Pam Berneking, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Commercial Officer, oversees daily operations of the credit union as well as all aspects of CommunityAmerica’s commercial banking division. Pam is a banking veteran, with more than 35 years of progressive regulatory, commercial banking and leadership experience.

As Chief Operating Officer, Pam provides leadership for teams that support the credit union’s member-facing and strategic objectives, including deposit and loan operations, consumer lending, functional training, digital strategy and the project management function. As Chief Commercial Officer, Pam leads effective execution of the credit union’s commercial banking strategy. In this role, Pam is responsible for all commercial banking activities, including lending, treasury management, concierge banking, product development, operations and credit.

Pam is an active volunteer for the American Heart Association, serving on both the Kansas City and Midwest Affiliate Boards of Directors. She also serves on the Board of Directors of MRIGlobal. She was a Kansas City Business Journal ‘Women Who Mean Business’ honoree in 2002, and she supports her alma mater, Iowa State University, as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Pam received her undergraduate degree in English and Industrial Administration from Iowa State University, and she is a graduate of the Graduate School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin.




Brad Burrow: Hello. This is the In a World with Real Media Podcast. I have Pam Berneking with me today. Hey Pan, how are you?

Pam Berneking: Hey, good morning.

Brad Burrow: It’s awesome to have you on here.

Brad Burrow: I’m trying to think back to the first time that you and I met. I think it might’ve been Gold Bank. Do you remember that?

Pam Berneking: You’re going to have to help me. That goes way back. So tell me.

Brad Burrow: I was doing a TV spot for Gold Bank and I believe it was going to run on the local Super Bowl. I think it was over on [inaudible 00:00:55]? Is that where that was located?

Pam Berneking: It was. Yep.

Brad Burrow: So we were over there and I think I might’ve interviewed you and then I know women who mean business.

Pam Berneking: That’s what I would’ve said was the first time we met. I remember that really well.

Brad Burrow: I remembered back to the Gold Bank, because I think you were in the office. If I remember how our minds work, we think visually. So you walk in and I think your office was on the left.

Pam Berneking: Yes. It was at the time.

Brad Burrow: So yeah, those were the days, huh?

Pam Berneking: Those were the days and those were a long time ago.

Brad Burrow: I want to get into, for our listeners, your background. What I really like hearing about is obviously you’ve achieved some pretty amazing things here in Kansas City and it’s awesome and we can talk about that. But tell me how you started. Where’d you grow up? I know you went to Iowa State.

Pam Berneking: I did. Proud cyclone.

Brad Burrow: You were telling me your daughter is at MU. That’s got to be a little bit of a…

Pam Berneking: I became a Tiger fan when I wrote all those tuition checks. Like, all right, I like [Misu 00:01:55] too. You kind of have to.

Pam Berneking: I have maybe a non-traditional background for a banker. I’ve been a banker my entire professional life. I grew up in Iowa. I’m really proud of that. I think that Iowa is a fantastic place to grow up. I was blessed by that experience.

Brad Burrow: On a farm or something?

Pam Berneking: No, in a city. Believe it or not, there are cities in Iowa. A lot of people don’t think so.

Pam Berneking: So I grew up the Quad Cities, which is, I say, east coast. It was on the Mississippi River: still is. A metro area of about quarter of a million people, at that time. Probably the same today. Went to Iowa State, as you said, so deep family roots in the state of Iowa, but I’ve never worked professionally in Iowa, unfortunately, which is kind of a sad thing. But it is what it is.

Pam Berneking: My first banking is fun to talk about. When I was in high school I was 15 and looking for a job, and I was hired by the largest bank in Davenport, Iowa, which was Davenport Bank and Trust: sort of the UMB of Davenport, Iowa.

Brad Burrow: Davenport [crosstalk 00:03:19].

Pam Berneking: Davenport, yeah. It sounds so elegant, doesn’t it?

Pam Berneking: Oddly enough, there was a job that a high school student could do, and it was reading obituaries every day in the safe deposit department to determine who had died.

Brad Burrow: Is that right?

Pam Berneking: That is not a job today, but for some reason then that was a job. It didn’t take any particular skill, it was just matching names on a list with names in the obituaries. That was a job I did after school for about six months until I turned 16 and could start to do other things.

