If you ever get the chance to step into the lobby of a branch of Richwood Bank, a community bank chain based in Richwood, Ohio, you might find it hard to believe that you’re in a bank lobby. In fact, you might believe you’re instead in a popular local coffee shop. Customers are greeted by ambient music and a warm atmosphere atypical of a bank branch. In addition to the regular teller stations, customers will find a coffee counter staffed with friendly baristas where, for a donation to a local charity, they can purchase a Starbucks-esque coffee drink. You may also find local high school students hanging out, doing homework, or playing pinball, while a local organization holds a meeting in one of the adjacent conference rooms.
Richwood Bank’s lobbies are just one example of its unconventional approach to community banking. Besides the Richwood Coffee program, Richwood also maintains payroll and marketing services for local small businesses and an education program for small businesses in culture-building and retention. For those steeped in banking tradition, it may be tempting to write off the Richwood way as idealistic but unprofitable. The numbers, however, prove otherwise: from its 1867 founding until 2017, the bank had grown to $500 million in assets. From 2017 to 2021, it doubled in size to reach the billion-dollar mark.
“We definitely try to think outside the box,” said Jamison Botkin, chief operating officer of Richwood Bank from late 2020 to mid-2022.
What is it drives Richwood outside of the safe, well-established box of banking? Become a customer of any division of Richwood Bank, or speak to its staff or customers, and you’ll sense a strong commitment to the community aspect of community banking. As their website reads, “Our goal is to inspire, protect and celebrate anything that helps communities thrive. We strive to build up our communities and provide the financial services, products, and knowledge that allow our families, friends, and neighbors to live fulfilled lives.”
It was this community focus that initially drew Botkin to her position at Richwood. That focus may also be what aligned Richwood with ICBB. After meeting account executive Brad Adkins at a Community Bankers’ Association of Ohio meeting in August 2021, Botkin moved Richwood Bank to become an ICBB respondent bank.
The Richwood Coffee program began in 2014, with one branch lobby renovated to contain a coffee shop. Now, five Richwood Bank branches serve coffee, with a sixth branch set to open its own shop. Customers can stop into any one of these branches and donate to the charity of their choice. In return, a customer service specialist will hand the customer a coffee card loaded with “thank you cups,” and a barista at any location will craft the customer a beverage of their choice. Through this program, Richwood has raised over $300,000 for local nonprofits including Habitat for Humanity, United Way, several local school districts, and others.
Another way Richwood serves its communities is through its small business services. Richwood Marketing offers a variety of services, including web design, video production, search engine marketing, and more, while Richwood Payroll offers comprehensive payroll processing and support services.
Given the novelty and success of Richwood’s business model, you might expect that it’s an interesting place to work. While other organizations around the country struggle to retain talent, Richwood boasts team members at all levels with long tenures. Botkin can recall her first meeting with her original team, noting that the shortest tenure represented was around 7 years. She pointed that out to a member of the team and received a memorable response. “I’ll never forget the look on her face,” Botkin shared. “She said, ‘we have no reason to leave.’”
Botkin describes the culture as family-oriented, and a place where employees “have each other’s back.” Richwood employees enjoy quarterly engagement events, quarterly awards, efforts from a wellness committee, and competitive pay and benefits. The company even hired a Chief Culture Officer to oversee these efforts.
In an age of rapidly changing technology, community banks can struggle to compete with large banks. Richwood Bank may have stumbled upon the secret of setting themselves apart from the finance giants: becoming a real presence in the communities they serve. While unconventional, the Richwood way exemplifies putting the community back in community banking.