By Holly Riddle
If you caught our coverage last year on Kish Bank’s commitment to blending the latest in banking technology with a human touch, then you already know that this locally-born and bred banking institution is one of the fastest-growing banks in the state, as well as one of the top-ranked community banks in the country.
This year, Kish Bank continues to earn those accolades and is expanding its reach further, with a new branch recently opened in Altoona. It also is launching new tech features to make customers’ lives easier. Additionally, as of June, Kish now has the third-largest market share of banks in Centre County, as reported by the FDIC.
So what’s the secret to becoming — and remaining — what can arguably be called “the last great local bank in Happy Valley?” We spoke to Kish’s new CEO, Greg Hayes, to find out.
CEO, Greg Hayes
An organization with a mission
Hayes is the fourth generation of his family to serve in a leadership role at Kish Bank, but he told us that his recent stepping into his father’s shoes as CEO was hardly planned or expected. In fact, his career started out worlds away from finance — even though it still set him up to embrace the Kish ethos.
He said, “I started my career as an engineer at Merck Pharmaceuticals. While there, I worked on a very exciting project, with a very big mission: to rid the world of cervical cancer, the No. 2 killer of women in the world. I was part of the team that built and licensed the facility to make Gardasil, the vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, the leading cause of cervical cancer. By the time I moved back to central Pennsylvania… I understood what it meant to work for an organization with an important mission and purpose.”
At Kish, we believe we can make the lives of those around us better — our employees, our clients and our communities. This mission-focused, purpose-driven company in a local community that I care about aligned with my core values.
He added, “At Kish, we believe we can make the lives of those around us better — our employees, our clients and our communities. This mission-focused, purpose-driven company in a local community that I care about aligned with my core values.”
Over the last decades, Hayes’ father, Bill, grew the company from $10 million to more than a billion in total assets. Bill followed in his own father’s footsteps, who followed in the footsteps of his father, who helped form Kish Bank in the early 1900s in the Kishacoquillas Valley. Still, Hayes said there was no pressure from his family to join the business, pointing to his own background in engineering, as well as his siblings’ work in pharmaceutical sales and museum studies. In fact, when Hayes eventually did decide to join the Kish crew, he had to work his way through the organization, starting his banking career as a teller. The growth process, though, is one he says has been rewarding, exciting and fun.
“If we had to re-script it, we probably wouldn’t do it any other way,” he said.
The lifeblood of the community
When asking Hayes what he thinks about Kish being called “the last great local bank in Happy Valley,” he’s modest.
He explained, “I’m glad people in our community feel that way. That said, community banking is the lifeblood of many strong communities around the country. We’ve gone from 20,000 banks to 10,000 banks to now just over 4,000 banks in the U.S., and the decline of local community banks creates a serious impact on communities’ vitality. Community banks represent less than 40% of deposits across the U.S., but they provide 60% of small business loans… Community banks are at the center of a community.”
With community bank options dwindling in many areas, though, why would those looking for a new bank, whether they be the average customer or a business owner, choose a community organization? For Hayes, it all comes down to a few factors, not least of which include relationships and responsiveness. Kish, he said, is a relationship company, where customers can talk to real people, explain their problems and know that staff care about helping them grow and succeed — and Kish truly is as local as it gets. It’s the only bank in Centre County with a CEO whose office is also in Centre County.
Both Kish’s focus on relationships and its size helped it find an opportunity for growth in the Blair County market, where it opened a new branch in Altoona in July. In this competitive landscape, Hayes noted, there are a lot of banks smaller than Kish and a lot of banks much larger than Kish, but there’s a gap — and quite a few existing Kish customers already living in Blair County.
Community banks represent less than 40% of deposits across the U.S., but they provide 60% of small business loans… Community banks are at the center of a community.
“While there are a lot of banks there, it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is getting the service or experience they want. When you hear feedback like, ‘Oh, you should come to Blair County; we could really use a bank like yours,’ you start to look at opportunities in the market,” he explained, acknowledging that another aspect of this opportunity was the talent. “We have a lot of employees joining us because they no longer feel that they can help their customers working in the organization they’re in. They want to work for an organization where they can actually help their clients.”
“Our capacity to bring value to Blair County is based on our size, sophistication, team and the experience we create. It was a no-brainer,” he added.
The human element
Looking to the future, Hayes said Kish is “patiently” looking to grow further. Beyond growth into new markets, Kish is predominantly dedicated to ensuring its existing customers get the service they’ve come to expect from the brand — and, in some cases, even better and more tech-savvy service.
We’re creating convenience and technology that people expect from a financial institution, but we’re layering that with the ability to talk to a human if you want to.
In the near future, Kish plans to roll out a new capability they call Live Banker, which combines an ATM with a real, live banker. Users will be able to conduct ATM transactions at equipped devices that will also allow them to connect directly with one of Kish’s live team members. From there, the team member can take control of the machine and perform a full-service teller transaction, just like they could if someone were to be inside a branch. Think non-traditional ATM activities like cashing a check or making a loan payment.
“This will allow us to serve more rural markets or markets where other banks are closing branches, using human-enabled technology to enhance the experience,” Hayes said. “We’re creating convenience and technology that people expect from a financial institution, but we’re layering that with the ability to talk to a human if you want to.”
That human touch is a factor in every aspect of Kish’s customer service and communication. Call centers are manned by real, local people. Online chat services are likewise manned by real, local people.
At the end of the day, it’s this human element that Hayes credits for Kish’s continual success and growing list of accolades.
“Our people care,” he summed up. “They care about our communities. They’re not here to push products. It’s not just a transaction. It’s about the client and making lives better. That creates a different experience and customers come back to us.”