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Community banking is becoming a viable alternative to customers and businesses

With financial pressures on businesses and individuals increasing, an alternative banking system is offering a lifeline for its customers and an opportunity for its communities.

community banking

The banking sector doesn’t always have a positive reputation, especially in times where interest rates are rising the world over and the threat of recession looms in the near future.

Business owners and those with mortgages often grapple with the disconnect between their rapidly increasing repayments and the huge profits tabled by international banks.

“What we do is help local savers get the best interest on their money.”

An alternative to this system is the community bank, which is community based and locally owned.

This kind of bank focuses on more personal relationships with their customers, as well as ensuring that some of their profits go back into the community. Rather than a branch belonging to a multinational organization, such banks are standalone businesses and are literally invested in the communities they serve.

Due to the small-scale nature of their operations, community banks are often less well-known than global, international banks. However, that may be about to change with the release of a 2023 biopic about the life of Dave Fishwick, Bank of Dave – a film that has taken the world by storm.

For the people

community banking

Fishwick has a number of successful businesses, but it is Burnley Savings and Loans, the community bank he established in the town of Burnley, for which he is best known.

From small beginnings, and despite resistance from an entrenched British banking system, this community bank in the north-west of England is now offering a viable alternative to traditional banks.

“What we do is help local savers get the best interest on their money,” Fishwick explains to The CEO Magazine.

“And then we use that money and loan it to people who can’t borrow from the high street banks – through no fault of their own, just because the other banks are not interested in lending to real people anymore.”

“Always work with people you admire. Surround yourself with good people, and good things will happen.”

And it’s people that are close to Fishwick’s heart, both out in the community and in the companies he runs. No matter the business, communication – talking to people, face-to-face if possible – is the secret sauce to making any company a success.

“I use the same ethos for every company I’ve started,” he explains. “Always work with people you admire. Surround yourself with good people, and good things will happen.”

Fishwick acknowledges that there has been some mistrust in the banking sector, but through a focus on people, community banks can win the loyalty of their customers and their communities.

Building relationships

community banking

“People will buy from people,” he insists. “Communication skills are more important than any other qualification.”

Teaming up with colleague David Henshaw was at the foundation of Fishwick’s bank since the beginning. Henshaw, a bank manager with experience of several decades in the sector, brings a knowledge of banking, while Fishwick, with his experience of owning and operating several successful businesses, brings the practical lessons he’s learned.

“Communication skills are more important than any other qualification.”

“David is an old-fashioned bank manager,” Fishwick says. “He started as a clerk at 16 and worked his way up as a bank manager, and he knew all his customers, where they worked, where they lived. He really understood them.

“And he’s taught my team manual underwriting – how to look at people as people, and help them. Together we’ve built a team. We’ve built it rock solid.”

Political support

community banking

As with any business that threatens to disrupt the status quo, this community-focused approach has met some resistance by bigger banks. But in the United Kingdom, at least, Fishwick has gained support from federal politics and sees political regulation as essential.

“In 2008, the banking system collapsed,” he recalls. “And this year it happened again! How is this happening? I’m very bipartisan – and we need politicians to help us with a sensible way forward.”

With current cost-of-living pressures, this political support is needed more than ever. Fishwick has seen the impact of higher food and energy prices on the customers who come into his bank every day.

“What we need now is community banks, run by the people, to benefit the people.”

“People are coming in for smaller loans, and I’ve even had people come in to get a loan to buy baby formula,” he reveals. “Interest rates were always going to go up. But nobody has the spare income to pay double their mortgage in a month.”

The solution is clear to Fishwick, especially in light of what he’s observed during his recent international travels while promoting the film about his life and the bank: communities need to take back the power and agency to decide what happens to their money, and ensure that profits are returned to the communities that generate them.

“What we need now is community banks, run by the people, to benefit the people,” Fishwick concludes.

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