From a hillside barn in Litchfield, Mich., a calf gnawed on Scott Ferry’s finger. He held up his phone, livestreaming the scene for his banker, Stephanie Brummette. “It’s almost feeding time,” he told her.
“Oh my gosh. Best job ever. I’m glad I needed a signature,” Brummette said, beaming through her computer at Union Bank’s digital call center in Odessa, Mich. The two had been sorting out the paperwork for the fourth-generation Ferry Farm’s Paycheck Protection Program loan. “This should go fast ’cause it’s just one document,” she said.
The recorded conversation between Brummette and the bank’s first PPP customer has been viewed more than 1,000 times on YouTube, a nice advertising boost for Union Bank’s digital branch. Brummette, the branch’s manager, is a BankBeat 2021 Rising Star in Banking.
The virtual doors for the branch opened five months before the pandemic. The largest clientele has been marijuana-related businesses and PPP customers — those that require the strongest support as they pilot compliance and regulatory challenges in the era of social distancing.
With most of its physical branches located in rural areas of the state, Union Bank expected its digital customers to be mostly rural students away at college. Though this hasn’t emerged as the majority of its market, its virtual branch’s first customer was a student studying abroad who needed assistance regarding a fraudulent charge. To help the student, four bankers gathered for a virtual conversation. Everyone was in the same room. Everyone was new. Everyone was nervous. Everyone wanted it to go well.
“With a pandemic, we’ve had to split up,” Brummette said. In the remote setting, the team’s respective screens light and ping with continual connection. For Brummette, direct communication feels natural, even if it’s confrontational.
“If there’s something that’s not going right, I don’t feel uncomfortable saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to have a video chat real quick and talk about something that’s going on,’” she said. “That, to me, is easy.”
The digitally “open-door” atmosphere allows for growth and strength as a team, Brummette said. “I think my team can ask any questions. They can ask each other questions. There’s always that camaraderie for helping each other succeed,” she said. “We’re all looking out for each other.”
Brummette, too, relies on the team for her own success as a leader. She calls colleague Casey Goggins her “go-to” guy to help out when she’s not around. Having that helper “who has the same core beliefs as you, the same banking beliefs as you, the same work ethic as you, or even just carries out exactly what your expectations are when you’re not around is super helpful.”
Brummette’s professional growth, too, has been under the wings of her superiors, learning by assisting wherever she could. Energized by utility, she can help with just about anything other than a mortgage or a commercial loan, she said.
“I like being a resource for people,” she said.
Brummette’s curiosity and willingness to help initially led her on a winding professional path. She explored careers in teaching and nursing, ultimately culminating with a degree in management when her banking career was still embryonic.
She attended night classes, minded a toddler, had a baby, and transitioned from head teller to branch manager at Union Bank, all before she graduated in 2014. “Being able to raise my family and not feel that I’m missing out on things with them, and still be able to work and enjoy my job is a pretty cool accomplishment.”
Brummette is proud of those years, and the ability to remain present amid the juggling she does. She continues to pay attention, identifying fractions of days, or behaviors that might conceal a need. She’s aware of the patterns of her employees and the customers who consistently call, and, like a doctor observing her patient’s medical records, notices when things change. Is there fraud? Is something wrong at home?
Brummette relates to her customers as she would to family members, she said. Noticing details is a product of that relationship. When she started a photography business with a previous coworker, they took photos of families and weddings, some of whom were for customers. With the click and a flash behind a lens, Brummette preserved the sliver of a bride and groom’s first glance, and the eyes of family members watching the first dance or the cut of the cake. “It’s just magical,” she said.