Pam Berneking: That was a long time ago and banking was very different then than it is now.

Brad Burrow: Did something spark your interest, because obviously that was foretelling to what you’re going to be doing in the future? Do you just like being in the bank? What was it that…

Pam Berneking: It’s kind of interesting, because nobody in my family has been involved in banking at all. My parents were both in education and grandparents were in farming. I’ve no banking in my background at all, so I literally fell into it. It was a job that a 15 year old could get, and then once you were in that environment you could do other jobs in that environment. So I worked in what was then called new accounts and then I became a teller and I tellered my way through high school and college.

Pam Berneking: In those days… I sound like an old person when I say these things, but it was a really long time ago. That was the ’70s and the early ’80s. Literally the ’70s when I was going through high school. In those days, there were no ATMs and everybody that had any business to do with the bank was going to come into the bank and stand in front of teller. We had a busy branch, so you’d have lines of 10 to 20 people all day long, every day, from every walk of life. Businesses and senior citizens. There was no direct deposit of a social security check, so you got your social security in a check on the third of the month and you went to the bank that very day or the next day.

Pam Berneking: What I think I really liked about the business that has let me stay in it, or has really called me to stay in it, is that I met such interesting people. Fundamentally, this is a people business, and I really met such interesting people, some of whom I can remember even going way back.

Brad Burrow: I was looking through LinkedIn and saw that one of your first… I didn’t know about that position… positions on LinkedIn was as a bank examiner.

Pam Berneking: Yeah, post-graduation.

Brad Burrow: That makes sense with the story you just told, but that had to set you up for a lot of things in the future: a lot of experience that maybe other people in banking don’t have.

Pam Berneking: Yeah. No doubt.

Pam Berneking: When I think about my career and my life generally, I’ve just been so fortunate, and some of it is timing. I came out of Iowa State in 1981. Some of you who are old enough will remember that there was a pretty big recession going on in ’81 and there was not a lot of hiring being done. I had a business degree as well as an English degree. I was not an exceptional business student. I didn’t get a whole lot of interviews, but the interviews that I did get were from bank regulators. The reason was that there was a banking crisis and starting and they were trying to hire a ton of people.

Pam Berneking: Fortunately for me, I got one of those jobs. I went to work for the FDIC at the beginning of a banking crisis that mostly affected agriculture and energy. In the mid west, where I worked, most of the banking problems during the ’80s where in rural communities. The job really was get in a car and go to a bank in a small town where you’ve never been before, and this was pre-GPS so it was the old fashion way with a paper map, so I became really good at reading maps, which is a skill that no one really needs any more but I have that. Yeah, you’d get the map out, you’d put it on the passenger seat, and you’d get in your car in the morning and go find this place.

Pam Berneking: Most of the time, we were in environments where the bank was really struggling because farmers couldn’t pay their debts and people who drilled for oil in western Kansas couldn’t pay their debts, so the banks were struggling. It was very challenging to be a young person trying to do this job that was very high pressure, high stress.

Brad Burrow: And they weren’t real happy to see you coming either, were they?

Pam Berneking: No. Boy, I have a lot I could say about the whole…

Brad Burrow: You don’t have to go into all…

Pam Berneking: I won’t go into all of that detail, but it was a wonderful experience in that it was challenging. I was 24, 25 years old. I didn’t know anything. The list of things that needed to be done was longer than anybody could possibly accomplish and nobody had any experience, so all you had to do was raise your hand and say, “I’d like to try that,” and you’d get the opportunity. And then if you succeeded at that thing you’d never done before, you’d get an opportunity to do a new thing and then that would build a career.

Pam Berneking: A big part of the job was trying to get people who didn’t trust you, didn’t know you, to work with you and to accomplish something that had to be done. It was transformative.

Brad Burrow: You learned how to build relationships, I bet.

Pam Berneking: Absolutely. I always think about how it must’ve felt… There’s one example I think about a lot, because I remember that a bank was failing, and that was an outcome that couldn’t be prevented. Here I walk in as a… I think in that instance I was 25, and I’m talking to somebody who’s spent his entire life in a company that he and his family had built. That couldn’t have been a good feeling for him and it was a really challenging, not-fun experience for me either.

Pam Berneking: But understanding the work that a family or an individual puts into building a business… whatever that business might be… and how special that is, I think that was really my first exposure to that, oddly enough, in banking.

