Having conversations regarding DEI has been a critical part of providing leadership throughout the banking community. WBA spoke with Leslie Drish, director, diversity and inclusion at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago (FHLBank Chicago or Bank), to better understand how to begin developing a plan for making diversity, equity, and inclusion a strong part of your bank.

Q: What was FHLBank Chicago’s process to establishing objectives around diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Drish: "Every three years, we are required by the Office of Women and Minority Inclusion to develop a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategic plan. This year, we began the process with our DEI committee, which is made up of eight different employees from the Bank who represent different levels and different departments. We also involved a number of employees who lead our DEI working groups and our employee resource groups.

"A key factor in the development of our strategic plan is looking at DEI data. In 2019, we conducted focus groups with our employees, some of our members, and some of our trade associations. We reviewed that feedback, and we also looked at our employee engagement survey from 2019 to determine what our engagement priorities should be, how they aligned with the mission of the Bank, our goals, and priorities, and how other companies have approached DEI. There was a great deal of data and research. From there we determined what we wanted to have as the foundation of who we are as a Bank, and that helped us establish our objectives around diversity, equity, and inclusion."

Q: You mentioned a DEI committee. What’s the significance behind having a team approach to this at FHLBank Chicago rather than one or two people?

"Diversity, equity, and inclusion have to be embedded in everything we do. Many organizations only look at diversity as a talent objective, but to make a deeper positive impact and provide meaningful support for our customers, we have to think about the policies, practices, and procedures in every aspect of the organization. That’s why we ensured we had employees from all different areas of the Bank included in the conversation because they brought a different lens regarding how our work impacts their specific department or area. We wanted them to think about those policies: What is it that we offer? What’s missing from these products? Is everyone able to access our products? Your bank’s DEI work should not be about checking a box and it should not be thought of as something that is separate from everything else. You really have to consider DEI when you are thinking about all of your bank’s objectives."

Q: It seems like a lot of planning has gone into this. What are some of the most important things for banks to consider when first establishing these objectives?

"It’s important for everyone on your team, especially your leadership, to be committed to these objectives. This commitment comes from the top, so leaders must have an inclusive mindset and they need to talk about it. They’re setting that example. Here at FHLBank Chicago, our leadership is participating in a lot of these activities and initiatives. They’re participating in training, they’re going to events, and they’re discussing all of this with their teams. I think all of that is extremely helpful because it’s setting the tone for the rest of the organization. If our executive team is invested in this, that trickles down to our employees and to our members.

"More banks are truly starting to recognize that when you bring other voices into the conversation and when you get ideas from different perspectives, you end up with a better product and you’re then better able to serve your customers. At our organization, diverse perspectives are strongly encouraged. And, everybody is driven for all the right reasons."

Q: When taking that first step to establishing DEI goals, what are your recommendations to help get more people on the same page?

"It’s not something you figure out and then you’re finished with. DEI work is always evolving because you’re dealing with people. The conversations I’m having now are very different from the ones I was having 10 years ago. What I have noticed though is that these conversations are often uncomfortable, and the people who show the greatest signs of success in DEI work are the ones who allow themselves to be aware, open, vulnerable, and authentic.

"Often, people think inclusion is listening to everyone and implementing every idea that comes through the door; that’s not the case. Inclusion is about hearing those different perspectives, understanding them, debating them, and aligning it all with your company’s culture and values. You have to truly determine what is going to be the best outcome, and make sure you’re hiring a diverse staff to help get you there.

"You also have to be flexible when doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work. As people and perspectives change, be open to new ways of approaching how you’re doing business. Don’t just say that since you now have ‘x’ person on the team that you’ve achieved diversity, because that’s not what it’s about. It’s about having those diverse voices present, ensuring all perspectives are heard and valued, and being willing to shift these ideas and perspectives as our surroundings change. It’s challenging, but it’s necessary. We have to adjust when we recognize that a solution we’ve created doesn’t solve the problem to everyone."

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago is a WBA Gold Associate Member.

Continue this conversation on Dec. 9 at the Conversation on Racial Equity Hosted by Wisconsin Bankers Association, Sponsored by Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago.

By, Alex Paniagua

By Rose Oswald Poels

With little more than six weeks left until we change the calendar over to a new year, nearly all of us are looking forward to putting 2020 in the rear-view mirror. With the myriad of challenges we’ve experienced this year, most notably the health pandemic and all its side-effects, it feels like we’ve lived five years in just one. For banks, this year has been unique as well.

Even before the pandemic, banks were experiencing high mortgage loan volumes due to the continued low interest rate environment. The housing market had picked up some steam so in addition to the strong volume of mortgage refinancing business, new home purchase volume also grew. Banks balance sheets have materially grown this year due to a combination of stimulus money remaining on deposit and PPP loan volume, in addition to income from mortgage loans.

