Serving the local community

By Posted on Oct 23 2014 | By

 Summit Community Bank leader seeks to personalize financial services  

Community banks play a valued role in a local economy. The institutions are typically operated by local or regional owners and focus on the needs of businesses and individuals living where it’s located. Think Wall Street comes to Main Street.

The banks help keep local economies growing by providing a host of financial services. When lending decisions are made by people who know their community needs, the entire citizenry benefits.

“I love being here. I love being able to know most of my clients on a first name basis,” said Trisha Hwang, branch manager and assistant vice president of Summit Community in Warrenton.

Hwang connects deeply with her customers and is rewarded by getting to know their children and helping their families achieve financial goals “much more so than I could if working in a larger bank.”

Hwang has a resume of management experience that dates to her first job at 16 when working in the fast food industry. Her position today is enhanced by growing up in a small town in western Kentucky and subsequently working retail in Ohio where she met her husband.

In 2003, the couple moved to Loudoun County and Hwang landed a job in a large bank. Banking provided more predictable and stable work hours than retail management and it enriched her experience by working for a large financial institution.

What happened next is typical for a person on the move. In 2008, a headhunter called. Was she interested in a position at the Summit Community bank in Warrenton? Say what? She accepted the job.

“It’s been a wonderful experience having been able to work in both worlds—a larger bank and smaller community bank,” said Hwang.

She reminisces on the old chestnut that the grass is greener on the side. “Some things run more effectively in a larger bank and some more effectively in a smaller one. At the end of the day, it’s a question of are you happy where you work,” said Hwang.

And this banker is happy. Very.

Hwang manages a staff of three; a customer service representative and two customer service tellers. The bank also employs a commercial lender with an assistant and a chief banking officer also with an assistant at the same location at 250 Lee Highway.  

Summit Community history
Summit Community Bank is headquartered in Moorefield, W. Va. and dates its founding to 1883 as the South Branch Valley National Bank.

South Branch Bancorp was formed in 1987 and in 1999 changed its name to Summit Financial Group. Today, the bank has 15 community banking locations; nine in W. Va. and six in Va.

Summit Community BankWhen the Warrenton office opened in 2005, the bank’s initial objective was “getting our name out, having a face with that name and making sure people knew us. We don’t do a lot of advertising like larger banks do. But today we are a force to be reckoned with,” said Hwang.

“We have really great products. We show people what we can do for them. One of our mottos is ‘We put ourselves in your shoes’. If you are sitting on the other side of the desk from me, I want to know what I can do for you.”

While Summit Community is a local institution, its services are national in scope. It is a full service bank offering checking and savings accounts, money markets, home equity lines of credit, insurance, investments, and retirement planning. “You name and we do it.”

“There is an assumption that because we are a smaller community bank we don’t offer investment advice, retirement planning or mortgages, but we do,” said Hwang.

She underscores the bank has grown during a difficult economy and has fewer loans going into default. “We try to work with those customers because we understand everybody has gone through a difficult time as some point in their lives. We believe in offering a helping hand.”

She also sees signs the local economy is starting to right itself. Compared to 2008, more personal savings accounts are being opened because she thinks people are beginning to set aside some of their earnings for the proverbial rainy day.

But is the economy finally back? “It depends on who you are talking to and it depends on the month. Some months I attend ribbon cuttings and it’s great to see the new businesses open. But at the same time I see firms going out of business too,” said Hwang.

Building the bank
All successful companies seek to create and build solid customer relations and banking is no exception; perhaps more so than for many firms. “I regularly visit businesses in our area,” said Hwang. “I take clients to breakfast or lunch and talk about our product offerings; checking and savings with no minimum balances or monthly fees and more.”

She seeks to educate on not only Summit Community offerings but banking issues in general. “When I return from an appointment my staff is eager to know, ‘How did it go? Did you get the account?’ but I tell them that’s not what it’s about. It’s more about building the relationship,” said Hwang.

To reinforce her point, Hwang recalls a business customer who made an appointment to discuss opening an account. “He told me he remembered me giving a  presentation to a local group a few years earlier. He became a customer because of that initial contact. I plant seeds in this business. You might not need us today but you could later on. Being friendly and accessible to everyone pays offs,” said Hwang.

During a typical off-site meeting, the banker spends about 15 minutes discussing her product line and “package account” of services, including no charge for ATM usage at other financial institutions. Summit even refunds such fees incurred at other banks. The perks of many of the bank services is attractive.

Her secret to signing new accounts is to listen to the potential client before discussing her product line and asking questions to better understand actual needs. “Often they simply want to be heard,” underscores Hwang.

Hwang takes the time to educate on the merits of her offerings and not try to force a sale. Selling the customer may come later when their comfort level with the bank is secure. One particular attractive product is a savings plan earning one percent interest. “The national average is .2 percent so our rate is a big deal,” said Hwang.

Knowledge coupled with friendly patience pays off. In today’s world, no one wants to listen to a pressurized sales pitch. The days of the iconic Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman are gone.

Additionally, while the bank has a plethora of products it’s important not to treat each in an in-depth fashion. If she has 10 things to share with a promising client, she will not attempt to discuss all of them. Understanding where an interest lies will lead to deeper and more fruitful discussion of the bank’s services that are actually needed.

After six years with Summit Community, Hwang’s sales philosophy is not to product- push but rather provides for immediate needs and waits for satisfied customers to return for additional services.

“I deal in a down-to-earth way with clients. What’s best for them today may not work six months from now,” said Hwang. If a solid relationship is established in the beginning, customers will likely return to explore ways to address new financial challenges.

If all this sounds like common sense being brought to bear in a complex industry, then it’s easier to understand why this bank is climbing steadily toward the summit of success.


Published in the Fall 2014 edition of the Piedmont Business Journal.

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