Ask any ag bank to describe their biggest customers, and you will get some interesting feedback. Traditionally, farmers have shared some characteristics that set them apart from other customers, including other commercial accounts. Ag bankers will tell you that their farmers are conservative, are slow to adopt new technology and are fiercely protective of their privacy. “If you really want to annoy a farmer,” experienced bankers will tell you, “ask them how much money they made last year.”
Unfortunately, this perceived demographic / psychographic data has served as something of a stumbling block for innovation, especially in smaller community banks. It is easy to rest on your laurels if you believe that your target audience is resistant to change. But is that true?
Contrary to popular belief, one cannot farm forever. Statistic after statistic shows that farmers in the United States have been growing older over the past decade. On the one hand, this means that many perceptions about old-school farm operations still hold true. On the other hand, it means that change won’t just happen soon, it will happen like an earthquake. Simply put, Mother Nature is going to retire all of those baby-boomer farmers whether they like it or not, and we will get a new crop of thirty-year-old farmers all at once.
We’re already starting to see it as hesitant fathers begin to hand over the reigns to their sons and daughters across the upper midwest. And guess what? That thirty-year-old grew up just like every other thirty-year-old in the United States. They keep one eye on their smartphone. They share information on social media. And they expect their banker to think like them, not like their dad.
Is your bank ready for this sea change? If your services and marketing target traditional farmers, then you need to rethink your strategies. Shift your focus. If these new farmers get their information from social media, then you need to reach them there. If they need help working through a period of low prices (because they’ve never had to experience one before), then bring them information or put together a seminar (or maybe a webinar). You better start talking to thirty-year-old farmers or you’ll lose them to the bankers who do.
Here’s the encouraging news: agriculture isn’t going anywhere. That means that farmers will be here, and they will need to work with banks. They may just choose to work with banks in different ways. And geography, thanks to the internet, is no longer the deciding factor that it used to be. It’s time to check your focus and modernize your priorities. You can still be an ag bank, but you may need to be a different kind of ag bank than you’ve been in the past.
Greg “Hal” Halliday is the president of Anchor Marketing, a branding and new media agency that specializes in successful differentiation and positioning. Anchor Marketing has spent nearly 20 years branding and marketing independent banks in Minnesota and North Dakota. Halliday is recognized as a Certified Financial Marketing Professional by the American Bankers Association. You can contact him via phone at 701-787-8230 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.