The industry successfully managed through this heavy workload while also dealing with the effects of COVID both on their own employees, and on customers. Lobby closures and developing creative ways to continue providing services to customers has become the norm. But uncertainty still remains as it relates to fully understanding the longer-term implications of the pandemic on bank’s customers. While loan portfolios have generally remained healthy for most of this year, as stimulus money begins to run out and another round of PPP likely deferred until the new Administration takes over in early 2021, the next few months will start to tell the story.

Many economists are expecting the 4th quarter to reflect a slowing of economic activity after the rebound we experienced in late spring and summer from the unprecedented lows back in March and April. Since some sectors continue to remain strong, it is not expected that we will see a significant downturn; however, we likely will see slower growth in the weeks and months ahead. Even with the promising announcements of vaccine availability on the horizon, the pandemic continues to rage, overwhelming capacities at many hospitals. This health crisis will certainly continue to cause an economic crisis for many sectors.

The pandemic also slowed bank M&A activity. With all the economic uncertainty created by the health crisis, it is difficult to predict the full impact of the pandemic on bank’s balance sheets making buyers nervous. To date, Wisconsin has only had four announced whole bank acquisitions and 2021 is likely to be another slow year for bank M&A.

To help the membership gain a perspective on what 2021 will bring, I am pleased to announce our Midwest Economic Forecast Forum. Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago President Charles Evans will be speaking followed by Vining Sparks Economist, Craig Dismuke. Don’t miss this VIRTUAL opportunity on Jan. 7, 2021. More information is available here.

On Nov. 17, 2020, Gov. Tony Evers proposed legislation consisting of 19 bills that address an updated COVID relief plan. One of Evers’ provisions would allow the Department of Health Services to issue an order prohibiting evictions and foreclosures through 2021. WBA was surprised the Governor did not reach out to the banking industry for feedback on this provision before the announcement. The association will be doing a deeper analysis and reporting any additional information to the membership. Additionally, he is proposing the continuation of a one-week waiting period before those out of work can start to collect unemployment. 

Other provisions include allowing workers, including healthcare workers, to claim worker's compensation benefits if they contracted the illness as a result of their job; allowing the Department of Revenue to provide grants to small businesses in the manner to be determined by DOR; and allowing a notary public, through the end of calendar year 2021, to perform notarizations involving estate planning documents for individuals not physically present before the notary public.

A bill draft has been shared with GOP legislative leaders, who held a news conference last night on updated COVID initiatives. Parts of their discussion echoed CDC guidelines being urged by health officials. These include wearing a mask, socially distancing, regularly washing hands, staying home whenever possible, and avoiding social gatherings. 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has outlined the priorities of Assembly Republicans during their meeting. Among these proposals are doubling the number of contact tracers in Wisconsin; extending national guard testing sites; assisting the healthcare industry; aiming toward making at-home and rapid testing a possibility; and establishing liability protections. 

Vos has stated he is willing to speak with Gov. Tony Evers about coming to an agreement to slow the spread of the pandemic, but they are reportedly still figuring out scheduling. As of now, it appears that Vos is critical of many provisions suggested by Gov. Evers, especially regarding the allowance of DHS to issue an order that would prohibit foreclosures and evictions through 2021. He is also critical of the decision to use state dollars rather than federal CARES dollars as part of his proposal, noting that, should another federal coronavirus package be made available, it would be preferable to spend state dollars last. 

The Evers administration has prepared a $466 million overview in spending they have said to be necessary in order to continue Wisconsin pandemic response efforts through April 1 without additional action from the federal government. 

The situation is ongoing, and WBA will provide the most up-to-date information as it is made available. It is still unclear how Assembly Republicans will respond and what this will mean for the plan proposed by Gov. Evers.

For a summary of the bill, click here.

By, Alex Paniagua

The last time the top leadership of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago changed hands, the Great Recession was under way. This time, there’s a global pandemic. 

But if the bank emerges as solidly from the pandemic as it did from the recession, it might be fair to say the board of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago has mastered the skill of picking a CEO who can handle tough times and make positive changes along the way. 

On January 1, 2021, Michael A. Ericson is set to succeed Matthew R. Feldman as president and CEO of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago. 

Ericson, 48, currently is executive vice president and chief operating officer of the bank. He has served in a variety of executive roles with the institution since 2005. 

Feldman, 67, has been with the bank since 2003, and became president and CEO in 2008. 

Feldman was credited by the bank’s chairman, John K. Reinke, who also serves as the chair of the board of directors at The Stephenson National Bank & Trust in Marinette, with transforming the institution to be more mission-driven, focusing on the needs of its members in Wisconsin and Illinois. 

“There are a lot of descriptors when I think about Matt Feldman, and some of the adjectives that come to mind are iconic, intelligent, caring, creative, and principled,” said Reinke. “He has really had strong leadership for our bank and led us through some very difficult times at the beginning of his career. The Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago is really stronger than it’s ever been in terms of net worth and in terms of services to our members.”

