Three things tend to change banking, according to John Barlow, president of Barlow Research Associates – regulations, the economy and technology.
The latter has really affected how farmers connect with their ag lenders, Barlow says, speaking at the 65th annual National Agricultural Bankers Conference.
“If you need banking advice, you research it on Google long before you ever show up to the branch,” he says.
The digital era has also tended to make farmers more transient with their bankers, Barlow says.
“With customers looking more and more to convenience, bankers will have to work a lot harder for repeat business,” he says.
How farmers communicate with their bankers has also changed considerably over the past two decades, Barlow notes. First, there are more options than ever – in-person visits, phone calls, voicemails, emails or even texts. What level of service to farmers expect in each of these communications outlets? Barlow surveyed farmers to find out.
The research suggests that farmers prefer about one in-person visit from their lender annually, and about two calls per year from their account officer. They expect a phone call to be returned in 1.7 hours, on average, and expect their emails to be answered in about 2.1 hours.
Farmers “touch” their bank an average of 18.6 times monthly, Barlow’s research found, but more than half of these connections are done through their computer or mobile devices.
But when farmers leave a bank, it usually has nothing to do with technology, Barlow says.
“They leave because of general service,” he says. “They don’t feel appreciated; they don’t feel respected.”
Even so, of farmers surveyed, Barlow found that only 7% who added a bank in the past year did so due to dissatisfaction with their current lender. Instead, farmers tend to add banks for much more pragmatic reasons. More than a third (35%) did so for credit and lending purposes, with another 26% pursuing lower fees and 23% seeking more convenience.
“When farmers go looking for a bank, they simply want someone who can lend them money,” Barlow says.
The value of personal connection isn’t any less important in the digital age, Barlow adds. Lenders need to prove they’re accessible, and perhaps even more importantly, they need to know their farmer customers.
“The worst thing you can do when introducing yourself is asking about their operation,” he says. “Farmers expect you to know a little.”