Leading Authentically in Community Banking During a Crisis with CEO Jeane Vidoni
In this episode of On Record PR, we go on record with Jeane Vidoni, president and CEO of Penn Community Bank. Jeane leads a team of more than 350 employees for the largest mutual financial institution based in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Her primary mission is to ensure that Bucks and Montgomery Counties and the surrounding areas have the option to do business with a locally-based, independently run bank for decades to come.
Over the course of more than 35 years in banking, Jeane has served in various roles at financial institutions of all sizes throughout the Philadelphia region, gaining insight into the workings of community, regional and corporate banks. As an active leader in the Pennsylvania business and financial community, Jeane donates her time and leadership talents to several industry groups, including as chair of Community Depository Institutions Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and as Pennsylvania Member Director on the board of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, which supports homeownership programs throughout Delaware, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Jeane is committed to fulfilling Penn Community Bank’s mission to act as a catalyst for growth in the communities it serves, representing the bank as the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce board chair, on the advisory council of Habitat for Humanity of Bucks County, and on the board of the United Way of Bucks County.
This episode was recording in late April 2020 during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Tell us about Penn Community Bank, its culture and mission. What makes the bank different?
Penn Community Bank has its roots in a long time, a mutual banking structure. We have existed for over 140 years. But what really makes the culture unique is over the past I’d say 18 to 24 months as a company and as a group of team members, we’ve collaborated on taking our culture to even the next level. And now that we are being tested, we’re in the middle of being tested with the coronavirus pandemic, it really has made a difference.
How is a mutual bank different?
A mutual bank doesn’t have any outside investors. And I think the best way to describe it, although this is not exactly how we behave, is if you’ve ever seen the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. The roots of the culture of a mutual bank where in the old days in mortgages and savings for the communities that the company served. Over the years, that culture has stuck with our institution. Which really means that we’re here to be helpful for our communities to thrive economically. And when I say communities, that’s not just the higher end of the socioeconomic community. It’s the entire community top to bottom and a recognition that we are all in this together and that our collective success is what really has us all thriving over time.
Can you tell us about the program the bank has launched with the United Way of Bucks County in response to COVID-19?
One of the things that I inherited as CEO and something that was part of the company well before I got here was that we do have a foundation with a pretty specific giving mission which is really for financial security, homelessness, food insecurity, and other basic needs. The foundation is there to help everyone in our community rise to the next level and make sure that they are not only surviving, but they have an opportunity over time to thrive just like anyone else. When COVID-19 started, one of the first things we were able to do was to partner with United Way and several other of the nonprofit organizations in Bucks County. We were able to help fund an emergency fund for the residents of Bucks County to get immediate response. That was just in the first couple of days after the shutdown occurred in Pennsylvania.
What has it been like to be a woman in an industry dominated by male leaders? How did you get where you are and how has your leadership style evolved?
I started in banking right out of college in the early eighties. And I would tell you that the prescription for any executive woman back then was pretty much to just take gender off the table and pretend you didn’t have one. I would say that I was extremely matter of fact. I know some women executives from back then that would not have any pictures of their families out in their offices, things of that nature, just to take away from any kind of exposure, if you will, of being a mom or being soft I can say, I think that’s how I started my career. That it was just “forget about that part of you and get to work, focus on achievement, focus on education.”
I always had a direct communication style, which I think over time has helped me. But as I evolved over the years, the softer and more authentic I become, and the more effective I am. If you would’ve asked my 24-year-old self, would that ever be possible? I would have told you, “no.” Here I am today dealing with a lot of interpersonal issues, financial hardship with clients, with employees. I will say now I think that almost more than 70 or 80% of what I do on a day to day basis has nothing to do with a calculator at the bank. It has to do with being in touch with people.
How do you set and manage boundaries that allow you to be CEO and your everyday self?
I learned a lot of it from the book Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud. For example, sometimes when we say that we want to be caring, we don’t understand that that means being authentic in both the good and bad times. It means being forthright when messages aren’t always 100% positive and dealing with what I call dealing in the real world. It means trying to connect with people and have that connection over time. Be courageous to be authentic. That’s what true caring is. And when we use words like that and what I witness on a day to day basis, then it really comes back around that it is genderless. These are human characteristics. These are human emotions and practices that, in my opinion, have not been as highly regarded in the business sector. Now they’re needed more than ever. I’m encouraged, I’m optimistic and I’m grateful every day that I can operate with my board of directors and with my customers and just be me.
How does the current pandemic of COVID-19 compare to the financial crisis of 2008?
