Fidelity Bank, North Carolina
“Right By You”
Business View Magazine interviews representatives of Fidelity Bank in North Carolina for our focus on Top U.S. Community Banks
With the tagline “Right By You”, Fidelity Bank is committed to putting customers first by providing customer-focused banking while supporting and giving back to the communities they serve. With 57 branches serving North Carolina, the southern part of Virginia, and Upstate South Carolina, the Bank opened its first branch in 1909, under the name Bank of Fuquay, in the small farming community of Fuquay Springs. It was a slow and steady growth until 1970 when the Bank of Fuquay merged with another growing community bank, the Bank of Biscoe. This merger brought more resources, increased lending ability, and further expansion opportunities – along with a name change to Fidelity Bank.
The CEO of Fidelity Bank, Mary Willis, shares, “Today, we have just under $4 billion in assets. Fidelity Bank is a relationship community bank. Our focus is the long-term success of our customers; that is what we focus on every day as our top priority.” Fidelity Bank operates under the mission: To be the independent, sound, and profitable bank that businesses and families come to first – and bank with for life. Willis adds that the top priority is safety and soundness. “We invest in our people, our customers, and our communities. We focus on adding technologies to better service our customers and continue offering the products they need. We are a community bank, but we can do anything a large bank can do. It’s the people who differentiate our bank from other banks. It’s true relationship banking.”
The Bank culture of “Right By You” is one that has been adopted by Fidelity Bank’s 503 employees. As Laurel LaBonte, Chief HR Officer explains, “Our associates share our same values and beliefs around customer service and customer success, always trying to find the right benefit-oriented and financial solution for our customers. We’re not a Bank that would push a product or service on customers just to profit for the Bank.”
Fidelity Bank also extends the same level of respect and care to their associates, resulting in long tenures and people who really care about the communities they serve. “Our employees are very committed to our communities, they are very active, and they volunteer,” says LaBonte. “The Bank is also focused on a commitment to the diversity of our employee base. We have a genuine concern for other people, and it is an environment where we respect employee differences and opinions. It is also an environment where we put employees, families and their work life balance as a top priority.”
An annual meeting every February provides an opportunity for the Bank to celebrate their employees, highlighting exemplary work and recognize service anniversaries. Although this event is completely voluntary, attendance is high, with at least 85% of the Bank’s 500 plus employees attending. LaBonte explains, “It’s a half-day meeting where we give a recap of our successes from the prior year. It’s more like a family reunion than a business meeting. Although we cover a lot of business, it definitely feels like a family event.”
For Fidelity Bank, giving back to the community takes many forms, from volunteering on non-profit boards, to actively volunteering at events, to teaching financial literacy in schools. Understanding the diverse needs of the neighborhoods around the branches is also a priority. As community banker Dave Craven asserts, “We try to make that a huge part of what we do, to understand the folks that we work with on a daily basis and understand the needs of those communities. We try to always do our part to support them in any way that we can. Our bankers live and work in their communities. They are actively involved in their surroundings and working hard to ensure that we are playing a key role in the communities that we serve, that are so good to us.”
Fidelity Bank’s commitment to their customers was more evident than ever during COVID, as they were one of the first banks in North Carolina to get the PPP program moving, and as Willis reports, “get money on the streets.” She recounts, “We made that the number one priority for our Bank; we were really concerned about our customers. All of our associates pulled together to figure out what we could do to help these customers. The operations team, along with the frontline branch associates, pulled together to be able to participate in this program. We were able to start taking applications day one, and we had funding available the very first day the SBA released the money.”
With 7,000 loans totalling close to $500 million, the bank was also able to assist many small business owners who didn’t bank with Fidelity Bank. “They were so appreciative and saw that we truly were a relationship bank, and that we really wanted to help them. Our bank has doubled in size in the past three and a half years, so that kind of tells you the magnitude of our growth. A lot of this started with PPP and what we were able to do in the community,” describes Willis.
While the Bank never fully closed its doors to customers during the pandemic, there was an opportunity to leverage some technologies, using Zoom and other platforms to meet with customers and interact within the organization. A new front-end loan system was also brought in during COVID, and is currently being implemented. This will streamline the loan process, as part of an effort to provide the most up to date services to customers. Fidelity Bank has also created a new position within the executive management team, with the top priority of making sure that they stay current with technology.
While some customers were hesitant to use virtual banking applications prior to COVID, there has been a notable shift, with more people beginning to embrace these options. Willis maintains, “The Bank never pushed anybody to go mobile or go online. I think, it’s just a sign of the times. With COVID, there were so many merchants that were closed and had to transition to online storefronts, so the environment changed people’s mindset about doing things online versus in person.”
Craven points out that one of the main reasons people preferred in-person banking was the friendly first name service and genuine relationships that happen in the branch. He suggests, “I would say that everybody was a little hesitant going to a mobile application because they love coming in our offices. And COVID showed them that it was okay to use a mobile application or if they preferred come into the branch and see the people that they know and trust to do business with.”
In a constantly changing world, there are some things that Fidelity Bank is determined to keep the same. “When it comes down to what we do, people bank with people. People want someone they can talk to, someone they trust, and a true partner for them. We are a small business bank, and we truly strive to be there for our customers to help them achieve their long-term goals. I don’t think that will ever change at all,” Willis maintains.
As for what the future might hold, she suggests that continued expansion across North Carolina and into South Carolina is part of the long-term strategy, offering, “I do think that, over time, as we are able to service customers in so many online facets, you’ll continue to see the number of branches decrease, but the Bank will continue to grow.” In summary Willis concludes, “People doing business with people is what we’re all about. That’s been our foundation for over 100 years, and I don’t see the landscape changing. I think that we will continue to invest in technology that embraces the Bank’s philosophy of doing what’s right for our customers.”
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AT A GLANCE
What: A 113-year-old community bank with 57 branches and 500 employees.
Where: Headquarters in Fuquay Varina, North Carolina