Community Banking Month: United Bank’s Impactful Community Support Strategy

April is Community Banking Month, which the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) calls “a celebration of the independent spirit and unwavering commitment of community banks to help consumers and small businesses achieve their financial goals to create communities of prosperity nationwide.” PRI is celebrating some of the excellent community banks that we’re fortunate to work with and observe up close what sets them apart in their communities. We spoke to Anne Hetzel and Laura Puchner of United Bank’s CDFI team to learn how their bank engages its associates to work on the community causes they care about most.  


United Bank was founded with community service as part of its DNA. Established in 1904 in Atmore, Alabama, the Bank now has 19 branches and approximately 220 employees and is well known for its robust community engagement. So much so, in fact, that job applicants often mention community service and engagement as one of the reasons they want to come to work with United Bank.

The bank is highly invested in the communities it serves, and the commitment flows throughout the organization from the C-Suite to frontline employees. United Bank is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), a designation from the US Treasury Department that allows them to seek grants to provide products specifically for underserved and economically disadvantaged communities. Last year, the United Bank Team volunteered 6,036 hours with 974 individual activity participations.

Anne Hetzel and Laura Puchner, who manage United Bank’s CDFI Program, say the key to the Bank’s engagement success is learning from employees what matters most to them in the communities where they live and work. They also know it’s important to provide volunteer opportunities year-round to ensure that business is covered, and everyone has a chance to participate.

“We’re not like other corporations that can shut down for a period of time and do one big project together,” Puchner said. “We have several different projects that we do all year. Our team likes to serve within their own communities and see the impact of their actions. They know best what is needed locally.”  

Creativity and flexibility matter when selecting how to get involved. United Bank volunteers have done a little bit of everything including organizing canned food drives, offering financial literacy programs in schools and for seniors, operating a co-working incubator space for starter businesses, and partnering with local farmers and the ag community to pick fresh produce for food pantries. The possibilities seem endless, and United Bank is here for all of it. Below are some of the projects that stand out:

Tax Assistance Program

Puchner said a community service project that is important to her personally happens during tax season. The bank partners with the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which offers free help to prepare basic tax returns for people with income levels of approximately $64,000 or less.  United Bank volunteers have served the communities through VITA for more than a decade.  Puchner said this year, bank volunteers prepared back tax returns for a person coming out of homelessness, helping to lift an old burden and provide a fresh start.  

First Book

Hetzel says an initiative dear to her heart is United Bank’s partnership with First Book. United Bank acquires books from the First Book Program and distributes the booksto children at several Title One schools within the bank’s footprint. “I love that our bank is part of ensuring that kids have a book of their own, and for some students, it may be the first book they’ve ever received that belongs just to them,” she said.  

Hurricane Relief

The people in the bank’s footprint, which stretches from Southwest Alabama to Northwest Florida, are unfortunately often in the path of hurricanes. Hetzel said it’s been personally inspiring to her to see the bank’s team fanning out into the community after a storm to help clean up and rebuild, even when they may be facing property losses of their own. Their actions ensure businesses can reopen quickly and their neighbors have what they need to recover.

Prodisee Pantry

United Bank partners with Prodisee Pantry, a local food bank, to restock shelves and provide volunteers who prepare food distribution packages for those in need. In addition, members of the United Bank Team are available at Prodisee Pantry on a weekly basis providing one on one financial wellness conversations with food bank recipients.

Labor Day Acts of Kindness

While they are unable to do bank-wide projects in the exactly same way in all the branches, United Bank does come together across the footprint for initiatives such as Labor Day Acts of Kindness. This is a day when team members surprise the people of their communities with small acts of kindness such as filling someone’s gas tank, paying a utility bill, or providing a meal.

Toys for Tots

As the holidays near, United Bank serves as a collection site for new toy donations benefitting Toys for Tots. United Bank Team Members volunteer with local Toys for Tots community coordinators to help sort the donations and prepare them for distribution in the local communities.

Employee engagement is key.

“Engagement is what makes us different, and it’s part of our culture at United Bank,” Hetzel said. “It was important when we were founded 120 years ago as a community bank, and through all our growth, we’ve maintained the tradition. It’s integral to who we are. Yes, we’re bankers but we’re also responsible, community-minded people who are deeply involved.

Hetzel and Puchner say involving employees in choosing how they want to be involved is important, and they stress that C-Suite and leadership participation opens the door for everyone. 

“Your employees know what’s needed in their own communities, and they want to help and have an impact,” Puchner said. “Encourage people the first time and go with them. Once they get a taste, it just blossoms from there. And be open! People are in different seasons, and some really can’t make a huge time commitment. But anyone can do something small. It all matters.”

Profit Resources enjoys celebrating the success of our clients! PRI specializes in identifying profitability improvement areas for financial institutions through revenue growth, cost control, streamlining processes, and effective use of technology. Contact us to learn more about our personalized approach to propel growth and improve profitability.

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