I doubt that Middle Tennessee collectively has ever experienced a range of emotions like those we’ve encountered in recent months. As a local organization that’s very closely connected to those we serve, our bank hasn’t been through anything like it, at least in my time here. But even more important than the circumstances themselves are the ways we choose to react and learn from them, especially as adversity brings into focus the role a community bank can have as a steady, calming, healing force.
Like much of the Greater Nashville area, our bank was hit hard starting in early March, first awaking to find that a tornado had ravaged a 50-mile stretch of our service area and leveled many of our neighbors’ homes. Just as we began to get our footing, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived here, bringing business and life as we knew it to a halt. And as those effects continue to linger, tragically avoidable incidents around our nation have shed light on deep-seated biases that continue to separate us as a society — a much different type of crisis that’s inward facing for many of us, but one that also requires attention so recovery can take place.
In overcoming all of the destruction, fear, hurt and uncertainty, we believe a community bank has a part to play. Financially, customers have sought assistance from community banks in their efforts to rebuild homes, replace property, keep business doors open and support families. As local institutions, we know these clients personally and feel their struggles deeply, and there’s no question that we’ll be there to help in the hard times.
On a less tangible level, we also want to take a leading role in learning from painful circumstances. While the obstacles of the past few months have been very different, the solutions can have a lot in common. It’s critical that we all work together, that we keep lines of communication open, and that we look toward serving others first. These are ideals we’ve had to stick to in facing new loans and rapidly changing programs, like PPP loans for small businesses, but they’re lessons worth repeating that we also can apply in more ways.
For a new CEO like myself, navigating this environment over the past few months could easily become overwhelming, but many people have been there to light my way, too. My longtime mentors, our bank’s board of directors, our outstanding, team-first executive team and committed, open-minded employees from the front lines to the back office have been a rock and a resource for me, and they’ve helped our bank to be the same for our neighbors.
We’d all take back the pain in the events that have transpired lately if we could, but that’s all the more reason that we must use these experiences to make things better. Devastating and unsettling circumstances are also rare and valuable opportunities to grow, learn and change. If our bank can take advantage of them and help others get through them as well, that could be a start to a future with greater confidence, less confusion and more unity in our company, our industry and our communities.
John McDearman is the chief executive officer at Wilson Bank & Trust, headquartered in Lebanon.