Navigating a Banking Crossroads: Investing in People vs. Tech

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In the ever-evolving landscape of the financial sector, banks and credit unions find themselves at a pivotal crossroads: do they prioritize investing in cutting-edge technology or focus on nurturing their human capital? It’s an enigma that has become increasingly pressing as consumer expectations continue to soar, often leading to a paradoxical demand for free services.

Rachel Barnhart, in her former banking role

I spent the first 15 years of my career in financial services, most of that time in community banking where I navigated various roles – sales manager,  branch manager, and loan officer – consistently driving business development. My experience in the financial sector has provided me with unique insight into the ongoing debate between investing in cutting-edge technology and nurturing human capital. As someone who has witnessed firsthand the struggle between the two, I am passionate about sharing insights on how banks can balance technological advancements with the essential human touch that underpins lasting success.

Tech fuels consumers’ demand of more for less

When was the last time you paid a fee just to have a bank account? Or to access online banking services? For many of us, these conveniences have become so ingrained in our daily lives that we hardly give them a second thought. Yet behind the scenes, banks grapple with the mounting pressure to meet these expectations while also staying profitable.

The technology that banks choose to invest in often reflects the desires and demands of the modern consumer. Whether it’s seamless mobile banking apps, AI-powered chatbots for customer service, or advanced security measures to safeguard sensitive data, these innovations have become not just luxuries but necessities in the eyes of customers.

Tech has also created an unexpected cost

Relentless focus on technological advancement has created a schism within the banking industry, particularly for small to mid-sized banks. These institutions, often operating with limited resources, find themselves juggling the competing priorities of technology and talent investment.

Small to mid-sized banks with limited resources find themselves juggling the competing priorities of technology and talent investment.

As someone who has spent over a decade and a half in community banking, I understand the challenges and complexities involved in striking this delicate balance. And I firmly believe that there’s great value in prioritizing investment in people, even in an era dominated by digital disruption.

Why? Because at the heart of any successful banking institution are its people – the dedicated employees who interact with customers, solve problems, and drive innovation. In an industry where trust and relationships matter more than ever, fostering a workforce that is engaged, loyal, and empowered is paramount.

It’s time to reallocate some key investments

Investing in people isn’t just about offering competitive salaries or benefits (though those certainly play a role). It’s about creating a culture where employees feel valued, supported, and inspired to do their best work every day. It’s about providing opportunities for growth, training, and development so that individuals can reach their full potential and contribute meaningfully to the organization.

Ultimately, if you’re hedging your business bet on your people, they need to be more than just employees – they need to be advocates, ambassadors, and champions for your brand. They need to embody the values and ethos of your institution, serving as a beacon of trust and reliability in an increasingly impersonal digital world.

So, to my fellow banking leaders facing this daunting decision, I offer this advice: yes, technology is important, and investing in innovation can certainly drive competitive advantage. But never underestimate the power of investing in your people. Because in the end, it’s not just about providing free services or staying ahead of the technological curve – it’s about creating a workplace where people love to work.


The ADVISA process can help you create a culture where employees feel valued, supported, and inspired to do their best work every day.