The Federal Home Loan Bank System was created by the U.S. government in 1932 to make sure funds would be available to banks for lending to home buyers and includes 11 regional banks across the nation. The Chicago bank’s members include banks, thrifts, credit unions, insurance companies, and community development financial institutions. 

Reinke said when the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago board was seeking a successor for Feldman, it saw similar leadership characteristics in Ericson. 

“The Federal Home Loan Bank System is a unique system and each individual bank is a cooperative bank,” Reinke said. “We felt that having someone who would know the internal workings of the system would be very important. And Michael has been with the bank, even prior to Matt’s tenure as CEO. So, he has the inside knowledge, but he also has the respect of the staff.” 

Ericson said Feldman has been “a tremendous leader for the bank during his tenure.” Ericson will continue in the direction Feldman has taken and plans to emulate Feldman’s strengths including empathy, listening to various points of view, and giving the executive team freedom to carry out the bank’s vision. 

“He has accomplished many great things during his time at the bank,” Ericson said of Feldman. “One of the biggest accomplishments was the turnaround of the culture of the bank to be member focused. And we’re centered around diversity, equity and inclusion, and Matt has also been an excellent communicator in sharing his vision with staff and with members.” 

Ericson, who grew up in Colorado but has worked in California, Washington D.C., and New York in addition to Chicago, said business at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago is driven by the activities and needs of its members, such as the mortgage refinancing boom spurred by historically low interest rates. 

“We have seen mortgage volumes in our Mortgage Partnership Finance® Program increase significantly, both for loans that we’ve purchased on our balance sheet, as well as loans that we purchase and then sell to Fannie Mae,” Ericson said. 

Ericson said among the keys to the bank’s success is “to ensure that members have an enhanced member experience.” 

“So, when you think about member experience, we have to be easy to use, simple to borrow from and transact with,” he said. 

Asked what he expects to be the toughest part of the job, Ericson said it’s likely what many CEOs are faced with – ambiguity and being comfortable dealing with it. 

“There are never any easy answers that come with the role, but you have to be able to read the situations – and you’re faced with numerous situations – and take in all the available facts and make decisions around them to move the institution forward. I think that’s the biggest challenge any CEO is dealing with.” 

The best advice he’s received in his career also revolves around decision-making. 

“Some of the best advice I’ve been given was to not be scared to take chances,” Ericson said. “And as you go through life and go through a career, opportunities will come and present themselves. It’s easy to make the decision not to change or to stay on the path that you’re on. But it takes courage to make decisions, make difficult choices, take chances. And when those opportunities arise, I think it’s important to assess the situation and take chances.” 

He added: “In a leadership role you have to be able to make decisions, otherwise the institution will languish. And it’s more important to make the decision, and then if you have to course-correct afterwards, course-correct afterwards.” 

When Ericson isn’t working, he enjoys time with his wife and two children, playing golf or going skiing with them back in Colorado. 

“That’s lots of fun for me,” he said. 

His favorite vacation spots include the Kohler resort in Wisconsin and the Illinois community of Galena, near the Mississippi River. 

As Feldman prepares for retirement, he looks back with a sense of accomplishment during his time at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago. 

“The highlight of my career literally has been participating in the complete rebuilding of this bank to have a laser-sharp focus on our members and be financially strong enough to provide support for them in many, many different ways,” Feldman said. “But an equally meaningful highlight to me has been the ability to work with the most outstanding team of professionals, both in the bank and on the board, that I have ever had the opportunity to work with.” 

Feldman said he’s leaving his options open for what the next chapter of his life will hold. 

He is “passionately committed to working toward social justice and racial equity,” and will continue that effort after he leaves the bank. He also would like to serve on a corporate or institutional board of directors that could use the skills he has developed over his career. 

“And then I plan on spending a reasonable amount – if not even an unreasonable amount – of my time at our house in southeastern Wisconsin, where I’m going to improve my boating and sailing skills rather dramatically,” Feldman said.  

Paul Gores is a journalist who covered business news for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for 20 years. Have a story idea? Contact him at paul.gores57@gmail.com

“Mortgage Partnership Finance” is a registered trademark of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago. 

By, Ally Bates

With the challenges that 2020 has brought, many banks are reconsidering how they should be planning their training budgets. In recent months there has also been a major shift toward virtual formats, meaning that many educational programs are beginning to look different than they did in 2019. What do these changes entail for the future of banking education, and is this something your training budget should reflect? 

A Shift to Hybrid Learning 

Education is important – you’d have to do some extensive searching to find someone who would say otherwise. But a sensible concern right now is how to approach training budgets for 2021, and how long these educational programs will continue to be conducted virtually. 

