I remember the sense I had as a child of what banks meant in my hometown of Elizabeth, N.J. They were solid: The names of the banks were literally carved in stone in the facades of the building where my parents placed their funds, and their trust. A bank was something that stood for your community. It was part of your hometown, and its people were your people.

Today those banks are being bought up wholesale by people with no stake in the community; what was once carved in stone is often being covered up with glitzy plastic signs that come and go unpredictably. It can be confusing, this "plasticity" in the banking world. But it is also an opportunity for small banks that can adapt to this environment while maintaining the commitment to their communities that made them strong.

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