On June 14, 2017, Frederick J. Siemers, president of River Cities Bank, Wisconsin Rapids, was installed as Chair of the Wisconsin Bankers Association for 2017-2018. During his term, Siemers will lead the association and the industry in new efforts to keep up with the dramatic pace of change in financial services and continue the ongoing mission of advocating on behalf of the industry to lawmakers, the media and the public.
A graduate of UW-Oshkosh, Siemers (pictured above) initially began his career in retail before joining the banking industry in 1990. "I never thought, going into banking, that 27 years later I'd still be a banker," Siemers admitted. "But, the industry captivated me by the variety within the job and the ability to learn about other people and their businesses and their stories." During the nearly three decades he's been in the industry, Siemers has held a variety of roles, and he has especially enjoyed commercial lending. "It's a combination of art and science coming together," he explained. "You have the analytical side with the numbers and accounting, but then there's the human element of interpersonal relationships and building networks. It's a nice balance."
Speaking to WBA staff and his fellow board members at the Board Installation on June 14, Siemers outlined his goal for the industry and the association over the next 12 months: to become better prepared for the operational and technological changes the industry will face in the near future. "The way we've historically done business is about to shift, and dramatically," Siemers explained. "We need to be ready to take that on."
Preparing for the Future as an Industry
According to Scratch's "Millennial Disruption Index," banking is the industry facing the highest risk of disruption caused by the largest generation in American history. "Like it or not, they're going to force change upon us," Siemers told WBA. And the influx of millennials into the ranks of bank customers isn't the only force driving the financial services industry's evolution; it's accompanied by the rapid development of new and faster technologies, an increasingly global economy, and a host of other factors. The crux of the issue, according to Siemers, is that banking—as an industry—hasn't been keeping up. "Coming out of the recession, we were all in survival mode," he explained. "It was all about 'sustain and maintain' and digesting a bevy of new regulations. That kept us very internally focused, while in the meantime, the rest of the world continued to move forward." That's why Siemers' goal for the industry during his term as WBA Chair is to figure out how to make sure Wisconsin's banking industry remains relevant in the eyes of consumers and customers far into the future.
To accomplish that goal, Siemers says the industry's leaders will need to re-focus on long-term strategic goals that may have been put on the back-burner during the immediacy of the recession and its lengthy fallout. "During the recession, we became so internally focused—and for the right reasons—that we neglected some very important long-view strategic thinking about what it will take to remain viable," Siemers said. "Now is the time to correct that oversight." Siemers reflects often on how Amazon dramatically altered the value proposition of the retail industry, and wonders if (or when) a fintech business will come along and do the same thing to banking.
However, when it comes to competing with fintechs, Siemers expressed confidence in the industry, citing the strength and stability that most Wisconsin banks share. "We have a tremendous value proposition in the safety and soundness for deposits, especially with backing of the FDIC for deposits and strong local knowledge of the marketplace for lending decisions," he said. "Consumers can be confident in where they're leaving their money." That confidence is something fintechs don't have to offer, and as such, banks must fight not to lose that advantage.
Preparing for the Future as an Association
Maintaining FDIC insurance as a differentiating value proposition is part of the association's role in preparing the industry for the future, according to Siemers. During his tenure as WBA Chair, Siemers intends to ensure the association continues to advocate for sound policy and regulation on behalf of the banking industry, with an added focus to seek proper oversight for the shadow banking industry. "We can't be crippled by regulations that those outside of our industry are not beholden to," he explained. "If the banking industry isn't at the forefront of the payment system as a safe store for people's assets, you create the potential for a lot of volatility in the economy."
As a mirror of the industry, Siemers predicts that the WBA will also need to adapt in order to thrive. "As we explore relevance in a fast-changing marketplace, our association will need to be nimble," he said. "The membership's expectations and preferences are changing." As chair, Siemers will direct the WBA to examine everything the association does through the lens of member value, assessing what value is added and if it arrives in the timely manner the membership needs. "As the industry needs to be willing to take on more risk in adopting technology and creating products, so does the association," Siemers said. "We really mirror each other. If the association is forward-reaching and forward-thinking they can bring innovation to the table before some of the banks think about it."
Finally, Siemers has set a goal for the association to double-down on its efforts to promote the banking industry as a career and to foster the development of banking's young leaders. "The importance of developing leaders will be the difference-maker for the future by ensuring we remain open to new ideas," he said, explaining that for most of today's bankers who have been in the industry for 15-30 years, the environment has been relatively stable. "That pace of change is so much more rapid now, we need leaders who have the ability to adapt to that." Siemers recommended the BOLT program as a good example of how WBA is already working to accomplish this goal. "BOLT has been a great addition in helping us develop our young leaders," he said.
Working together, the banking industry and the WBA will rise to the challenge of remaining relevant even in today's fast-changing world.
Seitz is WBA operations manager – senior writer