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Expert Insights: Bringing Tech and Values-Based Leadership Together with Bill Hufnagel

On this episode of Expert Insights, our host Joe Welu is joined by Bill Hufnagel, president and CEO of Dart Bank, a 100-year-old private community bank headquartered in Michigan.  

Bill has had a significant impact on the banking industry, both as a builder and as a values-driven leader. He began his career at First National before later going on to co-found Providence Mortgage, which later joined forces with Summit Bank. In 2014, this larger team joined Dart Bank and Bill became the President and CEO. His contributions to the sector have been recognized by the Community Bankers Association of Michigan, and he is the latest recipient of the Best Community Banking Award (2021).

On this episode, Bill shares how he and his team created and delivered on their vision for Dart Bank to provide a modern banking experience and how they built an organization dedicated to values-based service.

Defining the Ideal Customer Experience

Dart Bank’s vision was shaped by the uniquely entrepreneurial experience of its senior leadership team. Many on the team had previously run organizations both in banking and in the mortgage industries, and had unique perspectives of the market that enabled them to see the opportunity to provide customers with a better way to bank. Dart Bank’s leadership team saw an opportunity to use new tools to better serve their customers and deepen the banking relationship across various channels and touchpoints. 

High Tech, High Touch

One of Dart Bank’s core values is a commitment to forward-thinking – staying ahead of financial trends and improving the customer experience based on them. 

As Bill explains, the Dart team recognized that their customers’ behaviors and baseline expectations around shopping had shifted significantly and that the banking industry needed to adapt, while still maintaining its people and relationship focus. “This, after all, is the core of the banking industry,” he added. 

Dart Bank is small enough to implement these new technologies at a rapid pace by adopting them into their daily processes and out to customers. But as Bill emphasized, “the technology is just the tip of the spear. It’s really about how we utilize that technology to make sure our customers have a fast, reliable, relationship-based banking experience.” 

A Modern Experience, with a Community Focus 

Dart Bank is a 100-year-old community bank where the focus has always been on how to be its customers’ trusted financial partner by keeping relationships at the core of its business strategy. 

“Our ability to do this depends on having great people with great communications skills who can use technology to deepen their customer relationships,” Bill said, adding that they use automation tools like Total Expert to make it easier for customers to be in touch and have the information they need – especially when they are making decisions.

Both Bill and Joe agreed that the quality of the communication between the customer, the organization, and the team heavily influences the strength of long-term customer relationships.. 

“For growing organizations, what we see across the board is that the customer relationship and loyalty depends on the way organizations communicate at scale,” Joe added. 

Proactively checking the pulse of the customer to see how they feel about the services is also an essential part of the process, and it’s how Dart Bank is translating its vision and values into positive business results and growth. 

The Business Impact of Vision and Values 

To put in place a system that would deliver this vision across the business, Bill and the Dart Bank leadership team began by looking at their core values and how they were being reflected and actioned across the company. This included making sure that they had the right people in the right roles, so they not only aligned with these values but also had the ability and tools to deliver on them.

As part of this undertaking, Dart Bank began offering profit-sharing in the form of stock as a way to cultivate an owner’s mentality throughout the employees. 

“This goes back to our team’s entrepreneurial spirit,” said Bill. “Now our employees are also owners of the bank and it makes for a different level of engagement.”  

Finally, Bill shared how, during the COVID pandemic, Dart Bank kept its lobbies open and had people working 24/7 to help businesses in the community access their PPP loans. 

According to Bill, “We kept our people protected with plastic shields and masks, and we kept our promise to the community that we would be there for them when they needed us. It was really living our values and collectively one of our proudest moments as a business.”

For more of Bill Hufnagel’s insights, listen to the full Experts Insights episode.