“When these events were in person, they would have break-out sessions and networking times, and people could take advantage of that,” said Debi Bartel, vice president, HR director at First State Bank and member of the WBA Human Resources Committee as well as the WBA BOLT Board of Directors. “Right now, it feels like we’re missing out on a lot of that networking, which is a big part of training – just connecting with others in the industry to see how they’re operating at other institutions, then having someone you can go back to later and ask questions.” 

Daryll Lund, executive vice president, chief of staff at the Wisconsin Bankers Association also realizes how significant these connections are. He says the goal of many new virtual opportunities is to retain and even strengthen that ability to communicate among peers. 

“What we talk about at WBA is the ‘hallway talk,’” said Lund. “Networking with your peers in this way has become a hallmark of our training. So even as things are changing, we aim to provide for a community of bankers that can come together and offer that knowledge. It’s evolving, and we’re adapting.” 

Events such as the BOLT Winter Leadership Summit have taken this approach to include banker networking. The event included Banker Peer Group Discussions and a Virtual Networking Reception to encourage bankers to make those connections outside of the education setting. Many virtual and hybrid programs are implementing these opportunities between and after conferences to assure the exchange of information is as good, if not better, than meeting in person.  

Although many are anticipating the day they can safely return to these group learning sessions and reconnect with their peers, this method of attending virtual training programs seems to be here to stay for the foreseeable future. It’s a means of understanding the current situation and doing more than just making it work. At the end of the day, the goal is to make it effective. 

“Hybrid is going to be the new buzz word,” said Lund. “It gives you the in-person option or the virtual option. I don't think we’re ever going to go back to the days of just in-person or just virtual. There’s going to be that element of choice.” 

When considering how to budget training, Lund added that patience is going to be an important factor. The way this current situation is approached is constantly changing, and the prospective events being planned will follow suit. The reality is that an in-person event scheduled for next April might need to adjust to accommodate where the situation is at this point in the future. Even so, the expectation is always that this hybrid method will provide the same necessary and high-quality education and connections we require.  

“If an employee needs training or educational resources, then they need it,” said Bartel. “We have to be mindful of that.” 

Examining Expenses 

Many banks have noted that their training budgets are actually staying the same, and others are even increasing theirs. At first glance it may seem that this is a result of a lack of travel and accommodation expenses throughout 2020 rolling over into 2021, but Lund believes there’s a much simpler reason for banks increasing their budget.  

“I think with the rapidly changing digital marketplace for our banks, management and HR are making sure their bankers have the skills to serve their customers,” said Lund. “To stay up to date on current technology, compliance, and everything else, they know it’s important to be investing in their people.”  

Bartel echoed this, adding a reminder that proper training within the banking industry is representative of a culture based on constantly learning. 

“When you’re doing these things, you’re really developing yourself and driving that message to other employees,” Bartel said. “It’s a way of developing the culture that we’re never done learning. There are always new ideas, new concepts, and new ways of looking at things.” 

For anyone struggling to successfully make their training budget work, there are free educational resources available. Providing your employees with crucial information shouldn’t take a hit, so it’s important to keep in mind the free and inexpensive options you have both within your bank and externally. 

“At the time that PPP was first becoming a big deal, we offered a multitude of free conference calls and webinars for our bankers to keep them as current as possible on education,” said Lund. “We felt it was the right thing to do to not charge our bankers for that. It was our way of saying we want to help you during these uncertain times. We want to help you as you help your customers with these PPP loans. When we’re facing these crises, we want to do everything we can on our part to make it less difficult.” 

Along with this and other low-cost opportunities, WBA also offered a nine-part complimentary Coronavirus Management Series for operating during these unprecedented times. The resources are always out there, and many banks already know to take advantage of them. Bartel noted that she’s able to maintain a flexible training budget, not only because of these budget-friendly options, but because of all the education that internal staff is able to provide.  

“A lot of the training we use really has no cost to it,” said Bartel. “There hasn’t been much of a need for a robust budget, because we use the resources we have to the best of our ability and that works extremely well. Don’t forget about all the great help you have at your own bank.” 

Using this on-staff method of training can be a great way to supplement a surplus of webinars and classes. It’s often as simple as putting some reading material together for your employee to have on hand, and it doesn’t have to be anything too complex. At a certain point, Bartel noted, the cost of an employee’s time could outweigh the price of a webinar. Make sure the information is enough to give them a good understanding, and be able to answer any questions that might follow.  

“Have good resources and a good support system,” Bartel continued. “You have that knowledge in your company already. You don’t need to be a 400-page teller manual; just a 10-page cheat sheet going over the basics.” 

Taking this approach can make it easier to determine which programs will be the most effective and worth it for the price; utilize the knowledge in your bank first, and then make sure you’re providing staff with the information they can’t obtain directly from their colleagues. Create priorities for the topics that are current or constantly changing, and, if accessible, look into inexpensive solutions for the rest.  

“Education is a lifetime thing,” said Lund, “and bankers are committed to finding the best training resources for their employees. We want to make that as easy as possible.”

