New Bank President Aims For Old-Fashioned Service, Hi-Tech Capabilities

New Bank of Dade President Shannon Henry says the cellphone is younger customers' banking method of choice. He wants those customers to know his bank can offer them everything a larger bank can.

The Bank of Dade was established in 1956 to serve a rural community fed up with going to Chattanooga to open a checking account, save money or borrow to buy a home. In the 63 years since, it has become a venerable Dade institution, with small-town charm you can feel in everything from the friendliness of the lady at the reception desk to the bowls of Jolly Rancher hard candies on the countertops.

The bank’s new, younger president says none of that is going anywhere. “We want to have a personal relationship with each customer,” said Shannon Henry. “We want to know their spouse, we want to know their kids.”

Ditto the bank’s core business—checking and savings, home loans, car loans. “That’s the main purpose for us being here, to serve the community,” said Henry.

But, said Henry, 44, who became bank president on Jan. 1, it’s 2019 and times have changed. “We have to change, as well,” he said. Banking, said Henry, has become a high-tech business that younger people prefer to do on the fly, as yet another function of their cellphones.

“It’s inevitable,” said Henry. “There’s no way around it. We’re going to have to provide services like these apps, because these younger people are on their phone constantly. It’s part of them. So we have to be able to reach those people with technology.”

Henry wants those prospective customers to know the Bank of Dade is there to serve them as well as their elders. The bank has already instituted most of the higher-tech banking functions, he said, and the rest are on their way. “We have everything that bigger banks offer,” said Henry.

The bank has offered online and mobile banking for some time, he said, and began accepting “mobile deposit capture” about six months ago. That’s the service by which customers can deposit checks by taking pictures of them with their cellphones. “We have quite a bit of activity with that,” said Henry.

Another innovation is debit cards that can be turned on and off with an app, which can be useful on a road trip. “Before you leave the house, you want to turn off your debit card, in case you drop your card while you’re traveling, at a gas station or wherever,” said Henry. But then, he said, the customer can reactivate the card with the app to make a purchase and turn it back off before driving away.

These services are new enough that most customers probably aren’t aware they’re available right here in Dade, added Henry. “That’s something that we need to do a better job of, is getting information out, not just to our customers but to other consumers in the county so they know that we’ve got some cool stuff for banking that they can do,” said the new president.

The bank is also looking at Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, apps that allow customers to pay at retail stores with their phones, and is talking to a vendor that will allow it to accept payments from cards for loan installments. “We need to be able to accept other forms of payment other than just coming in here and writing a check,” said Henry.

Another core change that Henry and his board of directors are looking at—perhaps a bit more cautiously, admitted the young banker—is becoming less conservative in lending. “After the recession of 2008, -9, -10, we were a little more hesitant to make loans,” said Henry. But the Bank of Dade still wants to help young people buy homes, and realizes: “They don’t have $20- or 25,000 sitting in a savings account that they can use as a down payment,” said Henry. “Requiring a 20 percent down payment is harder than it used to be. So we’ve eased up some on our lending requirements.”

The bank is looking as well at personal lines of credit, $2-to-$3000 accounts that the customer can draw from, pay on, and borrow on again, much like a credit card. In a financial world that keeps offering customers new ways to borrow money, it’s a way for the small local bank to compete.

Shannon Henry grew up in Chatsworth, Ga., and went to college at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn. There he studied biology with a view to becoming a veterinarian, but: “I worked at a bank one summer when I was in college and really enjoyed it. I just liked everything about it.”

So he went into banking instead and was hired 18 years ago by William Broyles, president of Bank of Dade in those days. The procedure for ambitious would-be bank officers was to work in every department, and that’s what Henry did, starting as a teller, proceeding through loans, data processing and the comptroller’s office, and ending up as chief financial/information security officer before being named to the top slot this year.

“It’s been busy, hectic,” said Henry of the new job. “There’s lot of things that I have going on in my mind that I try not to overwhelm everybody with all at once. I’ll try to space it out over the next six months or so.”

Longtime bank customers need not worry, though, assured Henry: They may not perceive any changes at all except, possibly, that things are more user-friendly. “We don’t want them to notice anything too drastic right away, but we want them to be aware of all of the products and services that we have,” said Henry.

He’s moved some people and functions around physically so that customers don’t have to walk so far for basic services, and he’s adding a new IT person to the payroll “just because of the amount of technology that it takes now to operate a bank.”

But with all its strides into apps, hi-tech and the future in general, Henry realizes that friendly, customer-service-based community banking—checking, savings, car loans, home loans, loans to buy chicken farms or restaurants—is what the Bank of Dade still has to offer Dade and the surrounding counties.

“That’s the whole goal,” said the young banker. “That is our base and that will always be our base. I think we can perfect what we’re doing and then add some other services as well.”

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