number one priority.

And of course, ever the optimist, when we first started plotting out the conversion just after the start of 2019, I had every intention of continuing to churn out Beyond the Bank content while also assuming my new role and being named to the bank’s conversion implementation team (which was pretty much necessary given that much of the new systems directly impact the retail team).

I mean, why wouldn’t I have felt that way?

As I said earlier, there was already an awesome retail team in place and that awesome team was being supported by an equally impressive operations team—that works diligently behind the scenes to ensure everything runs as it should every day.

There was simply no doubt in my mind that I’d be able to keep plugging along with a Beyond the Bank every other week, while providing some oversight to the team.

But again, as it turned out I should have known better.

While my new retail responsibilities are absolutely things I’m familiar with and can tackle, the true reality of my role really became glaringly apparent as we began the final push toward our early November conversion date.

With the majority of our systems directly impacting the daily functions of our teller lines, and our customer service desks, it fell directly to me to ensure proper training so tellers could take deposits and cash checks on day 1. It was my responsibility to ensure that when the first client came through the door after conversion weekend, our branch bankers could help them resolve issues and get new accounts opened if needed. And deep in the recesses of my brain I knew this to be the case going into the role back in January.

But, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say this, it was almost as if I had been completely ignorant to the fact that in my new role, I would once again be standing in the drive through observing tellers and fielding questions from clients.

And even though I started to come to that realization during our weekend and afternoon training sessions leading up to the big day, it wasn’t until that first day serving our clients in our new environment that the magnitude of what my new role entailed became glaringly apparent.

Now, while it might sound as if this fact overwhelmed me, or had me questioning my decision to accept that charge, that couldn’t be any farther from the truth.

I’m glad I took the leap and accepted that change.

As I’ve written in Beyond the Bank before, few things in my banking career prior to coming to AB&T gave me the level of satisfaction I derive from helping to lead a team. Of all the accomplishments I’ve achieved in my banking career—landing a new client, meeting a sales goal, being recognized for hard work and good customer service—none compares to the feeling I get when I’m able to help a teammate grow as an employee and a person.

To know that I was able to step in and help someone overcome an obstacle, or provide them with the tools and the coaching needed to meet their own personal and professional goals, is the ultimate achievement for anyone in a managerial role.

And despite some of the difficulties we experienced during our transition, I sit here today feeling truly blessed that God put me in a place where I can continue to make a difference in the lives of others.

I’ve got no regrets there.

But while I’m both proud of what we accomplished, and excited about what the future holds for our branch associates and the bank as a whole, I do feel badly I had to sacrifice Beyond the Bank for several weeks.

It’s why it has stung in recent days to field questions from folks about the future of the series, or to hear offhand remarks like “I guess that’s it for Beyond the Bank,” or “I sure hope you’re not done writing those stories.”

When the series was fittingly brought up in passing during some public remarks at the recent Albany Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting—where our own Perry Revell was installed as the 2020 board chair—it really resonated with me and got me thinking how important it is that I once again prioritize and carve out time to continue Beyond the Bank, even while meeting my other responsibilities.

Community involvement is at the forefront of AB&T’s mission, and when considering that Perry is embarking on an important year of service, it makes perfect sense to continue our commitment to highlighting area citizens whose hard work and talents help make the Albany area such a special place.

So, for those of you who might have been concerned that the recent Beyond the Bank silence signaled the end of an era, let me just say there’s no need to worry.

While I can’t promise I’ll be able to get back to publishing a Beyond the Bank piece each and every week, I can tell you our goal is to never go more than a couple of weeks between features.

And in addition to those profiles of our local heroes (both well-know and unsung), the plan is to continue our expansion of the Beyond the Bank platform to include video and hopefully even audio content in the coming months so that even more people can be exposed to the important things going on in our community.

And because the folks at AB&T are not afraid to stand behind what we believe in, you can also expect to see more educationally-focused pieces designed to illuminate our population on some of the important issues impacting our lives.

If there is one thing I’ve learned during my 30-plus years living in Southwest Georgia, it’s that for a true community to exist it takes effort from everyone.

Area businesses, government, civic leaders, pastors, priests, rabbis, students, and plain old every day citizens collectively have the power to impact change and to help shape the kind of community we want our children and grandchildren to inherit.

If we all do our own small part to lift each other up and lend a hand where and when we are able, the reality of a better and more-prosperous Albany community is right within our grasp.

So, if that means I’ve got to work a few more late nights (or the occasional weekend), to make sure we continue to connect with our friends and neighbors through Beyond the Bank, then that’s exactly what I’ll do.

While it may have taken a few months for the changes in my professional life to make themselves fully known, I feel confident that thanks to the tremendous team we’ve assembled at AB&T, and thanks to the incredible leadership of folks like Perry, Luke Flatt, Matt Rushton and many others, meeting and exceeding the needs or clients, while also meeting our commitment to our community, is something I firmly believe we’ll be able to do throughout 2020 and beyond.

So, please be on the lookout for some exciting Beyond the Bank content to come, and don’t ever hesitate to let me know what’s on your mind or to suggest I highlight some individual or organization you feel is making a difference for all.

For as much as Beyond the Bank is an important AB&T initiative and a very personal thing for me, it is also something I believe belongs to my community—the very community I’m blessed to interact with each and every day—be it here or in the lobby of one of our branches.

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

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