by GSBC President Michael L Stevens

This is the annual analysis of topics identified by rising third-year GSBC students for their strategic projects. Through this exercise, students are tasked with working with their bank’s leadership to identify an important issue facing the bank or industry. The key to this project is to identify actionable recommendations for the bank to respond. 

Our reason for sharing these findings is simple. Through the annual project evaluation process, we analyze 150+ topics collectively, gaining a sense of the critical issues and opportunities facing the industry. For community bankers, this information should be more than just interesting but an indication of how the industry is forecasting its future. This article will focus on five student-led topics: Enterprise Risk Management, Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Retention and Resiliency. 

Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) 

Banking is fundamentally a risky business. There is probably no better insight into what bankers are thinking than analyzing this area. 

We have a few students who are tackling the initial steps of ERM program development and implementation though this project. While this may seem ‘late to the party,’ this must be an area that qualifies as ‘never too late.’  Since community banks by definition have a smaller, more defined footprint more growth, expansion or experiencing event risk is likely necessary for a bank to take this critical next step. 

Increasingly, there are banks thinking about how they manage risk in a more volatile interest rate environment. Think about the number of bankers and borrowers who have never known anything but a low-rate environment, let alone a changing rate environment. On December 13, Federal Reserve Chairman Powell indicated that the FOMC discussed the timing and conditions of lowering the fed funds rate. For the financial markets, this was the equivalent of our parents saying, “Maybe we will go to Disney next year.” To say that they are hopeful would be an understatement. 

The other notable risk management issues include liquidity, credit losses, fraud and capital management. These areas all indicate a changing dynamic for traditional banking. 


The overall drivers in this category are efficiency, growth and competition, and the opportunities are numerous and rapidly evolving. This may be an unprecedented area where a community bank can look to technology for internal solutions to improve operational efficiency while also looking at solutions to expand or enhance products and services for customers. Lower costs in some areas while increasing revenue in others–that’s a daily double! 

Deploying technology solutions does create operational issues as banks and regulators seek to attract talent with the appropriate skillset and provide training for all employees. 

There is also a fundamental issue for community banks as they seek to provide the appropriate balance between technology and the human aspect of banking. Customers have an expectation for a certain level of technology, while community banking’s sweet spot is the relationship. For those who are suspicious about the desire for technology, keep in mind that no matter how small a market, these customers have regular access to on-demand platforms in their daily lives like Amazon, Zillow and Netflix. And do not think rural areas are exempt; agriculture is a sector that has embraced technological innovation as well.  

Artificial Intelligence 

The fact that AI is its own category says a lot. There are nine student projects focused on AI this year. Some are brainstorming in nature, exploring possible applications at banks. Others are more specific, focused on automation and credit monitoring. One project is contemplating how AI can supplement or even replace bank supervision. Of course, AI can both assist and require new approaches to risk management. 

Recruiting and Retaining Talent 

The employment environment has been a wake-up call for most businesses, calling for fresh approaches to recruitment and retention strategies. Community banks are no exception. There are a few students who are focused on corporate culture, which is foundational to addressing this issue. After all, there is no sense in building a house on a shaky foundation. 

There is a generational component to this issue as the industry seeks to make banking attractive and exciting to younger generations. We recognize what a rewarding and impactful career banking can be; however, we cannot take it for granted that others share the same understanding. It may also require us to think differently about how and where people work. 


Resiliency is a new topic in GSBC strategic projects, one that requires thinking more about the future and how it might affect our industry. Done right, organizations begin to consider and plan for a future they want. This is a practice GSBC is introducing in both our Annual School Session and Executive Development Institute for Community Bankers. The approach to building resiliency for the future is multifaceted. There is the broad perspective of considering the future of community banks, and there is the practical aspect of surviving an immediate crisis such as a cyber-attack.  

Summary: What’s Next? 

These are significant issues GSBC students are tackling between now and when they return for their third and final summer session.  The guidance provided to students by GSBC administration was to be bold and creative in their solutions. We at GSBC argue that these issues require new and fresh ways of thinking and solving problems to ensure a vibrant and resilient bank and future industry. Thus, students are encouraged to look for solutions outside of banking. This is especially constructive as banks look to recruit and retain talent. After all, ideas that are unthinkable today may not be tomorrow. The absurd might be workable with a few adjustments. Stay tuned for the results of some of these projects this Spring in our publications and the Bolder Banking Podcast.