NFR Communications, publisher of BankBeat and BankNews magazines and BankBeat.biz, has promoted Mara Gawarecki to the position of Editor-in-Chief of its print publications. Most recently managing editor-digital, Gawarecki takes on the new role from Jacqueline Nasseff Hilgert, who is transitioning to retirement. Additionally, Sam Wilmes, associate editor, will transition to managing editor-digital for BankBeat.biz and BankNews.com. These changes become effective September 1, 2022.

A nine-year veteran of the company, Gawarecki has held numerous roles of increasing responsibility with Twin Cities-based NFR Communications. As head of digital products, she oversaw content development on BankBeat.biz, delivering news and insights to community bankers throughout the central United States. She also managed sponsored webinars and published the company’s owned and contracted electronic newsletters. She has also contributed editorially to BankBeat and BankNews magazines.

Gawarecki has a bachelor of arts degree in liberal arts from Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., and a master of arts degree in English from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn. She was named a 2022 “25 Under 35” honoree by Editor & Publisher magazine.

“Mara has the experience, industry knowledge, and love for language that positions her to succeed as editor-in-chief,” said Tom Bengtson, publisher. “Mara knows our readers and will go the extra mile to give them articles and essays that are timely, relevant, and thought-provoking.”

Wilmes will replace Gawarecki in the role of managing editor-digital. Currently associate editor, Wilmes joined NFR Communications in mid-2021 to write for its print and digital platforms. Previously a reporter for the Northfield News and other community newspapers in Minnesota and South Dakota, he brings an extensive journalism background to his new role. Wilmes has a bachelor of arts degree in mass media from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“Sam has the reporting skills to serve our digital audiences well,” Bengtson said. “He is willing to pick up the phone, ask the right questions or find appropriate sources for a wide variety of stories he deals with everyday. His solid reporting background brings tremendous credibility to our digital efforts.”

Nasseff Hilgert joined NFR Communications in 1996 and has served in numerous roles. She’s been Editor-in-Chief and Chief operating Officer since January 2018. She oversaw the transformation of the century-old magazine to BankBeat, from NorthWestern Financial Review, in September 2018. She was also instrumental in integrating Kansas City-based BankNews Media into NFR Communications in 2019.

Michael Ebbensgard has joined The Stephenson National Bank & Trust (SNBT) as vice president – retail market manager. Ebbensgard brings with him over 22 years of banking experience with a primary focus on strong service delivery and building successful retail teams and branch locations. His background in project implementation, compliance, and security is fundamental in current and future market growth.

As vice president – retail market manager, he is responsible for the development of SNBT’s deposit products and services as well as the growth of each banking office in alignment with the bank’s vision and culture. Additionally, Ebbensgard assists in furthering the bank’s brand and presence within the local community.

“We’re delighted to add Michael to our well-rounded banking team as we continue enriching our relationship-driven banking philosophy,” said Elisa Rollo, SNBT senior vice president & chief retail officer. “Michael’s leadership inspires a performance culture emphasizing value over price to ensure customers are consistently offered only what they need and at the right time in the financial relationship. His experience and customer-focused attitude align with SNBT’s strategy of meeting the financial needs of individuals and businesses throughout every stage of their lives.”

Ebbensgard holds an associate of applied science in marketing and is a Certified Community Banking Security Officer. Previously, he has held the roles of VP retail banking manager & security officer, branch operations manager, sales support manager, and instore sales coordinator.

Bill Zeinert

Bill Zeinert was appointed to the boards of directors for Premier Community Bank and its parent company, MSB Bancorporation, Inc., effective July 1, 2022.

Zeinert, a longtime area resident and experienced marketing consultant, brings a breadth of consumer research, market development, and advertising skills to the board. A RIVA trained focus group moderator, Zeinert owns and operates a business consultancy out of Clintonville, Wisconsin.

Over his career he’s earned national and regional awards for his creative ad work for clients that include Ariens, Hershey’s, Kimberly-Clark, the Green Bay Packers, and Clorox. Zeinert is a certified instructor for both Emotional Intelligence and the Meyers Briggs Temperament Indicator, as well as an approved trainer for the Kouzes and Posner Leadership Challenge.