To help budget your training for 2021, WBA has created an education calendar with upcoming events for 2021. 

By, Alex Paniagua

As many people in WI and across the country transitioned to working from home amid COVID-19, office furniture may have been replaced by makeshift desks and household chairs. However, the dining room table or a spot on the couch may not have the same ergonomic design as a traditional office setup, which may have contributed to a spike in low back pain since COVID-19 emerged. 

About 80% of people experience low back issues at least once in their lifetime, with pain ranging from a minor nuisance to a major disability. When severe pain lingers, people may think about seeking a prescription to help – however, clinical guidelines recommend avoiding these medications as the initial treatment for low back pain. Unfortunately, low back pain ranks as a driver of opioid prescriptions in the United States1, and opioid usage comes with possible unnecessary risks of addiction and potential complications. 

While sometimes low back pain can’t be avoided, here are five preventive steps and evidence-based care methods to help address this common issue: 

Focus on Posture. Whether you are now working at the kitchen table or on the couch, focusing on proper posture may help. Make sure you are sitting up straight with your knees at a 90-degree angle, with your shoulders in a straight line over your hips and your ears directly over your shoulders. If you’re working at a computer, adjust the screen height to eye level and consider elevating the keyboard to help keep your hands, wrists and forearms in line and parallel to the floor. Also, note how often you are on the phone, which may contribute to poor neck posture. Instead of tilting your chin down, raise the device to eye level and avoid tucking it between your ear and shoulder, or opt for a speakerphone or headset.

Take Breaks. You may notice you feel sore even if you maintain good posture throughout your workday. If you stay in one spot for too long, your muscles and joints may get stiff. Consider taking quick breaks every 30 minutes to get up and stretch or walk around. This may promote better blood flow for your muscles and joints, and it may also give your eyes and mind a break.

Stay Active. While some people with low back pain may be tempted to consider bed rest, staying active in many cases may be the best option. Low impact activities to consider include walking and swimming, while research indicates that strengthening leg muscles may also prove helpful. You might also try yoga and tai chi, as they’ve been shown to ease moderate to severe low back pain. If time is a factor, a brief walk at lunch or going up and down the stairs a few times can help you stay active.

Eat a Healthier Diet. The bones, muscles, discs and other structures in your back may need proper nutrition to help support your body. Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats may help reduce inflammation, often a contributing factor to chronic back pain. Eating a healthier diet may also help you maintain a healthy weight, which may also reduce your risk for back pain.

Consider care options. The American College of Physicians (ACP) recommends exercise-based therapies as the first line of treatment. If low back pain persists, ACP encourages the use of nonsurgical options for initial treatment, including physical therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs. These noninvasive treatment options, which in some cases may be covered by your health benefit plan, may help 95% of people with low back pain recover after 12 weeks. Muscle relaxants should be secondary options, and imaging (such as an MRI) and surgery should be a last resort. However, certain “red-flag” symptoms, such as fever or loss of bladder and bowel control, may require immediate testing and intervention.

Even for people with chronic low back pain, only a small percentage may need more invasive procedures or surgery. Taking preventive steps – and selecting evidence-based care approaches – may help reduce the risks and complications associated with low back pain.

For more information on the WBA Association Health Plan go to www.uhc.com/WBA or contact Brian Siegenthaler at 608-441-1211 or bsiegenthaler@wisbank.com.

  1. OptumLabs. 2018 Opioid KPI Metrics

By, Ally Bates

Rose Oswald Poels, President and CEO of the Wisconsin Bankers Association, recently wrote a letter to The Wall Street Journal which they published in an article on Friday, Nov. 13. Below is the original letter. 

“The Battle to Keep America’s Black Banks Alive” was right when it said “In many ways, the struggles of "Black-owned banks and small, community lenders are one and the same.” The high cost of regulations as well as keeping up with the technology demands of a public that expects safe, secure, and instantaneous online banking at their fingertips are just a few of the factors driving these challenges. Like other minority-owned banks, Black-owned banks are very mission-driven and to help them succeed in their mission, they need the support of others willing to help champion this effort.  

Real progress begins with Congress and state legislatures promoting policies that recognize and support all minority-owned banks. This could include policies that allow for greater regulatory flexibility given the type of lending that occurs, and tax credits to help offset necessary investments in technology to improve compliant internal operations as well as allow them to compete with highly valued customer-facing products.  

A recent study done by the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation and Dr. Russell Kashian of UW-Whitewater's Fiscal & Economic Research Center, supports a point made in the article about competing with the global or larger banks. The study found overall that race is a factor in a consumers’ choice of type of institution. “Our results found, interestingly, that the white students were statistically more likely to use a community bank, and Black students were more likely to use national banks, and Latinx students were more likely to use regional banks,” Kashian said. A possible explanation, he said, is that national banks are more likely to be in urban areas, whereas community banks tend to focus on a smaller, usually more suburban or rural, geographic footprint. 

