FARGO - Just over a year ago, Darin Daby took over as the North Dakota regional president for U.S. Bank, just in time to face the challenges of operating during a pandemic the likes of which haven’t been seen in more than a century.
The Campbell, Minn., native, proved to be up to the job, bringing his more than 35 years of experience at U.S. Bank operations in the Midwest to bear.
Daby recently agreed to an interview with The Forum, where he talked about his pandemic year as a leader, how banking has changed thanks to COVID-19, and the economic opportunities and challenges for the region.
In March, when you took over the job, you were greeted with a pandemic. Tell us about the disruptions that the pandemic has brought to traditional banking.
It’s a blur, honestly, that (first) month or two of trying to get it all pointed in the right direction.
Within a day or two (of stepping into the job) I was on a conference call with all of the branch managers in the state, talking about closing lobbies, reducing hours so that our employees would have time to do all of the other stuff that they needed to do, because everybody else was reducing hours. There was just a lot of reacting and moving fast.
The nice part about it ... crisis provides focus and it also builds teams really quickly. When you walk into a situation like that with new partners, you get to know each other and trust each other fast.
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We have some digital technology, which allowed us to serve people virtually, but we needed to get that up to scale very quickly. … We had the tools, we just had to get up to speed as fast as we could and be ready to help customers, because they still needed to do their banking.
What type of operations do you think you will keep or expand? What aspects of banking will you be glad to see return as the pandemic wanes?
The mobile banking, being able to co-browse and share screens and look at things with customers online. … Webex or virtual meetings. We actually found out there's value in a lot of this.
And customers have really taken to some of the digital tools.
The part of banking that will never change is that it is a people business, and it's a service business. When we can finally get back to sitting face-to-face and supplementing the digital with a really great face-to-face conversation and a relationship beyond the computer screen, I’m really looking forward to that.
What sort of initiatives would you like to see U.S. Bank spearhead in the region in the next five years?
Our mission statement is to power human potential. I always think of it in three phases.
Powering our customers’ potential. There’s the basics, we do checking, savings, credit cards, but then we’re expanding that with other offerings in the digital space. And then one other piece that we’re growing right now is our ability to offer advice and help from a financial literacy standpoint.
You hear very frequently ... "I wish that somebody had taught me that before.” So we’ve really decided that we need to take ownership in that and help people feel empowered in their finances..
I really want to find ways to take those financial literacy capabilities to the community, whether that’s one on one … or through nonprofits or service clubs or whoever and that's both on the consumer side and the business side. I have a bit of a personal passion for entrepreneurs. If we can help them understand business finance, and understand what they’re getting themselves into, hopefully, we can help them succeed and then help the local economy grow.
The last leg of that three-legged stool would be our employees. We have 1,500 employees in the region. … Their personal growth and their commitment to the community will also be a part of that financial literacy.
What sort of economic challenges and opportunities do you see for this region in the next few years?
We have to get past the pandemic, because there are certain segments (of the economy) that have been really hit hard. I think about the hospitality industry, the dining industry, tourism. We have to get through the pandemic enough so that we can all help those industries, so they come back.
Beyond that, I think, we’ve got a couple of very important pieces of our regional economy in energy and agriculture, but they can be cyclical.
(For example) it was like a month or two before the pandemic hit that the whole brouhaha between (Russia) and Saudi Arabia really smacked the oil industry. We were dealing with that. And then a pandemic. (And now the area is dry). We could use a little moisture.
Those three things set aside, this economy is amazing. ... For being on the backside of a pandemic, unemployment is unbelievably low, housing starts were up, incomes are up, housing values are up. That just speaks to the power of this economy.
What is the importance of community service to you?
I love things that build community. I'm just about the growth of the community.
I’ve served on downtown organizations just to make sure the core of the community is strong.
I’ve had the chance to meet with the DCP (Downtown Community Partnership) a couple of times already. I’m a big fan of what they do. I’m a huge fan of Emerging Prairie and what that’s doing both for the community at large and ...the entrepreneurial community. This area has something special with that entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Any other issues that you think are important?
I’ve always felt that banks are really an integral part to the growth and success of the community. … I’m a believer in (the saying) a rising tide lifts all boats. We just need to make this community strong and everybody wins. I'm just excited to be part of that and have U.S. Bank be part of that.
Daby in his own words
I grew up in Campbell, Minn, graduating from Campbell-Tintah High School.
I attended Minnesota State University Moorhead (1982-84) and met my wife, Diane, there. However, I graduated from William Penn University (in Oskaloosa, Iowa).
We got married during the farm crisis. We applied for and got jobs while visiting Colorado. I started as a teller with an institution that later became part of what is now U.S. Bank.
I spent the first 16 years of my career in the branches, doing just about every job
In 2001, I transitioned into wealth management, eventually leading a team stretching along the Interstate 90 corridor from Rapid City, S.D., to La Crosse, Wisc., along with Sioux City, Iowa, and Mankato and Owatonna, Minn.
I added Commercial Banking to my responsibilities in 2012.
We have two grown children: Our daughter, Cali, lives and works in New York City. Our son, Camden, lives and works in Rochester, Minn.