Before launching his own business, Zeinert was previously director of marketing for WG&R Furniture and WG&R Sleep Shops and served as associate creative director of the Karma Group, a Green Bay based advertising agency.

Zeinert is active in his community and the Boy Scouts of America, serving as Scoutmaster of Troop 28 in Clintonville, as well as stints on the Clintonville Common Council, Clintonville Utility Board, and Christus Lutheran Church Council.

“Bill’s selection for the board is exciting,” said Tom Pamperin, president/CEO of Premier Community Bank. “The key to our future is our ability to grow and adapt, while maintaining our independence as a community bank. Bill’s strengths fit well with our mission and vision. He is a great addition to an already strong and forward-thinking board of directors.”

Triangle Background

Domain change offers greater online security and peace of mind for clients

Oak Bank has announced enhanced security and protection with a website domain change from oakbankonline.com to oak.bank.

The domain .bank became available to financial institutions in 2015. More than 700 banks in the U.S., now including Oak Bank, have made the switch from .com to .bank. Only verified banking institutions can use .bank domains. .Bank offers stronger encryption and security measures in a time of increasing cybersecurity risks. The .bank verification and authentication process is run by fLTD, an affiliate of the American Bankers Association (ABA).

“We made this change to enhance our security and provide a safer environment for our clients because we take the security of our client’s confidential information seriously,” said Terry Taylor, Oak Bank president. “We want our clients to feel confident that they are working with a trusted partner and .bank provides that peace of mind.”

Purchasing a .com domain that looks like a financial institution’s and then changing even just one letter is an example of how scammers phish for personal information to steal someone’s identity. However, to register a .bank domain, verified financial institutions must meet robust security requirements, follow strict compliance guidelines, and go through an annual reverification process. The added checks and balances offer a multilayer approach to combating fraud and identity theft that goes beyond what’s available with traditional .com websites.

“Much like the domain .gov, our website, and email addresses ending in .bank also gives our clients a visual cue for added confidence when banking online and communicating with one of our team members,” said Tami Loy, Oak Bank senior vice president information technology and cybersecurity.

“Security is one of the most important considerations in the banking industry,” said Lisa Quakenbush, Oak Bank SVP – chief financial officer. “It is our duty and promise to provide our clients with the highest level of protection that we can, and the switch to .bank is just one of many risk management strategies that we now use to accomplish that .”

Oak Bank clients won’t have to do anything prior to the change, except to look for .bank when interacting with emails or entering their login information on the new website, which also has a refreshed look, streamlined ease of use, and incorporates stronger back-end security. While email addresses will forward to the new .bank email addresses and oakbankonline.com redirects to the new website, clients may want to update their browser bookmarks and contact records.

Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

At the heart of the Wisconsin Bankers Association’s (WBA) mission is advocating on behalf of the Wisconsin’s banking industry. In the last year alone, WBA has taken action in combating credit card fees, increasing instances of elder fraud in our communities, legislation that would expand credit union powers, a looming recession, and so much more.

It’s no secret that WBA-member banks play a significant role in the support of our Association. Between political contributions that help further engage our legislators or by participating in Capitol Day, organizing a “Take Your Legislator to Work Day”, or testifying on a bill — the engagement shown by our membership has been paramount in advancing WBA’s efforts over the last 130 years.

I am also lucky to say that, in addition to the thousands of bankers throughout the state who engage with WBA, our Association is also made up of nearly 50 individuals who, like you, are sincerely dedicated to our state’s banking industry.

Earlier this month, WBA hosted its annual staff fundraiser in support of Wisbankpac and Alliance of Bankers for Wisconsin (ABW) — two critical methods of promoting advocacy for the Wisconsin banking industry. This timely event, in which the funds raised are used to help support pro-banking political candidates, welcomed staff donations (though participation was not required) by way of a specified contribution from payroll, a check made out to one of the funds, or the purchase of one or more Jeans Day stickers for a casual dress day at the office. All money raised directly aids in WBA’s advocacy efforts.