Brad Burrow: So that experience had to have been… I mean, I think everything happens for a reason. I kind of look at things like that. You look at that experience and that had to have really set you up for some of the things you’ve done in your career moving forward. Would you agree with that?

Pam Berneking: Absolutely. I say that all the time: that the most important thing that ever happened to me was that I came out of school in a recession and I went to work for a bank regulator. When I came out of that experience… I left in 1987, early ’88… I had worked as a regulator in one of the worst recessions that we’d had since the ’30s, and I’d seen a lot of hard things and I’d seen people go through tough stuff, and how people respond sometimes well, sometimes not, to challenges.

Pam Berneking: I had a really deep understanding of the importance of financial services, oddly enough, in our communities, our economies. The role of a bank is to make it so that you don’t have to take a bushel of potatoes to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread. It’s to serve as an intermediary. We have one of the best banking systems in the world, if not the best, and it’s critically important that it functions well.

Pam Berneking: In the recent past… in the ’07, ’08, ’09 time frame… when that wasn’t true.

Brad Burrow: When I bought this building, by the way.

Pam Berneking: Exactly. If you owned a house or a business or were a banker, as I was in those times, and you saw when the system doesn’t work well it’s pretty bad. I had that exposure really early in my career and it has never left me.

Brad Burrow: There’s something about battling through adversity, isn’t there, and how that changes us. It’s not a podcast about Real Media, by the way, but we have had to do that and learn how to do that. Looking back on it, I think we’re better because of it. I think you probably have benefited from those types of things as well, even though it wasn’t necessarily you going through the adversity.

Pam Berneking: Oh, I’ve had plenty of adversity. I’ve had plenty of adversity. Yeah, I guess if you were to map out your career from the beginning you’d never say, “I would like to have some periods of adversity.”

Brad Burrow: No, you would never say that.

Pam Berneking: You would never say that. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but when you come through it it certainly does benefit you. I think a lot of people that are successful would say that.

Brad Burrow: Yeah.

Brad Burrow: So what excited about banking overall? Is there something about helping people? I see a lot of people being able to help somebody like us… Without a bank, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing.

Pam Berneking: I think the best bankers are people who really care about outcomes for their clients. I’m a business banker; I’ve always been a business banker by training. I think that same thing is true for people who primarily work with individuals, whether they be private bankers or consumer-focused bankers. It’s all the same. If you don’t really care about the person or the business on the other end, you’re not going to be very good. You’re going to be transactional.

Brad Burrow: In any business, really.

Pam Berneking: In any business. You’re going to be transactional.

Pam Berneking: When something feels transactional, nobody likes it, no matter the business is. When you’re picking up your coffee at a coffee shop, if somebody creates a warm feeling about that versus just handing you your cup of coffee and telling you to move on down the line, it’s a very different experience and you come back for that. I think banking is no different than that.

Pam Berneking: I have had so much joy in being a tiny part of a story that somebody has built: a business that has thrived or businesses that have encountered challenges that we’ve been able to help with. I take a really personal interest in our clients. I take a personal interest in the people who work for me. I have a belief that if we do this job well, we can make a really big difference in the community as a whole, so it’s both a macro and micro level impact. I think it’s the impact and potential for impact that makes this a fun business for me. It’s kept me pretty engaged.

Brad Burrow: Excuse me.

Brad Burrow: You’ve seen some pretty neat things happen in Kansas City. One of the things I wanted to ask you about is the transition from the normal banking situations that you’ve been in to being part of a credit union. That had to be some challenges that… obviously, I don’t know those challenges, but there are some challenges there. I’d love to hear about that. Also, there was a lot of people that were questioning, “Why is Community getting into commercial banking?” You’ve probably had to overcome a lot of those questions.

Pam Berneking: It’s interesting. I’m going to maybe answer your question in a slightly different way, but I think I’ll there. What I’ve learned about myself that I never knew until pretty late in my career, relatively speaking, was that the thing I’m best at is building something. So you look at the opportunity… and to answer your question about Community America… in any business, whether it be Community America Credit Union or any other business… yours, Real Media… to say, “Is there something that we can that we’ve never done that we are capable of doing that we could do maybe better than anybody else and that could make a difference if we’re successful at it?” If slash when, right? “When we’re successful, it’ll be important to our constituents…” whoever they may be… and these are questions every business leader can ask. “If we’re good at it, when we’re good at it, will it make a difference? Will it be important? Will it be something that’s sustainable that we can feel proud of?”

