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Kelly Ashcraft worked for Warren Bank & Trust Co. for most of her career, starting as a Loan Secretary in 1993. After four months at Potlatch Credit Union, she returned to the bank in April 1998 as an Assistant Vice President and responsible for compliance. In 2010, she was Senior Vice President of Lending and Chief Lending Officer, and in 2012 she added the title of COO. Since 2013, she has been President, Director and Chief Operating Officer. She also serves on the Warren City Water Commission and as secretary of the Warren Country Club.
Valedictorian at Hampton High, Ashcraft holds a degree in management from the University of Arkansas. She then completed the Southwest Graduate School of Banking at Southern Methodist University.
What are the pros and cons of small town banking in Arkansas?
Customer service and relationship banking top the list of small town banking pros. We know our customers on a personal level. Fee structures are simple and generally lower than the big banks. Small banks also play an important role in the economy of the communities they serve. Small banks are essential for small businesses and agricultural loans. We are invested in the success of these companies. Many large banks refrain from making smaller loans, leaving community banks to meet the needs.
The disadvantages for smaller banks, on the other hand, are the operating costs given the more limited revenues. The costs of technology, regulatory compliance and risk management are difficult and expensive.
Are traditional banks attracting enough young customers to be sustainable in the modern environment?
If you stay tuned to the wants and needs of the younger generation, I think traditional banks will be sustainable for the future. Technology is essential and helps community banks level the playing field. It is a necessity in today’s environment. Customer service is just as important. People always remember how you make them feel. If you provide the customer with a positive banking experience, it leaves a lasting impression. When the customer is satisfied, it’s a win for all.
Has the pandemic changed the needs of your customers or the way you operate? How? ‘Or’ What?
In banking, we spend a lot of our time planning and preparing the “what if” scenario. The response to the pandemic is one such scenario. We prepare for the worst and hope it never happens. The COVID-19 pandemic has happened and changed our banking operations in many ways.
Above all, we had in mind the safety of our customers as well as that of our staff. Warren Bank closed its doors to the public for a time, like so many others. Our staff has learned to adapt to meet customer needs. There has been a big change in our drive-thru lanes. Customers used contactless digital options for online banking, mobile banking and mobile deposits.
We participated in the Payroll Protection Plan offered by the Small Business Administration to provide support to local businesses. I must also applaud the Arkansas Bankers Association for being a wealth of information and advice for banks in Arkansas. Arkansas bankers continue to stand united against the common enemy of COVID-19.
What advice do you have for women pursuing a career in banking?
I always thought that women could aspire to do anything in life. As a mother of two girls, I find this particularly important. Several tips come to mind. First, don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams. Educate yourself and take advantage of opportunities to learn as much as possible about all aspects of banking. Find a mentor. Volunteer and help out both in your workplace and in your community. Networking and personal relationships are always helpful. Do not get discouraged. View mistakes as learning opportunities. Last, but not least, keep a positive attitude!
What were your goals as president and chief operating officer of the bank?
Stable growth is a priority, along with high quality customer service. Increase local market share. Expense management, including reducing non-interest expenses. Increase bank-wide efficiency. Improve benefits. Foster a friendly working atmosphere. We have an excellent team of experienced officers and staff who work well together. I am proud to be part of such a great team!
Who is your customer base and where are you going to find growth?
Warren Bank & Trust Co. primarily serves Bradley County, Arkansas and surrounding counties. Due to our small footprint, growing can be difficult. Sometimes that requires thinking outside the box. It’s important to stay in touch with the local economy and know what’s on the horizon for potential new opportunities. Attending conventions and trade shows is useful for keeping abreast of new products and services that can help drive growth.
Some members of Congress advocate limiting or changing overdraft fees. Some big banks are already changing their policies. What to do with overdraft fees?
This is a difficult question. I’m a banker but also a consumer, so I understand both sides. Some big banks have stopped charging overdraft fees altogether. The movement in Congress is sparked by the idea that overdraft fees could target low-income people and even discourage them from opening bank accounts. Moreover, this is currently a hot topic as people have experienced increased financial hardship due to the pandemic.
That said, banks need to profit to operate and stay in business. If banks stop charging overdraft fees, they will have to make up for this lost revenue in other areas to cover operational costs, especially those associated with day-to-day overdraft processing. This is especially true for smaller financial institutions where revenues are usually already constrained. I foresee a regulatory change on the horizon. From a banking perspective, we hope that the new regulations will not be detrimental to small community banks and that common ground will be found.
In a world of cryptocurrency, what is the future of banking?
Cryptocurrency is often considered digital currency. It is not as stable as traditional currency. When investors buy cryptocurrency, they are betting that the value will rise much like securities on the stock market. The lack of regulation has created gateways for fraud and criminals. Cryptocurrency regulation is currently a hot topic in Washington as demand has been made for more oversight by the Securities & Exchange Commission. The market is extremely volatile; therefore, the immediate threat to banks is low. In the long term, regulation will impact the future of cryptocurrency and should be watched closely.