For their generosity, and to celebrate Wisconsin’s beloved county fair season, WBA hosted a fair-themed week of events. Ranging from a blue ribbon bake off to games and a cornhole competition, every staff person was able to participate in activities and win prizes.

I am proud to announce that our small but mighty staff was collectively able to crush our goal of $7,000 and raise over $12,350 this year. This amazing feat by our team highlights the commitment each WBA staff member has to the industry and our membership.

As we look ahead to the remainder of this calendar year, it is critical that all WBA-member banks continue to engage with our Government Relations team and take part in supporting our industry. In addition to making political contributions, banks should take a moment to ensure they remain on track to receive WBA’s Gold Triangle or Bankers Involved in Grassroots and Government (BIGG) Award.

The Gold Triangle Club, the highest level of fundraising recognition for banks, is awarded annually through contributions to ABW political conduit, Wisbankpac, or WBA’s issue advocacy fund. Corporate contributions as well as contributions from bank employees and directors count toward Gold Triangle status, and the amount to qualify ranges from $500 to $4,500 based on the size of the bank.

WBA’s BIGG Award expands beyond Gold Triangle fundraising to encompass grassroots advocacy engagement and serves as the Association’s highest level of recognition for overall advocacy. To learn more about how your bank can earn these prestigious awards, please contact Lorenzo Cruz, vice president – government relations, or me.

As I’ve stated in previous publications, the support and involvement of every member bank is critical to the continued success of our advocacy efforts. With the goal of raising $300,000 by the end of this year, it truly requires a team effort to keep our Association on target to continue surpassing our goals for the industry!

More than 150 guests attended the eighth annual Wisconsin Farm to Table Dinner that took place on Friday, August 5 at Mighty Grand Dairy in Union Grove, Wis. The elegant dining event welcomed visitors near and far to enjoy an evening of extraordinary food and discovery by learning about local farmers and their contribution of farm-fresh ingredients.

“After attending a Wisconsin Farm to Table Dinner last year, we were eager to host one ourselves as it’s such a great opportunity to share the story of how we care for our animals every day to produce a wholesome product for so many to enjoy,” says Kim and Dave Daniels, one of the partners at Mighty Grand Dairy. “We enjoy welcoming others to the farm, and to incorporate other local farmers into such a unique dining experience was something we knew others would enjoy as well.”

The event at Mighty Grand Dairy included farm tours, a cheese and wine sampling reception, and a five-course meal created by Chef Chanse Schomber. Conversation and community were generated as guests dined on local fare, highlighted by presentations from the farmers contributing dinner ingredients.

Chef Schomber of Entrees by Chef Chanse based in Juneau, Wis. orchestrated the five-course menu for the evening, placing special emphasis on a local farmer during each course. Guests learned about River Valley Ranch, a local mushroom farm, as they began the dinner with a mushroom, caramelized onion, and venison crostini, followed by a flavorful cucumber, beet, and dill soup. Brightonwoods Orchard apples were featured in a fresh green salad and drizzled with raspberry vinaigrette. Valley Croft Farms provided a medley of beef, pork, and vegetables to provide a hearty entrée of outside round beef and whiskey glazed pernil pork, chimichurri mixed beans with bacon and onions, and Dauphinoise potatoes. The evening’s taste experience was concluded with apples once again from Brightonwood Orchards in an apple caramel cannoli with mixed berry compote.

“Incorporating locally-produced food brings more than just great flavor to our evening’s menu, but a greater understanding of the passion and dedication that goes into producing the food that we all enjoy,” says Chef Schomber. “There is no comparison to the true dedication like that of the farmers within our own community, and we are proud to feature them throughout our evening.”

Local farmers and processors brought the character to the evening’s fare, but the evening would not have been made possible without the support of founding sponsors, including Adams Farms, Arch Solar, BMO Harris Bank, Community State Bank, Completed Feed Service, Duick & Associates, Edge Cooperative, FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative, Feed Components, GPS Dairy Consulting, Super B Grain Farms LLC, The Scharine Group Inc., and Tier 1 Nutritionals.

