My first banking job was as a part-time computer operator at the Wise County National Bank in 1977. Before most banks had thought about digitizing operations, Wise County National Bank implemented a digital data system that allowed a teller in Big Stone Gap to see if there was a deposit in Norton. This doesn’t sound like much today, but it was revolutionary at the time.

Fifteen years later, I returned to Southwest Virginia as executive vice president for First Bank & Trust based in Lebanon. It was clear that customers relied on the ease of online banking, so one of our top initiatives was the implementation of remote deposit. Our little community bank, with 100 employees, was one of the first banks in the nation to implement remote deposits. We were so far ahead of the rest of our competitors that our software vendor used the Bank as a reference for banks throughout the country interested in promoting remote deposit to their customers.

These online innovations made us an industry leader and garnered new customers, with some even outside of Southwest Virginia. Cities almost 400 miles away in Northern Virginia moved their banking relationship to us because of this innovation.

Banking and the internet have since become inextricably linked and are growing closer by the day. Along with remote deposits, online banking services include funds transfers, account alerts and real-time security monitoring.

Modern banking means being fully operational 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Any lapse in our services may result in a loss of customers, or worse, a security breach. Along with our customers having access to online banking services at home, we need to be able to connect with our leadership team even when they are at home or traveling.

Community banks face greater challenges than ever before, and we need connectivity to compete with larger banks headquartered in metropolitan areas. It is nearly impossible to attract and retain talented employees when they see that their homes will not have broadband. Like railroads in the 19th century and highways in the 20th, broadband is what connects our society in the 21st century.

Banking is just one sector of our society, but every aspect, from education to public safety to real estate, would benefit immensely from increased broadband connectivity.

Can we continue to allow rural Virginia to fall behind?

We all know the answer is no — and thankfully the governor and legislative leaders in Richmond have recognized the need to fund broadband expansion, with $19 million in grant funding available this year to build out broadband to unserved communities. This is a good first step, but I hope the General Assembly will continue aggressively closing Virginia’s digital divide and funding these important programs. Take it from me, broadband is something you can (and need to) take to the bank.

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Leton L. Harding Jr. is the president and CEO of Powell Valley National Bank.

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