After a year of global health crisis-inspired frightful worst-case hypotheticals, bank leader Patrick Ryan is taking 2021 with a healthy dose of optimism.

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Patrick L. Ryan was one of several Banking Leaders interviewed by ROI-NJ on the Topic of the lending environment in the midst of post-pandemic reopenings.

In fact, the First Bank CEO and president said he’s more hopeful about the prospect of the banking industry today than in the past several years. When the economy does well, banks generally do, too. And, during the recovery period from the unchecked spread of COVID-19, Ryan said, it appears the economy is doing well.

However, he added that there’s still a key question for community banks before it can be said that things are shaping up perfectly for them as well.

“How do we safely get folks back connected?” he said. “A lot of banks have been living off of some relationship capital we’ve built up over many years. Over time, that capital gets depleted.”

Smaller, community banking institutions have always prided themselves on the close-knit relationships they form with local residents and businesses.

Patrick Ryan, President & CEO of First Bank
Patrick L. Ryan

“And, if a customer doesn’t feel like they have a strong relationship with us, they’re much more likely, I believe, to go with the big banks,” Ryan said. “That’s why figuring out how to reengage folks and reestablish bonds is so important.”

The odds of that happening in branches might be reduced in a post-pandemic environment. As traffic in bank branches dropped precipitously, many banks have decided to shave the amount of physical locations they’re maintaining — after years of already doing so at a steady pace.

The Hamilton-based First Bank is part of that trend. Earlier this year, the institution consolidated its Mercerville and Hamilton Square branches into other nearby locations.

Ryan said it’s no secret that a bank’s relationship with its clients involve more of a digital touch.

“So, I don’t suspect we’ll go back to doing things how we did before,” he said. “It will take a different balance of investments and outreach than in the past.”