Special appreciation is also given to the Kansasville Fire Department, the group chosen by Mighty Grand Dairy to receive proceeds from the 2022 dinner event. Volunteers from the Kansasville Fire Department helped staff the event and were a key component of the event’s success.

“The mission of the Wisconsin Farm to Table is to share the story of agriculture and to feature the dedication and passion of our local farm families,” says Kari Blazei, Wisconsin Farm to Table founder and president. “Over the years, our organization has been able to generously give back, and this year, the team at Mighty Grand Dairy has chosen the Kansasville Fire Department, in recognition of their presence in the local community. We are happy to help support their organization with this year’s event.”

WBA’s Secur-I.T. & BSA/AML Conference returns in 2022

As cybersecurity and fraud continue to be rising topics of discussion throughout the banking industry, bankers are encouraged to stay informed on the latest trends experts are seeing and how regulations will continue to impact Wisconsin banks by attending WBA’s annual Secur-I.T. & BSA/AML Conference held in Wisconsin Dells.

The two-day conference — beginning September 20 and adjourning at noon on September 21 — draws over 125 BSA/AML, operations, security, and technology professionals from around the state for over seven hours of educational presentations and networking.

This year’s keynote session will feature Bryan Seely, a world-famous cyber security expert, ethical hacker, author, and former U.S. Marine. Seely became one of the most famous hackers in 2014 when he became the only person to ever wiretap the United States Secret Service and FBI. Before he was caught, he confessed to the two agencies that there was an issue that needed to
be fixed.

Unlike many hackers, Seely is passionate about fighting for consumers rights, privacy, and educating the public about how to stay safe in a constantly changing technological landscape. In this keynote session, Seely will highlight the different ways in which hackers think and the new, creative ways professionals must approach security in order to protect the most critical information of the business and customers.

In addition to this captivating keynote speaker, the Secur-I.T. & BSA/ AML Conference offers several breakout sessions and networking opportunities that will assist banking professionals from throughout Wisconsin in further developing their bank’s customer experiences, BSA/ AML program, security, and technology capabilities as the banking and technology industries continue to evolve.

Cryptocurrency is currently an unregulated, speculative investment

By Hannah Flanders

With the increasing rise in popularity of cryptocurrency throughout the U.S., it is no question that banks and regulators alike aim to understand this unique form of encrypted exchange while also helping to protect the millions of individuals who have already invested in, traded, or used digital assets.

In May, crypto investors experienced the most severe price crash the global crypto market has ever seen. As inflation rises and individuals continue to draw what money they have left out of the market, prices continue to drop each day.

Cryptocurrency is a speculative investment for both banks and individuals engaging with it, and currently, there are no specific regulations tailored to it. As the market this last year has shown, although the market experiences rapid unpredictability and growing connections to money laundering activity, consumers and business alike continue to be interested in the potential benefits of this transferable wealth.

In this, many regulators are attempting to harness the security of financial institutions that are entering into the untamed landscape. As agencies — including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) — jockey to assert regulatory authority and supervision over digital assets, it is important for banks and their counsel to consider that no regulations have been established regarding bank involvement with digital assets.

In March 2022, President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order regarding the need to establish consumer/investor protection and focus on financial stability, inclusion, and preventing against illicit activity within the American crypto market. Of this came an increase in guidance issued by several national agencies.

Guidance by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) states that all FDIC-supervised institutions that intend to engage in, or that are currently engaged in, any activities involving or related to digital assets should notify the FDIC. This action aims to provide supervisory feedback in the wake of activities that pose significant safety and soundness risks as well as financial stability concerns to banks. Additionally, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) advises that banks should not engage in cryptocurrency until they have notified their supervisory office and received a non-objection form.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has also issued several advisories to banks regarding illicit activity involving cryptocurrency. Banks should demonstrate compliance with their anti-money laundering (AML) programs and be aware of the prevalence of unregistered entities without sufficient AML controls. As with every new relationship, banks are advised to also consider the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 (BSA) when engaging with digital assets.