Pam Berneking: If I can answer those questions affirmatively, I’m like, “Yeah, let’s go. Let’s do that.” Some of the people who listen to this will know Lisa [Ginter 00:16:58]. Lisa and I had that conversation early on before I joined the credit union; was there something we could that would be important, that was possible, that we could do well, and that would be worth a try? The answer to those questions was yes, so here we are three years later. Within this great organization so well known for everything it does, but primarily historically focused on serving consumers, we’ve built something that I think is really special and is completely mission-aligned, that delivers on the mission and purpose of the credit union in the same way that we deliver to people that are buying a car.

Pam Berneking: It’s been fun for the same reasons that I’ve enjoyed building the other things that I’ve had the opportunity to build.

Brad Burrow: So you liked building things.

Pam Berneking: I do.

Brad Burrow: You and Lisa obviously knew each other and this idea came up and you thought, “Wow, that might something I’d be really interested in.”

Pam Berneking: Yeah. I was getting ready to leave my previous role, so I started… this is again going back in time. We talked about ’07, 8, and 9, where the world almost ended… I mean, I think literally almost ended, at least from the standpoint of financial services and everything we touch. Those were terrible times.

Pam Berneking: Sidebar: I’m always amazed how many people I talk to now who don’t really remember those times. That was 12 years ago.

Brad Burrow: I remember it very well.

Pam Berneking: But there’s a whole generation of people who have no concept of that. Even my own children who should’ve been aware of what was going on in something really important to our family have only the barest recollection of how bad it was. I think that’s interesting as we think about the future.

Brad Burrow: Because those lessons are kind of lost, aren’t they?

Pam Berneking: Right. Makes me wonder what are they teaching in school about those times, the financial crisis? I don’t know.

Brad Burrow: I’ll say we barely made it through that.

Pam Berneking: Right. A lot of people didn’t. I think the hangover from that is still very much a part of decision making.

Brad Burrow: Even 12 years later.

Pam Berneking: Right. If you had that experience, I think you think differently about decisions that you might make in your business, in your personal life. I think it has repercussions even today in the housing market, but that’s probably another podcast.

Brad Burrow: But you’re exactly right.

Pam Berneking: Yeah. I mean, it’s trauma. Like any other trauma, you’re going to experience it and retain it. I mean, there are a ton of lessons that have been learned, which is good, and I hope they don’t get forgotten.

Pam Berneking: Anyway, to get back to your question, in 2009 I co-founded a bank holding company. I did that because I was unemployed. I had been fired from a previous job as part of what happened during the recession and no one was hiring bankers at that time. Nobody was hiring bank executives for sure. Fortunately for me, I knew some people who had the same idea that I had: that we could maybe start our own bank and do a better job, take advantage of the opportunity, create some value, do some good things in the community.

Pam Berneking: We did that and then sold that company in 2014. I stayed involved the successor company for a couple of years and I was winding that down at the time Lisa and I had this conversation. I was contemplating retirement, but gosh, I’m awfully young, don’t you think?

Brad Burrow: You’ll never retire, right?

Pam Berneking: I don’t know. Sometimes I’d like to, but it didn’t seem like it was the time to do that.

Pam Berneking: I just felt like there was more work to be done, so the conversation with a really visionary CEO like Lisa to say, “There’s something we don’t do today and we might be able to do it if we had the right approach and the right people.”

Brad Burrow: Did you think that would be controversial at all? I don’t know why everybody is so up-in-arms about Community America getting into commercial banking. I remember the Business Journal came out with, “What?!”

Pam Berneking: Honestly, neither do I. I don’t really understand why it’s controversial. I think there is a… for whatever reason… battle between two groups that really ought to be working together, that just don’t seem to be able to. I have an interesting vantage point, right, because I’ve spent my entire career as a banker with a capital B, and now I’m a banker with a lower case B. I’m still doing the same work, I’m just doing it in another segment of financial services, which is called the credit union world.

