As we move into 2019, we are proud that we recorded yet another record year of profitability and growth while navigating a negative interest rate environment and increased competition. With the new tax laws becoming effective last year we saw increased competition from both credit union lenders and non-banks, requiring us to be more efficient. Our customers benefited from higher deposit rates and lower borrowing costs.
Our local economy was strong in 2018 in real estate development and small business financing with many of our businesses expanding. One exception is our agricultural customers who continue to experience stress from commodity price declines and uncertain markets.
Personal service is our most effective strategy for growing customer relationships and we try to provide customized, personalized services to all of our customers. Our strategy is to gain a business client and then retain that client's personal banking business to help fund their loans.
The coming year is likely to see these trends continue, however with the last recession now being 10 years ago many new challenges may arise as we face the end of the economic cycle. We will need to maintain a strong credit culture and resist the pressure to ease underwriting standards.
Personal contact, relationship banking, and responsiveness remain the "calling card" of Citizens and that has not changed over time.