Building Bridges with Bankers

(From Eighth Note, the employee magazine of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, March/April 2004, Volume 18, Number 2.)

Although its primary mission is to help build business, the Eighth District Sales and Marketing staff also plays another important role — educating bankers.

By Alice C. Dames

Spanning the region of the Eighth and Fourth Districts, a dedicated crew of St. Louis Fed Sales and Marketing employees is hard at work building relationships and generating business with the Bank’s financial institution customers.

In today’s rapidly changing banking world, though, these customers are looking to the Fed to play a role beyond selling a product or service — an educational role.

“Five years ago, the Fed wasn’t making many changes; however, there’s a tremendous amount of change going on within the Fed right now,” says Diane McCluskey, senior vice president of Independent Bankers Bank in Springfield, Ill.  “Since we work so closely with the Fed, our bank is very interested and needs to know about changes  that are taking place.”

During the past few years, Sales and Marketing has stepped up to meet these educational needs by introducing several annual programs and events, including the Back to School seminars, Fed Exchange and the Payments Symposium.

Back to School

The Eighth District began offering the Back to School seminars in 2000 as a way to allow bankers to visit the Fed once a year, meet with employees and learn more about our programs and services.  The event started in St. Louis its first year and expanded to the branches in 2001.

“We wanted Back to School to appeal to a wide audience; so, we brought bankers into the Fed, gave them tours and made our staff available,” says Sales and Marketing Specialist Debbie Boren.  “This allowed our customers to get to know the person behind the voices they heard on the phone.”

Adds Public Affairs Senior Editor Cheryl Brown, formerly of Sales and Marketing, “From the start, Back to School was very popular.  By 2002, we had to move the seminars to local hotels because we could no longer accommodate the growing numbers in our facilities.”

Fed Exchange

The regional partnerships between the Fourth and Eighth Districts’ Sales and Marketing staff opened the door in 2002 for a new educational program aimed at customers in both regions.  Fed Exchange debuted that spring as a combination of best practices from Back to School and a similar program for bankers in Cleveland.  At the regional event, usually held twice a year, the Fed shares information with bankers about current topics such as FedLine for the Web and Check 21, while customers also get a chance to network with one another.

Boren says, “The feedback we received was very positive, and it also was beneficial to be able to give a consistent message to bankers scattered across the region.”  

Most of the time, the regional team members create a standard agenda for all eight locations; however, this spring they are taking a different approach, Brown says, with an extra emphasis on the Fed’s Check Restructuring initiative included on the agenda for the seminars in Little Rock, Louisville, and Charleston, WVa., where customers will soon be sending their checks processing to other sites.

“We want to ensure that these customers have all the information they need and that they don’t feel lost or abandoned; so, we are creating specific events that will help them prepare for this important transition,” Brown says.

Payments Symposium

While Fed Exchange helps bankers zero in on the topics of most importance in their communities, the region’s newest event for customers, the Payments Symposium, provides a big picture view of hot trends in the payments industry.  The event debuted last fall with a focus on “Payments in a Changing World — Are You Ready for the Future?”

Fed officials and respected industry experts spoke on topics such as new directions in retail payments, combating fraud and changing practices for generating revenue in the banking industry.

“Our regional partnership certainly contributed to the success of the event, and the timing was excellent,” says Boren.  “We addressed issues that bankers had been telling us they needed more information about — all under one roof.”

Glenna Schagemann, a bookkeeping supervisor and operations officer at Effingham State Bank in Effingham, Ill., is appreciative of the Fed’s efforts.

“Fed seminars allow me to network with other bankers and prevent me from getting caught off guard,” she says.  “The Fed was telling us about Check21 and other important issues long before we began discussing them at our bank.  And it’s always interesting to meet the various people from the Fed.”

As the programs gain popularity, they are gaining repeat attendance as well, Boren says.  “When we first began offering these seminars, every person I met was new to me, but more and more bankers are now attending every event we host; so, I have established good working relationships with a lot of them.”