Pam Berneking: Credit unions exist for really important reasons. They do really important work. We do things that other financial services firms never would do. I’m firmly a capitalist, I will say that. I believe that the marketplace responds affirmatively or negatively based on what’s being offered to them, and if what’s being offered has value and is wanted by the market, it’ll be adopted. If it doesn’t, it won’t. It seems to me that all banks and all credit unions provide services that are valued and if they didn’t they wouldn’t be successful. There’s plenty of business to go around. If we make the pie bigger, everybody’s slice can grow. I don’t like fights that are about dividing up the same slice of pie.

Brad Burrow: A couple of things I’d really love to get into. You mentioned Lisa being an incredible visionary. It’s very obvious to see the things that are happening there. Hiring somebody like Anita to focus just on innovation, I mean what bank would do something like that? Not bank, a credit union. She’s really blazing the trail for credit unions, too. Now you guys are offering services to other credit unions and it’s just amazing.

Brad Burrow: What’s it like being around somebody like that that is truly visionary and coming in every day, “Hey, I’ve got this idea?” Is it like that?

Pam Berneking: Yeah. It’s fun to work with people who are big thinkers. You can show up every day and do the same things you’ve always done and you can develop mastery at it, continue to do it, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for me, having this entrepreneurial building mentality myself, I’d like to be around people who think the same way: that think in terms of the art of the possible. “If we could do it, should we?” as opposed to, “Gee, we’ve never done that, so let’s not try.” Those are two different ways to think about it and I think the way we approach the business at Community America is definitely the art of the possible, kind of unconstrained, with the only real constraint being can we be good at it and can we make a difference? And if we can, it’s worth trying.

Pam Berneking: I think if you look at the things that we’ve done that are really innovative, some of the work we’ve done to help with college and career planning, which is something we do…

Brad Burrow: That is amazing, by the way.

Pam Berneking: It is, and something that really has an impact that we do as a service to the community, as a service to individuals who say, “I don’t know where I should send my kid to school because I don’t know what the full range of options looks like and I really need unbiased advice.” We provide unbiased, fact-based advice. That seems important and it’s outside the norm of what companies do, like us. But gosh, I’m proud that we do it.

Brad Burrow: I’ll tell you, I have a son that is a freshman at Hannibal-Lagrange, which is in Hannibal, Missouri. He’s a baseball player, so we were going through all of these… I mean, we didn’t know what to do, where to go, and Carly and the group over there we went through and learned different things about the different schools, what you actually would pay. I mean, what an amazing… And you think about from a parent’s standpoint… Your organization is made up of a lot of families and parents. That’s something that I was worried about for a lot of years: “How am I going to do this?” And to be able to help solve that problem for parents is such a huge deal, and that’s the innovation. Nobody is doing things like that.

Pam Berneking: I think the other thing is that… and this is really important to me and the way I’ve built my businesses over the last number of years, is always around this concept of being helpful. If you start with the idea that I want to be helpful to the people that we interact and if we’re successful at that it will be helpful to the community at large. That’s really the opportunity that financial services firms have to impact an individual’s situation and then, by extension, impact the entire community.

Pam Berneking: If you take the approach that there’s a need and that we can be helpful, we have a unique platform, we interact with a lot of people, we have some skills, we can have these conversations, we have the places and the people to do that well, then you start to come up with something that has a pretty big impact and that’s where I think, culturally… That’s a good place where I like to spend my time. That’s a good place where a lot of people like to spend their time.

Brad Burrow: Yeah. The relationship aspect was the other thing I wanted to talk about with Community America, because I have felt that very much for a lot of reasons that other people wouldn’t… We do work with you guys and all that stuff, in all transparency. But everybody that I’ve met in the organization is very relationship-driven, even Lisa. I’ve spent time with Lisa. You, Anita, Matt, all of the people that we work with are very relationship-driven and you can see that permeates down to the people that are part of the credit union. Every bank says that, but to actually see it and actually live it out is different.

Pam Berneking: Relationship banking has become kind of a buzzword. It started a long time ago. I think it’s maybe been a buzzword that everybody talks about now for decades. But I think at some point you have to say, “What does that actually mean?” in terms of the feet on the ground, in-the-moment interaction that people have. How does that translate into action?

