Banker works to stem fear of economic bogeyman

DeWayne Bartels

As Halloween approaches Dave Cummins is spending his days calming fears.

As a personal banker for Peoria Community Bank, Cummins said the fears he deals with have nothing to do with the bogeyman, but rather the economy.  

“We’re getting a lot of people coming in with fears,” he said.

“I’m telling them to calm down.”

But, Cummins said just waiting for people to come to the bank is not the right approach for bankers. He said an aggressive approach is called for.

Cummins said his bank wants to be aggressive in tackling these fears.

“We’re being pro-active in approaching these fears. I think we should be aggressive,” Cummins said.

“That is not a philosophy limited to me. Gordon Honegger, the chairman of the bank, has told all his bankers to have concerned customers call him directly on his cell phone. We are giving out his cell phone number. How much more aggressive can you get? When there’s fears out there why not talk about it.” 

The government has passed a $700 billion bailout plan to help banks, but fears persist.

Cummins said those fears are unnecessary when it comes to locally-owned banks, especially Morton Community Bank, the parent company of Peoria Community Bank.

“We’re having our best year ever. We have more capital available for loans than ever,” Cummins said.

Cummins said the media has painted a bleak picture at the national level which some people then assume reflects what is happening in the local banking arena. Cummins said he spends a good deal of his time telling local customers that what is happening on the national level is not reflected in Central Illinois.

He said on the local level bankruptcies are up, but only by a small percentage.

He said foreclosures are up on the local level, but nowhere near the levels being seen nationally.

And, Cummins said, the amount of money available for loans here is up, at least at his bank.

“Credit has tightened a bit, but not due to a lack of money. It has tightened up in the respect that there will be a harder process to get large loans,” Cummins said.

“We will simply look at large commercial loans harder and take more time with them. Things haven’t changed that much in our industry on the local level. What has changed is people’s perceptions.”

Cummins said he understands the fear he has been hearing from customers.

“We are in uncharted waters and that creates fears,” Cummins said.

“Fear is to expected when we have some much indecision out there among our elected leaders who have to solve this issue.”

Two problems

Cummins said there are two major problems that need to be addressed.

One is too many banks made too many bad loans. That problem Cummins said, is one he can do nothing about.

The other issue is one he can tackle.

“We have too many people with so much debt they don’t know what to do about it,” he said.

“Too many large banks have forgotten about the importance of dealing with the emotional aspect of the customer. We haven’t.”

Cummins said one of his main responsibilities is providing credit education and rehabilitation.

“When we turn someone down for a loan we don’t just walk away. We work with them to make them a better credit risk in six months to one year,” Cummins said.

A lot of people could benefit from credit rehabilitation, Cummins said.

But, while smiling, he said going to talk to a banker about a lousy credit score can seem as daunting as talking to a dentist after years of neglect.

“It’s not an easy topic for most people to talk about. Many people think no one can help them,” Cummins said.

“I tell people I don’t want to know how they got where they are. I’m not here to judge people. I’m here to help people instill discipline in the economic aspect of their lives. I have never had a situation where I met someone and could not come up with a program for them.”

Cummins said now is exactly the time to forge a relationship with a banker and begin seeking their help in developing credit discipline.

“A lot of people who do electronic banking don’t have a personal relationship with a banker,” Cummins said.

Now, he said, is the time to get some face time with a banker.

“Let them get to know you,” Cummins said.

He said banking is a service industry and bankers want to know their customers and help them.

“More discipline will help you financially, and a banker can help you with that,” Cummins said.

“Just don’t worry alone and think it’s the end of the world.”