State and national banking associations are also champions of minority-owned banks and leveraging their resources will also further the success of Black-owned banks. In addition to the good work done by focused associations like the National Bankers Association and Minbanc Foundation, other banking associations offer products and services that can help Black-owned banks succeed. In addition to the advocacy support banking associations provide, they also offer high-quality educational programs to improve the professional development of bank staff, and other products designed to improve the business operations of banks. Many times, these are offered for members at discounted prices without sacrificing value.  

Finally, all of us in and around the banking industry can do more to economically empower disenfranchised citizens, which will ultimately improve the financial situation of customers of all banks, notably including Black-owned banks. Financial literacy is critical to provide individuals with the right knowledge and tools to develop and sustain a solid financial foundation. Elected officials along with the private sector can provide Black-owned banks with financial support and the tools necessary to allow them to provide meaningful financial education to their customers and local communities.  

A diverse banking sector is critical to meet the unique needs of our diverse country. We should all continue to do our part to help Black-owned banks, and all banks succeed.

On a similar note, WBA is hosting “A Conversation on Racial Equity.” Sponsored by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, this Dec. 9 program is intended to provide bankers with unique perspectives on racial equity to help us all learn how we can all improve and move forward on a path toward positive change.


By, Alex Paniagua

By Rose Oswald Poels

A Wisconsin recount is likely coming in the near future, along with other legal challenges regarding the Presidential election despite Joe Biden being declared the winner of the Presidential election. Fortunately, there is no confusion as to who won their races within Wisconsin’s Congressional Delegation. Here’s what Wisconsin bankers need to know.

There were no surprises for the WBA Advocacy Team regarding the Wisconsin Congressional Delegation races. Although it was closer than we anticipated, U.S. Representative Ron Kind won his race which means that in the next session, he will be a lead sponsor on the WBA-backed ECORA legislation. All other incumbents won their respective races within the delegation and “newcomer” State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald won his race, replacing retiring U.S. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner in the 5th District.

The good news is that WBA has a proven track record of working with Wisconsin’s entire Congressional Delegation. Our Advocacy Team has strong relationships with these individuals including incoming Congressman Fitzgerald. To a certain degree, we can anticipate the level of support from them in the upcoming legislative session and that’s a critical advantage for Wisconsin’s banking industry.

On the federal level, we know that control of the U.S. House of Representatives will stay with Democrats, although the margins have narrowed. It’s likely that Speaker Nancy Pelosi will retain her position. The Senate will be decided on January 5 by the runoff elections in Georgia. Republicans must win one of the two seats being contested to retain their control of the Senate. If both seats go Democratic, the Senate will be tied 50-50 with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris as the deciding vote.

With an expected Democratic White House and House of Representatives and a Republican controlled Senate, what is on the policy table for bankers?  During his campaign, banking priorities were not among the top subjects raised by President-Elect Biden and with a divided government, it will be challenging for either side to get extreme priorities pushed through. Nonetheless, legislation affecting the banking industry is expected in the areas of housing, consumer protection and financial inclusion. On the regulatory front, in addition to appointing new agency heads in the near term at OCC and CFPB, CRA reform is expected to be a top regulatory policy priority.

Working with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle as well as regulators will be the best way to improve bank policy in the next session and fortunately, you and WBA have the relationships to do exactly that.

Operating an in-person meeting became second nature for many bankers before the pandemic hit, but now the concept feels like it’s from a past life. Webinars, virtual conferences, and regular Zoom check-ins have become the new norm, and many have found there are unexpected challenges that come with it. For bankers, part of that is not only learning to overcome these challenges, but to be excellent with them by considering four measures to assure success.  


One of the biggest changes as a result of virtual meetings is that we no longer share the same environment. Meeting rooms and conference halls have been replaced with virtual beach backgrounds and colleagues’ bedrooms. The downside of this is that it may seem there’s a lack of professionality. The upside is that it allows you to showcase just how professional you’re capable of being.  

“The background matters because you need to look like a professional,” said Matt Middendorp, owner and founder of Sales Math Consulting LLC. “It doesn’t need to be a professionally staged background by any means, but you need to think about the room you’re in and what’s behind you.” 

Middendorp’s advice: make it personal, make it professional, and make it deliberate. The easiest way to do this is to set up some books behind you, hang a photo on the wall, and make the background look like it has had thought put into it. Beyond that, the primary rule is to just be aware of it. 

“It’s not going to be a perfect setup, and it doesn’t have to be,” said Paul DiMarco, VP of organizational development at VGM Group, Inc. “There’s going to be a time where many of us will return to the office, but for now we have to do more than just make it work.” 

But determining how you decorate your new business setting is only a good step if your internet isn’t kicking you out every five minutes. For this, VGM Forbin Financial Sales Manager Donny Wilson recommended a few simple precautionary measures when dealing with things on the technological front.  