Pam Berneking: I think the best companies… and I think we do this well… really get to a level of understanding of the person you’re doing business with where you can say, “Okay, I think I really understand. I know why you’re concerned. I know what you really need. You’re telling me you have a need, but let’s dig into it a little bit deeper and figure out what that actually is, and then try to figure out whether there’s anything I can do to help with that. It may not even be something that I offer. It may be something that I’m aware of that somebody else offers that I think you should take advantage of and I want to make that connection.”

Pam Berneking: That’s when I think you have a real relationship and that relationship is meaningful on both sides. If you are a banker that really likes doing business that way, every time you have one of those meaningful interactions it’s really rewarding. It keeps you coming back the next day. That was fun. I had an impact. I got to know a person. I was really able to help them in a meaningful way.

Brad Burrow: And achieve something.

Pam Berneking: And achieve something. There was a good thing that came from that, so it was helpful.

Brad Burrow: Let’s switch gears a bit. Talk about the American Heart Association.

Pam Berneking: I’d love to.

Brad Burrow: I remember you came here and we had that event here. That ended up being a very fortuitous thing for us for a lot of reasons, but we love giving back. I love donating. I spent a day with Zig Ziggler at one point interviewing him and one of the things that he said that I’ve never forgotten is that, “If you want to be successful, help somebody else be successful.” That’s kind of the same thing. I see that in Community America a lot, too.

Brad Burrow: Can you talk about your involvement with the American Heart Association?

Pam Berneking: I would love to. This is a good week to do that because I’m really proud of some of messaging we’re doing around vaping, which I will talk about a bit in case people haven’t heard it.

Pam Berneking: I’ve been a volunteer for the American Heart Association for a good number of years now: more than a decade. I first got involved in 2007 and I was asked to chair an event called Go Red, which was a small lunch event at that time. It was a new initiative for the Heart Association. It focused on…

Brad Burrow: Hard to believe that was small.

Pam Berneking: I know, because now it’s huge.

Pam Berneking: Was focused on creating awareness and attention to heart disease risk for women. That has grown to be an enormous event nationwide as well as in Kansas City, and I’ve been really proud to be associated with it. I’ve board-level, local, and regional leadership roles with the American Heart Association. It’s one of the more rewarding things I’ve ever done, and the reason is personal as well as big picture aligned with this helpfulness thing.

Pam Berneking: My grandmother was very important to me. She died of stroke after years of poor health. She’s a perfect example of somebody who, had anybody paid any attention to the unique risks of heart disease for women, she would’ve had better care.

Pam Berneking: That was a long time ago. It’s different now.

Brad Burrow: So it wasn’t recognized back then?

Pam Berneking: There was no research unique to women. She lived in a small community. There were no doctors nearby. We’re not all the way there, but it’s much different now and the risks are understood differently. Medical profession cares more and offers more services specifically for women, and I think that’s in large part because of the American Heart Association.

Pam Berneking: I think it’s a really exciting time for the American Heart Association because we are starting to work very collaboratively with organizations that have a lot of money and resources to invest in really changing the trajectory of outcomes not only for heart disease but for related disorders like Alzheimer’s. The risk factors of Alzheimer’s are, in many cases, the same risk factors of heart disease.

Brad Burrow: Is that right?

Pam Berneking: Yes. High cholesterol would be one of those examples. That connection is starting to be really well understood, so people who work on Alzheimer’s are partnering with the American Heart Association to do some really big transformative work. It matters a lot to me because my mom has Alzheimer’s, so this comes full circle for me: that the two really important women in my life… my grandmother and my mom… both need the kind of help that we’re going to be able to provide if we keep on this path.

Pam Berneking: Then there’s vaping.

Brad Burrow: It’s amazing how that’s exploded.

Pam Berneking: The American Heart Association was really at the forefront of eradicating smoking along with… I mean, it’s true. In the recent past, we’ve been instrumental in passing tobacco 21 laws in almost every state in the country, Missouri and Kansas included, just as an example. We fought that fight and we thought that was the fight, and then along comes vaping, which has never been regulated. The FDA took a pass on it. I don’t know if anybody has seen the campaign… there was a full page in the New York Times this weekend… it’s hashtag quitlying, and it’s saying, “Look, vaping is not safe.” The American Heart Association is in the lead on creating awareness that vaping is not safe.

