Wisconsin's bankers are the definition of "community advocates" in all that you do every day to improve your local economy through your bank's products and services, as well as through your generous philanthropy of time and money. This column shares and celebrates the diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and innovation of some of the extraordinary bankers in this state.
The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Bay Bank (Green Bay) President Jeff Bowman.
Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?
Jeff: It was 1980. I was 17 years old and a senior in high school. My local neighborhood bank on the south side of Milwaukee had a job opening for a part-time teller in the vault. A friend of mine a few years older than me was working at the bank and he recommended me for the job. They hired me and I worked there every day during high school. I counted money and ran the coin machines. I enjoyed and thrived under the formal structure and being accountable for every penny in the vault. I worked for the same bank as a lobby teller and then in operations every day during college. Upon graduation I got a position as a credit analyst in the commercial loan department. I stayed with that bank for 17 years, and 10 of those years were in the commercial loan department. Those experiences and training are the foundation for many of the things I do today.
What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?
Seeing the results of our work. One example is a new housing project we funded on an Indian reservation in northern Wisconsin. We provided the construction financing to build 18 new houses and a 24-unit apartment building. The project required the bank to learn how to navigate through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. We also had to learn how to sponsor and administer AHP grants through the FHBLC. The fact that a tribally owned bank brought all these resources together for a tribal community was very special. The end result is we helped meet the housing needs of an under-served community by creating more housing units. No other bank was willing to assist them. We saw and understood their vision and we stepped up to fund these projects because it was the right thing to do.
What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?
Community bankers are the good guys. We are dedicated to our communities. We provide access to financing on all levels whether it be for housing, consumer lending, or commercial loans. We help communities prosper.
Where do you believe the industry's greatest challenges are in the next three to five years?
Recruiting and training the next generation of bankers. We need to make these investments now so that we have a strong transition to the next group of leaders. I also see the need to make sure the younger bankers coming into the industry develop the sense of being both financially and socially responsible, especially in community banking. Community bankers are right in the thick of things in their communities, and we are in the position to best effect change with financial services and financial literacy opportunities. It can't always be about just making profits.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your work as a banker?
Being the CEO of a small bank, you wear many hats. I get to work with many of the bank's customers, big and small. I enjoy seeing the success of our customers. When a customer borrows money from the bank to purchase their first nice car is pretty cool. And when we make a mortgage loan to a family so they can purchase their first home, it really makes you feel good. But I really enjoy working with the business customers. In my career I've helped many small businesses purchase their first building, or expand their building, or purchase a major piece of equipment so that they can grow their business. I know that the financing we provide allows them to realize their dreams, creating jobs and personal wealth. This is what we do as bankers, and it is very rewarding.
I also enjoy working in the Native American community. I've been able to apply my work experiences in banking by assisting Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), either by volunteering as a board member for them or by providing a CDFI with access to capital so that they can effect change in their targeted communities. CDFIs are typically non-profit loan funds that target people and communities that do not have access to traditional forms of capital by providing them with affordable financial services. These organizations make a difference because they touch communities that a bank typically struggles to reach.
Do you know a banker who should be recognized as a Community Advocate for the work that they do? Nominate them today by emailing Rose!