“With the kids at home, going online for school or watching videos, they’re also using the broadband and that’s going to bog down most home systems,” said Wilson. “You have to manage the use of your broadband during meetings so that you don’t time out and leave your participants stranded. Some people won’t have the same access to faster internet speeds as others do, and to a certain extent that’s just the limitations of the way things are.” 

Wilson said most people don’t need to invest any money in upgrading their modem; the best thing you can do is know what your internet speed is, check to make sure that’s the speed you’re getting, and work within those limitations.  

“Check with your provider to see what speeds you’re supposed to currently be getting and they’ll be able to direct you to a website that will do a speed test of your current hookup. That way you can actually see what it is.” 

And if all else fails, the best solution is to be prepared for anything. Have a backup plan that you communicate before the meeting starts, because we’ve learned that the internet is far from a perfect system. 

“I’ve been in the middle of meetings where my internet just crashed and I drop out,” said Middendorp. “It’s infuriating. But it’s even more infuriating if I didn’t communicate all the variables to my team ahead of time; there are a lot of things that could happen that didn’t used to be in play.  

He also noted that some bankers are working in rural areas and won’t have access to good broadband, so just letting other attendees know that they can dial in on their phone if their connection isn’t cooperating makes a major difference in the fluidity of the meeting.  

“Good preparation is having everyone come in with the same goal in mind, which is even more crucial under these circumstances,” Middendorp said. “Know the outcome that you want to reach and try to determine the steps to get to that outcome.” 


Approaching your lighting in the right way is the difference between whether you’ll be figuratively and literally left in the dark. Home lighting can be great if it’s facing the proper direction, but it’s often the case that it’s too dim for the camera or projects light at the wrong angle. The good news is, there are plenty of other options. 

Are you using the sun as your light source instead? Consider whether it’s adequately lighting up your face and torso or if it’s casting your entire body in a shadow. The location of your windows will play a huge role in this, too.  

“Lighting is the biggest thing, and natural lighting is often the best solution,” said DiMarco. “But always make sure it’s in front of you, even if this means positioning your setup so that there’s not a window anywhere behind you. It could be as far as 20 or 30 feet away and out of view; it’s still enough to be a distraction.” 

Usually, it’s as simple as moving the location of your computer. But if there’s too much natural light or you’re not able to relocate your workstation, then block out as much light as you can and then consider how a small purchase can make a huge difference. 

“First, try to make natural lighting work as best you can,” said Middendorp, "but if you need to invest in something, then invest in a ring light. You can get one for $20, and the difference is remarkable.” 

These versatile light sources are exactly what they sound like – an LED ring that you place behind your camera to emit the perfect illumination to assure that all participants aren’t talking with a shadow for the entire meeting.  

“At the end of the day, the lighting doesn’t have to be perfect, but it shouldn’t be a distraction,” Middendorp said. “Avoid having the light on just one side of your face or appearing in the meeting as a silhouette.”  


Your lighting can only do you as much good as your camera will allow it to. This doesn’t mean going out and spending hundreds of dollars on a high-quality computer camera, but the way you use your laptop’s recording feature can make or break a meeting for both the host and the participants. 

“The first thing is that you should have your cameras on,” said Wilson. “Not only does this allow them to be actively engaged as though it was in person; it allows everyone else to know that each person is participating and not reading a book or watching television.” 

Wilson noted that for hosts, a camera isn’t necessary 100% of the time. If your meeting consists primarily of showing charts or other infographics to those in attendance, then there’s not much of a need to get in the spotlight. But for an in-person scenario, he reminded that there’s no feature that can make you disappear in a physical meeting.  

Middendorp added that the only other critical thing is usually overlooked because it’s never an issue when you’re face to face with other people: the angle matters.  

“Have the camera at eye level or slightly above,” Middendorp suggested. “I was setting my laptop on a crockpot on a table, because it just got it to the perfect height.” 

“Sometimes you have to get creative,” DiMarco said. “A lot of times, this means putting your laptop on a stack of books so people aren’t looking up your nostrils when you’re on a video feed.” 

As Middendorp and DiMarco both affirm, any angle that’s too far above or below these suggestions creates the potential for a distraction. And to be safe, always make sure you have wipe cloths, so your camera is picking up crystal clear visuals.   


You’re next to speak in a meeting: as you begin that introduction you confidently prepared for, you’re interrupted by a chorus of colleagues letting you know that you’re on mute. It’s an easy fix, but the unmute button is hit to reveal something far worse: poor sound quality.  

“If there’s one place where it wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest money, it would be sound,” Middendorp said. “You want to be clear and you want to be heard. Most people I speak with in virtual meetings simply plug a set of headphones in and have their microphone on — that's perfect.” 

A basic pair of headphones with a built-in microphone is more than enough to assure necessary sound quality. This should by no means break the bank, but the recommendation is – at the very least – to avoid relying on your laptop’s sound system. 

