This month, we honor Mike Stanford, CEO of First Community Bank of New Mexico, for his pioneering efforts to bring “community” back to community banking.
Name: Michael Stanford
Official Title: Chief Executive Officer
First Community Bank ($3.3 billion), Albuquerque, New Mexico
Gonzo Title: Not Your Typical CEO
Alma Mater: Mike graduated from University of Houston, where he received a BBA in Finance, with a minor in Mathematics.
Previous Banking Gigs
Mike began his banking career in the late 1970s at Colorado National Bank, working as a correspondent banker. This was in the heyday of the role, when CBs were considered to have one of the most desired positions in banking. Mike tells GonzoBanker (did we detect a certain nostalgia?) that his time as a CB was “very interesting, with lots of M&A activity, plenty of travel and lots of booze.” In the late 1980s, Mike learned of an opportunity to acquire a bank that was at the time associated with his current employer. “Ignorant of the risk, I made a bid,” said Mike. “Doing bank stock loans with all the buy/sell, it never occurred to me that anyone couldn’t do that. Well, with the bank being up in Taos, there weren’t a lot of takers, and I kind of won the bid by default.”
Gonzo Claim to Fame
Besides co-founding First Community Bank, Mike’s GonzoBanker claim to fame is instituting an irreverent (and somewhat prescient) branding campaign that was described as “bold and slightly eccentric” long before the advent of similar tactics by Citibank and others. The long running campaign, whose signature line is “Not Your Typical Bank, Not Your Typical Banker,” has helped redefine the way both customers and employees think about their relationship with First Community and reflects FCB’s belief that a great brand fires up employees and great employees ultimately create the best brand.
Mike told GonzoBanker that, as so often happens, necessity was the mother of invention. Necessity was the need to 1) create brand awareness in Albuquerque, where First Community was not well known, 2) build capacity within the constraints of a tiny advertising budget, 3) reach out to the community as a corporate citizen and 4) get back to basics. Invention was a pioneering advertising campaign that helped break the mold of the buttoned up, humorless banker and the uncaring, profit-motivated bank.
In the midst of an industry-wide flurry of M&A activity and a laser-like focus on the bottom line, Mike noticed that how a customer should be treated by his bank was rapidly becoming an anomaly. His desire to prove that banks that demonstrated a caring attitude about their customers could be successful, combined with “my smart ass way of doing things” led him to sketch a billboard that listed all the banks that used to exist and didn’t anymore. “I basically red-lined these banks and wrote at the bottom, ‘We’re still here,’” Mike said.
The sketch turned into a billboard, the newspapers picked it up, and a campaign was born.
At first, First Community’s quirky approach scared the hell out of everybody else. Mike recalled: “They said we don’t want to burn any bridges; I said well, where are you going? You know, they didn’t want to upset the apple cart because banking was such a wonderful business and so successful.” As it turns out, First Community was ahead of the times. Today, cheeky humor is in the arsenal of many big banks as they strive to differentiate themselves in a competitive environment.
Mike’s favorite “Not Your Typical Banker” Ad
Mike told us he’s especially fond of the one with an old, frowning banker that is captioned, “Do you really think that this guy will understand how much you want that Harley?”
Mike’s Advice for Other GonzoBankers
When it comes to advertising, Mike believes finding a different approach that the news media will pick up on is key. At the core of the “Not Your Typical Bank” campaign was reminding customers why they should be angry about how they were treated. The campaign debuted at a time when unconventional tactics gave everyone the shakes — and got a lot of attention. “Feeding a starving press corps leverages the dollars you spend on advertising,” Mike said. It also generates a lot of free publicity.
Another key to the effort’s success was making the bank’s message to the customer – as Mike put it, “You don’t have to be intimidated about asking us to loan you back your money” – an integral part of the bank’s culture. “We don’t want elitism; we’re all in this together,” he said. “It’s all about common decency.” That, said Mike, became, “’Not your Typical Bank.’”
An unexpected but welcome side effect of the campaign was to see First Community Bank staff taking pride in the bank and its reputation. By de-formalizing the division between back and front offices, they were able to get everyone involved as a team. The excitement generated encouraged Mike to keep moving with the idea that instead of being stodgy and cold, the bank should project an image of being warm and inviting and fun. “That became ‘Not your Typical Banker,’” said Mike.
Mike believes customers really respond to the employees’ obvious pride in their company. “Building internal culture builds customer relationships,” he affirmed. “I will hear things like, ‘I went in your bank and it was amazing; they took time with me and they did everything they needed to do.’ That confirms our advertising approach.”
Shout Out to Those Who Helped Make this Effort Successful
Mike said Jimmy Squires from Squires Agency was a big help in fleshing out the campaign and taking it forward. Mike also wants to salute all of the employees who have made this effort successful because “they wear the ‘Not Your Typical Banker’ philosophy like a badge of honor. It resonates from inside the bank to outside the door.”
Mike’s Thoughts on Today’s Banking Environment
“Everyone has blamed recent issues on the big banks but what really threw a wrench in things were the conduits and the easy money; everything was valued according to price. There was no risk; there was no relationship. Everyone was competing on price alone. I think there’s going to be a flight back to relationships in the next couple of years.”
Other Things Keeping Mike Busy
In addition to running First Community Bank, Mike serves on the boards of Albuquerque Economic Development, Inc. and United Way of Central New Mexico.
Mike Outside the Office
Mike loves hunting, fishing and playing golf. Most recently, he was in South Dakota for the pheasant season. “My all time favorite place is Brazil,” Mike related, “where I enjoy peacock bass fishing.” (GonzoBanker says, hey, who doesn’t?)
Mike’s Favorite Movie of All Time
“After giving this a lot of thought,” said Mike, “I’d have to choose The Fifth Element with Bruce Willis. I’m not sure if it’s because of Bruce Willis or the actress in it; but it’s just amazing.”
Best Album/CD Ever Recorded?
Mike unequivocally stated, “Led Zeppelin’s first album [self-titled, Led Zeppelin].” Amen brother Mike… who could argue with Page and Plant?
GonzoBanker finds Mike’s down-to-earth, outside-the-box thinking inspirational and very Gonzo. As GonzoBanker of the Month, Cornerstone is proud to donate $250 in Mike’s name to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.