Pam Berneking: I talk to parents and school administrators who deal with middle school kids. It’s an epidemic in middle school. That’s a full pack of cigarettes in every vape pod when it comes to nicotine. It’s an enormous public health issue that the AHA is working on.

Pam Berneking: I’m just proud to be a volunteer for an organization that I think is a game-changer.

Brad Burrow: Out there on the front line of that battle, which is really important.

Brad Burrow: I think about vaping: it’s amazing how they’ve made it sound like it’s safe.

Pam Berneking: Yeah. Not safe. It’s nicotine ingested into your lungs.

Brad Burrow: At a much higher rate than smoking.

Pam Berneking: We have a generation of nicotine-addicts in middle school right now.

Brad Burrow: Yeah. Boy, that is just crazy.

Pam Berneking: It’s terrifying.

Brad Burrow: Hopefully that’s going to be changed soon. That needs to happen.

Pam Berneking: It’s a big fight but we’re on it.

Brad Burrow: Tell about the future of Community America. I don’t obviously want to give away any secrets or anything like that, but what does it look like? From my point of view, I’m proud to be a part of it in a little way.

Pam Berneking: We’re glad you are.

Brad Burrow: What’s the future look like?

Pam Berneking: We’re a big organization. We’re a three billion dollar institution that serves this entire market, and yet…

Brad Burrow: Which is amazing to me, by the way. That’s a huge number.

Pam Berneking: And yet there are a lot of people in Kansas City… I run into them all the time… who don’t know what we do and they don’t know whether they can take advantage of it. I think we continue to broaden our impact by broadening our reach and finding opportunities to serve people who need what we do, whether it’s college and career counseling or whether it’s commercial banking.

Pam Berneking: I’m really proud of what we’ve built in terms of our commercial banking platform.

Brad Burrow: In a very short period of time, too.

Pam Berneking: In a very short period of time, yeah. I’ve been there three years and we now have one of the best platforms and the best teams in this market, and we work with a wide range of people and yet we work with a very small segment of the business community. We can do more.

Pam Berneking: There’s growth in everything we do. We will continue to look for ways to help more people, in particular serve segments… I mean, a good example is a young adult segment. You mentioned your son?

Brad Burrow: Yeah.

Pam Berneking: My guess is that his understanding of financial decision making is probably not as good as it needs to be. There are not a lot of 20 year olds or 18 year olds who really understand how important their credit score is, or even how banking works: “I write a check, what happens?” Or even what a check is, because everything is Venmo. So understanding how all of this works and how it might make a difference in their future, that seems like an area where a focus on helping through education: providing services and support. Saying, “Let’s provide some financial literacy support for high school students.” That’s something worth thinking about and we think that there’s a real opportunity and a real need that’s unfulfilled that we can step in to.

Brad Burrow: What do you think about Venmo and PayPal and all these things? Everything is changing. I paid a bill from my phone last night.

Pam Berneking: Most people do and everybody should, right?

Brad Burrow: It’s just crazy. You have to be thinking in terms of that, even from a commercial standpoint, right?

Pam Berneking: We do, yeah. We always think about what’s next.

Pam Berneking: Earlier, we were talking offline about fin tech and oh my gosh financial services has been slow to innovate, when you get right down to it. The basic things that banks and credit unions haven’t changed a whole lot, and they probably need to innovate faster and we need to figure out how to create efficiency and remove friction for customers, because that’s people want. They want something delivered by Amazon the same day and they want the same sort of efficiency in the products that they get from bank, otherwise they’re going to get them somewhere else and somebody else is going to come to the market and innovate if we don’t. It’s a big challenge.

Brad Burrow: So you better get in the game.

Pam Berneking: Yeah. I think it’s really exciting, though. It’s an important business. I said earlier I believe so strongly in the power of well done banking to make communities healthy and keep them healthy, that I have a lot of confidence that we’ll figure out how to be innovative as we need to be.

Brad Burrow: And Kansas City is a pretty good entrepreneurial community. Even the startup scene here is really great, isn’t it?

Pam Berneking: I think so. I think it’s exciting to see that. The roots of entrepreneurship in Kansas City are pretty deep. You look at the Hallmarks and…

Brad Burrow: Elaine Kaufman.