“The goal of the previous three examples is to simply not let them be a distraction,” said Middendorp. “That doesn’t apply to this one, because you need to have good sound. If people can’t understand you, if you’re getting feedback or background noise, that eliminates every message you’re trying to convey.” 

Getting that message across is a critical part of any meeting. It’s become all too easy to lose focus in this new setting, especially when we recall how lively and productive these gatherings would be in front of our colleagues. Part of the host’s new responsibility is to make sure everyone is present and engaged, and the first step toward this engagement is presenting your best self so others follow suit.  

“This new platform has a lot to do with what the other people in the meeting are hearing and seeing, and not necessarily what might have worked best for you when this was all occurring in person,” DiMarco said. “We all need to adapt, and people follow by example.” 

Putting it Into Action 

All of these things working together are the keys to making a virtual meeting feel like you’ve never left the office. When it’s done well, people don’t give a second thought to being in an online setting. But allowing those distractions to be front and center can take away from your entire message. 

“The goal of properly hosting these online meetings is to make the agenda come to life using the tools that we’re currently limited to,” Middendorp said. “Going about it in the wrong way can often undermine what it is that you’re trying to accomplish.” 

Embracing this change will not only help you display your best self during these meetings, but it will help the content of the meetings be more efficient and effective. With many workers continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, it’s worth trying to understand the benefits that could come as a result of mastering this communication format.  

“This a continuously evolving dynamic,” said DiMarco. “People keep talking about the ‘new normal’ and I believe this is the reality of that new normal. Consider developing new meeting policies and ask yourself how this might further benefit your bank.” 

DiMarco noted that this platform is more than likely here to stay, whether it be through employees that continue to work from home or new forms of technology that allow for this virtual interaction. Understanding this and using it to your advantage is the difference between accepting change and embracing it.  

“Sometimes we’re slow to embrace the new tools that allow these things to be effective,” Middendorp said. “I would really urge the banking community – whether through internal meetings, prospecting sales, or growing the bank – to view these virtual opportunities right now as a good thing. Make them a bigger part of how you conduct business as a bank. Change is being forced upon us, so let’s not just make the most of it; let’s be excellent with it and find new ways to be successful.”  

Interested in learning more about topics like this? Matt Middendorp will be presenting at WBA’s upcoming BOLT Leadership Summit which will take place Nov. 16-17. He will also be instructing Cool Bankers Academy to help bankers master sales.

By, Alex Paniagua

Time to mark your calendar! WBA has a lot in store for the upcoming year, with events ranging from the Bank Executives Conference, Feb. 1-3, to the Women in Banking Conference, April 26.   

Many of these conferences will occur over the course of multiple days, so WBA wants to make sure interested participants can plan early. The events will be based on hot topics, industry news, and best banking practices. Each will have scheduled time for peer networking.  

A full list of these conferences along with their dates and cost can be found below. You can also email wbaeducation@wisbank.com with any questions or comments.


Midwest Economic Forecast Forum

  • Jan. 7, Virtual


  • Compliance Forum
    • Feb. 23-25, Wasau, Wisconsin Dells, Milwaukee
  • Bank Executives Conference
    • Feb. 1-3, Virtual


  • Agricultural Bankers Conference
    • April 7-8, Wisconsin Dells – $300/ag section member; $350/non-section member banker
  • Power of Community Week
    • April 19-24
  • Teach Children to Save Day
    • April 22
  • Women in Banking Conference
    • April 26, Wisconsin Dells – $250/each first two attendees; $195/each additional attendee


  • Trust Conference
    • May 18, Madison – $220/Trust Section member; $245/non-section member banker
  • FIPCO Deposit Users Conference
    • TBD May
  • Capitol Day
    • TBD May


  • Leadership ENGAGED!
    • June 2, Madison
  • BOLT Summer Leadership Summit
    • June 10-11, Wisconsin Dells – $150/attendee


Chairman’s Member Appreciation Golf Outing

  • Aug. 19, Wisconsin Dells


  • Management Conference – including tracks for CEOs, CFOs, CCOs, HR and other bank leaders!
    • Sept. 13-14, Green Bay – $250/each first two bank attendees; $200/each additional attendee
  • Secur-I.T. Conference – including tracks for Security, Technology, Operations, and BSA/AML
    • Sept. 22-23, Wisconsin Dells – $350/first attendee; $300/each additional attendee
  • FDIC Bank Directors College
    • Sept. 28, Stevens Point/Sept. 29, Madison


  • LEAD360 Conference
    • Nov. 16-17 Wisconsin Dells – $350/first attendee; $300/each additional attendee 
  • BOLT Winter Leadership Summit
    • Nov., TBD Stevens Point – $100/attendee
  • FIPCO Software & Compliance Forum: Loan & Mortgage
    • Nov. TBD

By, Alex Paniagua