First City Bank
Thriving by keeping it simple
Business View North America interviews representatives of First City Bank for our focus on Best Practices in Community Banks in Ohio
Providing personalized customer service is a priority of family-owned First City Bank in Columbus, Ohio. Founded in 1907, the bank was first located in Christiansburg, a very small rural community outside of Dayton, Ohio. In 1992 the bank changed ownership, and a branch was opened in the Columbus Metropolitan Area. As the focus shifted to the new, busier location, the Christiansburg branch was sold, leaving a single location through which all First City Bank business was conducted. Today, the bank still operates through only that branch, providing community banking services with a focus on small business and real estate, while continually building new relationships.
With 12 employees, First City Bank prides itself on the unique experience they offer to customers. Referred to as ‘decision makers’, each member of staff brings years of knowledge and experience to their position at the bank. Jim Bush, Executive Vice President, describes, “We offer a level of service that most other institutions just can’t deliver. One of the primary things we do is to have very experienced people. We really pride ourselves on being able to put experienced professionals in front of our customers. Some of them may be first time investors, or first-time business owners buying real estate, so they need an extra level of service that we are able to provide. That’s where being small is valuable, because all the decision makers are here – allowing us to respond and provide that level of service in a way that most organizations can’t.”
Working out of one location keeps things simple for First City Bank, putting the focus on building relationships within the community and bringing in new business. “The days of people just walking in and wanting your services, particularly in a metropolitan area, have long since passed,” says Bank President Charlie Cecil. “We go out and meet people, network, and try to source our own business. Having one location isn’t that much of a hindrance to us based on the way we source our business. It keeps our overhead down and allows us to deliver a high level of service and be very consistent. To a large degree, it is by design that we maintain just one location.” Although the bank does offer residential deposit services to the surrounding neighborhoods, the focus is on commercial investment, business lending, and other small business services.
The onset of COVID-19 was a time of uncertainty for many in Columbus, and across the state of Ohio, but First City Bank didn’t lose sight of their exemplary customer service, reaching out to loan customers personally. Bush shares, “Literally the first thing we did as a team was sit down and call every one of our loan customers and talk to them first, to see how they were doing, and then find out just what the impacts were for them from the virus and some of the restrictions that were in place. In those instances, for many customers, we were able to offer them some payment relief, which really helped them to get through some of the uncertainty and get to the other side. That communication then stayed in place all through the pandemic. We are proud to say that all but one customer out of that group returned to normal payments. I think our ability to do that for our customers was important. “
As businesses continue to navigate the effects of COVID and figure out what comes next for them in a post-pandemic world, First City Bank has been a source of support, offering the same core products, along with new assistance like the Payroll Protection Program (PPP). “Real estate is very hot in our local market right now. We are seeing a lot of purchase activity. We like to focus on owner-occupied businesses as well, and we are seeing a lot of that. But clearly, as we came through the pandemic, and work to where we are today, a big part of that also was the PPP loans that we participated in. That was another important piece that really helped bridge the gap for a lot of our customers. What we realized was that not only our customers, but many nonbank customers, came to us to take advantage of the payroll protection program. We created a lot of new relationships through that, and we are still exploring where some of those relationships will take us,” recounts Bush.
In 2015 the bank began working with third party vendors to offer online, mobile banking and digital payment platforms to meet the changing needs of customers. These upgrades were something which has been an advantage for customers during COVID. As Chantale Gilbert-Murat, AVP Retail Manager, explains, “It’s as if we knew that five years later that would benefit our customers. During the pandemic, we noticed an increase on those platforms. I think it will definitely continue because we do have some of our customers, especially business customers, who are very busy on a daily basis. It is easier for them to have the mobile platform. If you have that, there’s no need to go back, because what we are looking for in today’s world is something that’s easier for us.”
To continue improving their service offerings, First City partners with Computer Services Incorporated (CSI) their core processor, who provides the banking platform which manages the day-to-day services of the bank. “They have been a particularly helpful partner,” says VP/Controller Danielle Chatfield-Beres, “because they also provide a lot of the banking services that we rely on. When we are looking for a state-of-the-art online banking platform, they are the partner that brings it to the table. When we are looking for integrating loan services so that we can turn our loans quicker and faster, they are one of the primary partners in that.” First City Bank also relies on a partnership with AhelioTech, an IT consulting and technology services provider operating out of Columbus. Chatfield-Beres adds, “Because we are a small business, we rely on partner organizations that have a lot of bench strength, so we can provide the most up to date technologies and services for ourselves and our clients. AhelioTech is our provider that helps us be the most secure financial institution that we can.”
As a community bank, First City takes a different approach to marketing, using customers to tell the story, often through social media. This is a win for both the bank and the customer. Bush notes, “We have always felt like our customers tell our story better than we do. So, we actually do most of our marketing by marketing our customers. We try to tell our story by talking about our customers, the things they’re doing, and then weave into that how First City Bank played an important role in allowing them to grow their business, add services that help their business, and other things like that. We share that across multiple platforms, but social media has become more of a focal point for us. It allows us to communicate with a variety of our customers in a different way, and people really enjoy that.” First City Bank also stays involved in the community, encouraging their customers to participate in fund raisers and food drives, while adding their own contests and initiatives to make it fun for customers to take part.
Continuing to attract new customers is a high priority for the future for Charlie Cecil, who has been with the bank for 25 years. Looking ahead to the next five years, he says his vision includes “expanding our footprint into a larger customer base. We are looking to grow; we have the capital and the resources to be 50 percent larger than we are today. Ultimately, we will probably grow large enough to require us to have additional facilities, but we are not looking to change the model of what we do and how we do it. We’re really just looking to do more of it and expand our reach here in the metropolitan area.”
Jim Bush agrees, adding, “The fascinating thing about the future is that we have built so many relationships over time, that we also start to see the generational transfer of businesses. The opportunity to work with multi-generations is an exciting prospect because as we grow, and their businesses grow, we find synergies that allow us to continue to do that together. So, to me, one of the most exciting things about the future is that our growth will be parallel to the growth of many of those relationships we started building years ago.”
Like the customers they serve, First City Bank truly is building their business, one customer at a time.
AT A GLANCE
First City Bank
What: A popular community bank, with a focus on small business
Where: Columbus, Ohio
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