In this installment of our series Perspective in Financial Services, Melissa Beltrame of Lead Bank explains how digital tools can help banks reach historically underserved communities.
Melissa Beltrame is the Chief Marketing Officer at Lead Bank, a community bank in Kansas City, Missouri that’s in the process of expanding its digital reach nationwide. In a previous interview, L&T spoke with Kimberly Lor, Lead Bank’s digital marketing manager, about how investing in digital storytelling can help community banks expand their client base.
Beltrame discusses the gaps that banking must overcome to effectively serve a wider and more diverse audience, as well as Lead Bank’s high-level goals for the coming year and beyond.
Digital Tools for a Human Audience
As Lead Bank works to expand its presence nationally, Beltrame has had to figure out what differentiates Lead Bank from its competitors. “It’s hard to compete on rates,” she acknowledges. “We’re all essentially offering the same products.” Instead, Lead Bank chooses to focus on customer experience by using digital tools to create a personalized, local bank experience at the national level.
“Community banking is often viewed as a mechanistic business driven by rates, products and technology — but it’s really more human than mechanistic,” Beltrame explains. “By being a bank for real people, with services that provide real value, I think we’ll be able to differentiate ourselves in that national space. Moving forward, we want Lead Bank to be a national community bank — for the digital-first community.”
To that end, Lead Bank offers many of the digital services that its larger competitors do, including video chat and online banking tools. But Beltrame hopes that Lead Bank’s emphasis on relationship-building and its people-first approach will set the institution apart. “Banking can have a negative ‘ivory tower’ connotation,” she says. “But community banking is more of a grassroots effort, and we want to apply that mindset to the national landscape, forging real connections with clients.”
Innovative Banking for All
Lead Bank’s client-first mindset is reflected in its inclusive approach to banking. “We believe in equity for all people, and we believe that financial services and products should be accessible for all types of people,” Beltrame says. “We’re particularly focused on helping and serving underbanked or underserved markets — people who have historically been marginalized by financial services.”
According to a 2017 FDIC survey, as much as 25 percent of U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked, meaning that they either don’t have a bank account or rely on financial services outside of the banking system — such as payday loans — to make ends meet. “Larger national banks have historically excluded underserved communities,” Beltrame says. “Lead Bank is focused on correcting that.”
In order to do this, Lead Bank is rethinking the definition of a community bank. “Community banks have historically been defined by geographies, but we’re trying to take a step back and focus on offering ethical banking solutions to all different types of communities — whether they’re defined by race, religion, or socioeconomic factors,” Beltrame says. “There are lots of ways to define ‘community’ besides just geography.”
Reimagining Banking for the Future
According to Beltrame, Lead Bank isn’t just creating innovative banking solutions — it’s reimagining what banking could be. “Our bank’s core value is imagination, and we take that very seriously,” she says. “We want to make sure we’re thinking about banking differently and considering how to serve people who might not be familiar with a traditional banking service. Ultimately, our goal is to create a better future for real people.”
Achieving that goal includes building a website that reflects Lead Bank’s community values and commitment to imagination. “Our goal was to make a website that people enjoyed looking at and reading, but that was also informative,” Beltrame says. She specifies that the purpose of the website isn’t only to inform visitors about the bank and its products — it also exists to shine a light on the good things that are happening in Lead Bank’s community. “Our goal was to make sure that our values were infused in that website,” she explains.
As Lead Bank grows over the coming months and years, Beltrame hopes that it continues to evolve — in the tools it uses and with the communities it serves. “I think I speak for the entire executive team when I say that we want to continue to push the envelope and learn new things,” she says. “If you’re not learning and not being curious, you’re stagnating.”