In addition to guidance from federal agencies, banks should also be aware that state agencies and legislators may also begin acting on Biden’s order. In this, more proposed legislation to encourage innovation in the financial sector while also enforcing consumer protections may begin appearing at both the state and federal levels.

Currently, only one legislative act has been proposed at the federal level by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.). If enacted, the Responsible Financial Innovation Act (RFI) would establish regulatory framework for digital assets by providing industry and regulator clarity, clarifying standards, establishing jurisdictional boundaries, and protecting consumers.

At the state level, Wisconsin’s Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) and Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) have cautioned Wisconsin banks and consumers of the risks of crypto. While no legislation has yet to be proposed or passed, Wisconsin bankers should expect that — like many other states — state regulation may be forthcoming.

For questions on legal developments or regulations related to crypto or other compliance matters, please reach out to WBA legal at 608-441-1200.

*Update from originally published article: On Tuesday, August 16, guidance was issued for Federal Reserve System (FRB)-supervised banking organizations engaged in or seeking to engage in crypto-asset-related activities. The guidance includes the instruction that a banking organization need notify its lead FRB supervisory point of contact regarding such activities.

Ag Lending School Class Photo
The Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) is pleased to announce that 11 bankers have completed the 2022 WBA Agricultural Lending School, which was held August 10–12 at the WBA headquarters in Madison. The WBA Agricultural Lending School’s rigorous curriculum includes case studies, a farm visit, and in-class work and discussions. The individuals who completed this year’s school are:
  • Cassandra Baeten, Ag Portfolio Manager, Bank of Luxemburg
  • Cody Belken, Credit Analyst, Royal Bank, Dickeyville
  • Riley Carson, Ag Loan Officer, Community Bank, Vernon Center
  • Hope Francis, Credit Analyst, Community First Bank, Platteville
  • Chris Greenwood, Branch Manager, Waumandee State Bank, Arcadia
  • Heather Hafften, Ag Loan Officer, Peoples State Bank, Dickeyville
  • Marissa Hanley, Agricultural Credit Analyst, Nicolet National Bank, Seymour
  • Mara Hird, Residential Relationship Manager – AVP, Peoples State Bank, Wauzeka
  • Jamie Horsfall, Agricultural Relationship Manager, Peoples State Bank, Fennimore
  • Rayanne Walker, Agricultural Credit Analyst, Nicolet National Bank, Eau Claire
  • Amy Bloczynski, AVP/Branch Manager, Waumandee State Bank, Black River Falls
Ag Lending School Class Photo

(Left to right) Cody Belken, Jamie Horsfall , Cassandra Baeten, Rayanne Walker, Brad Guse, Mara Hird, Hope Francis, Chris Greenwood, Amy Bloczynski, Marissa Hanley, Kevin Bernhardt, Riley Carson, and Heather Hafften

“I am happy to congratulate the bankers who recently completed the WBA Agricultural Lending School,” said WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels. “Agriculture is integral to Wisconsin’s economy, and having highly professional ag lenders who understand the needs of our farmers is key.”
Through the program — led by faculty Bradley Guse, senior vice president, agribusiness banking at BMO Harris Bank, NA, Marshfield, and Dr. Kevin Bernhardt, professor and UW-Extension farm management specialist, UW-Platteville — participants built their knowledge and skills around current trends in agriculture, borrower/lender relationships, farm business financial modeling, and best practices in lending. WBA’s educational programming keeps Wisconsin bankers at the forefront of their profession, so that they are able to offer the highest quality service to the customers and communities they serve.

Farming is both a specialized industry and high risk when it comes to financials. That’s why the Agricultural Lending School is a key educational offering of the Wisconsin Bankers Association. This is a hands-on seminar for members to get a handle on today’s ag markets and farm balance sheets. WBA Director of Education Lori Kalscheuer tells Mid-West Farm Report about enrollment numbers and curriculum for this year’s cohort.