The 2008 financial crisis was more contained. It had somewhat of a contained reason for why it was occurring at the top of the economy. It did not affect nearly as many folks as COVID-19. Right off the bat in many of the financial arenas today, there’s a wide acceptance that you cannot use the 2008 event to predict what will happen here. There’s not one person on the planet that’s not impacted by this global issue. It’s devastating right now to us economically, psychologically, and from a world health perspective. There are so many things going on at once. What I am impressed with is that I am seeing business leaders who really are navigating in unbelievable ways and showing amazing persistence and courage. They get up and do what they do every day. In some ways it is protecting. Protecting our families, protecting our employees and just participating as humans and trying to get through this.
How is Penn Community Bank is adapting to offering essential banking services during this time?
I think some of these changes are here to stay and maybe a portion of them will be very positive. We’ve seen many of our customers easily move to remote channels for delivery using internet banking and bill pay and mobile banking on their cell phones. Those platforms have created an ability to continue to operate. In addition, our bank was able to move to remote work for the most part, other than having drive-up services at our bank branches. We really are operating with a very lean crew in person and we had the technology to work remotely and work from home. It’s presented some opportunities.
As far as the confidentiality and privacy of customers’ information, we follow all of the same rules whether we’re in the bank office or we’re not. Banks were regulated for some years to have a pandemic plan. We had our roadmap built. Any technology that we had designed for the few people who were working from home, even before COVID-19 had that infrastructure. Some industries obviously do not. From that regard, banks were better prepared.
How are you participating in more national banking conversations?
In my role with the Philadelphia Federal Reserve on the Community Banking Council, I have a seat at the table. All government officials want to help stabilize what’s going on here. And they’re doing everything they can. I know you’ve seen some recent federal aid that’s coming out and it’s very scary and it’s not organized, but I will tell you that the intent is very good and that there will be persistence because our country is that way and we will be determined to get through this. I am seeing a lot of support, even though it might not feel like it every morning when we wake up and we’re waiting in line and haven’t received an unemployment check, this will get better. And I really believe that.
How have you had to change as a bank to be able to handle all of the PPP loan applications and processing?
The PPP was approved and announced in national media and there was no preparation time. We were interpreting rules that were changing on a nightly basis. That’s not a bad thing. Those rules were changing because the government and the Small Business Administration was listening to feedback from bankers. And they were changing rules as we went. I like to describe it as if we were building the bicycle while we were riding it to try and get those funds out to local businesses. That first week was extremely stressful. The SBA systems were up and down. Clients didn’t know where to go. I had to make the decision for Penn Community Bank that we would only serve our own customers. I know that the government had an intention that anyone could go to any bank and just get this aid. But it was not how the program worked. The sheer magnitude of requests I would’ve never been able to serve. The guidance that came out was first come first serve, which I we agreed with. We did no prioritization of who we would serve first, second and third based on higher deposit balances or higher loan balances. That was the right thing to do. And the lines formed so quickly. It became extremely stressful for every bank in the country, both large and small. We’re about to see round two of funding come out. I think some of those issues have been fixed. And we’re going to do our best again as we get through this.
Gina Rubel: One piece of advice I have is if listeners haven’t kept their books tight, if they don’t know where all of their banking data is, if they don’t know where their articles of incorporation are, fix it now because we don’t know how long this is going to go and if there will be a third round of funding.
People, including your customers, are losing their jobs at an unprecedented rate. What role can a community bank play in a financial crisis like this, when so many people are at risk of real economic harm?
Some programs have come out to allow customers to defer mortgage interest, or even their entire mortgage payment for 30, 60, or 90 days. I would say that your banker has experience with knowing what different options and solutions are available. This was always the rule even before COVID-19. Reach out to your bank or before things get too far into trouble. The Penn Community Bank’s website also provides financial planning tools, questionnaires, and a live chat. There’s the ability to talk to a banker. And I know that we are here for our community surrounding those kinds of things.
How are you and the leadership of Penn Community Bank using this time to reimagine banking for the future? How do you think banking will change, permanently?
We’re keeping records which is also required by the regulators. While we’re under this emergency situation, we’re recording every time we do something different, if we change our procedures, so we’ll be going over all of those. That will become an exciting part of crafting the future of banking. We’ve already said that community banking is here to stay. And I think I’ve mentioned that to you about the relationships and how much more personal we can be. Even if we are using technology. Our commitment to that personal interaction and personal connection will stay. Our strategic planning and the map that we’re building for the future has already changed. There’s one thing we know for sure and that is, it will not go back to the same way it was before.
What are some books you would recommend?
Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud
Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One by Dr. Joe Dispenza
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