Pam Berneking: Yeah. I mean, all of these legacy entrepreneurs who created enormous economic ecosystems here and all the companies that have spun out of Hallmark, all the people that have left and formed creative firms, for example. That’s been so powerful for this community.

Pam Berneking: I think now you see the next wave of entrepreneurs. Some of those are fin tech. Some of those are in other spaces. It’s fun to be around them. We spend time at WeWork. I have an office over there. I love being in that ecosystem because you see the energy and you see the idea generation and just to witness and be part of… in a small way… some of the conversations that happen with early stage companies is pretty inspiring.

Brad Burrow: Do people come to you and bounce ideas off of you and say, “Would this work in this arena?” That type of thing?

Pam Berneking: Yeah, some. You mentioned Anita earlier. I think for sure Anita because she’s really plugged into that world and I think that’s an obligation that we have, to say, “I like that idea. I don’t know if it’s for us, but it seems like it could have some use, or it might be for us,” and to try to have an open approach. The good ideas… the next big ideas… are not going to come from people like me who have spent their entire career in banking. They’re just not. They’re going to come from somebody who doesn’t know anything about what I do.

Brad Burrow: Because they’re going to think differently.

Pam Berneking: They’re going to think differently. They’re going to be unburdened by the way it always has been and they’re going to think, “I don’t know what you do and I don’t care what you did in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, Pam, but I’ve got this idea about how we could do something differently in the future.” Now, my job is to just listen in a very open-minded way and say, “Hm, that’s possible. If I don’t think it’s possible, am I wrong? Is my judgment burdened by the past?” When you get to be my age, you have to be really conscious of the fact that that’s a risk: that you frame everything with the lens of what was, and that will not take us where we’re trying to go.

Brad Burrow: Yeah.

Brad Burrow: We’re going to close up here, but I want to ask you one last thing. What advice would you give to somebody… maybe somebody coming out of college or wants to get into banking or into fin tech or some different areas. What would tell them? What advice would you give them?

Pam Berneking: Oh gosh, that’s a good question. I would certainly say recognize that the future of financial service is not going to look like the past. Try to learn as much as you possibly can about what’s happening in other industries, because that’s where the models will be for the future of this really old business.

Pam Berneking: I would also say it’s a fantastic business to be in. It’s been deeply rewarding to me. You can make a huge difference in a community as a whole in banking. You ought to try to build a career based on making a difference.

Brad Burrow: Do you have to have a background in college, in finance, to build a career in banking?

Pam Berneking: You don’t. Common misconception. People will say, “You must be really good at math.” I’m actually really bad at math. Thank goodness that there’s always a calc…

Brad Burrow: Computers.

Pam Berneking: Computers do math. It used to be calculators did math.

Pam Berneking: No, I’m bad at math. I don’t need to know math. I know how to use a calculator. You don’t need to know finance. I would say you need to understand the concepts of business, and increasingly you need to understand technology. Fundamentally, our business runs on technology. We’re not a technology company, per se, but we run on technology and an understanding of how technology creates efficiency and enables the business is really important.

Pam Berneking: Just a general understanding of business, an understanding of technology, an interest in people, and I say that it way. If you’re deeply interested in people, then you could be a really good banker.

Brad Burrow: And wanting to help people, right?

Pam Berneking: Wanting to be helpful, whether it’s through an internal process that you’re improving or whether it’s a client-facing role. Yeah. You have to care about being helpful to others to have a successful career in financial services, I think.

Brad Burrow: Well, Pam, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Pam Berneking: It’s been fun.

Brad Burrow: I really appreciate it. It’s great hearing stories about how people have moved up their careers and just even reading the obituaries and stuff. That’s unbelievable. Who would know that?

Pam Berneking: Crazy anecdote, right?

Brad Burrow: Yeah.

Brad Burrow: Thanks for coming and we really appreciate it. If somebody wanted to reach out to you or your team, how would they do that?

Pam Berneking: I’m first initial, last name at P-B-E-R-N-E-K-I-N-G at Would love to hear from anybody.

Brad Burrow: That’s great.

Brad Burrow: Thank you for joining us. This is the In a World with Real Media Podcast. Be sure to subscribe so you get a little message on your phone every time we release a new episode. We appreciate it and we’ll talk to you soon. Thanks.

Pam Berneking: Thanks.