Like so many other community bankers, new WBA Board Chair Mark Meloy didn't originally set out to be a banker. Meloy, CEO of First Business Bank, Madison, originally planned to attend law school after finishing his undergraduate degree in finance. However, after working 30 hours per week while going to school full-time, he decided to forego an additional three years of education and undertake the challenge of entering the workforce. "This was 1983 and unemployment was at 10%," Meloy explained. Despite economic headwinds, Meloy secured a job with Security First National Bank in Sheboygan a few months prior to graduation—a rare feat at the time. The rest is history.
Meloy's banking career has given him experience in a variety of roles at several different institutions, including commercial banking and credit analysis. However, the role that sparked Meloy's interest the most, he said, was entering the financial institutions group at U.S. Bank. "I got to meet a lot of different bank executives and see the passion they had for their communities, employees, and customers," he said. "Seeing how different community banks conducted their business helped me get a clearer picture of what I wanted to do." With that clearer picture in mind, Meloy joined First Business Bank, Madison, in 2000. "I was intrigued by where it was located and the unique niche they were carving out, as well as the opportunity to grow and be successful," he said. During Meloy's tenure with First Business Bank, it has grown from $275M to over $2B in assets.
One reason Meloy has stayed in banking for over 35 years is the stories he hears from his customers. "One thing I love about the banking industry is meeting people and getting to know them and their businesses, their life stories," he explained. Bankers, as a general rule, are more comfortable hearing their customers' stories than telling their own, but one of Meloy's top priorities during his term as WBA Chair is to encourage more bankers to speak up on behalf of their banks and the industry. "As a group, we're not necessarily prone to do that, but if we don't talk, who else will tell our story?" he pointed out. "Sometimes we need to defend ourselves, but we also need to be proactive and talk about the value we bring to the communities we serve."
Being proactive is even more critical during a major election year... and 2020 will be no different. "In the political discourse we find ourselves in, if we don't talk about the important issues that have an impact on our industry, we're surrendering to the political current of the time," Meloy said. "With the last few years, the association has done great work in advocacy, and we've staked out some great accomplishments that have helped our industry." Legislative successes such as the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act have reduced regulatory burden for many Wisconsin banks, and the industry must continue repeating that narrative to lawmakers in order to keep the pendulum swinging in the right direction.
"We're a regulated industry, but at the same time it has to be a level playing field," Meloy said, pointing out the extreme growth in the credit union industry over the past decade and a half. One of WBA's main advocacy priorities for this legislative session is to level that playing field a bit by including a provision in the state budget which would eliminate the tax burden for banks on certain agricultural loans. With dual-party government in place, only a strong, consistent message will accomplish that goal. Luckily, it's a story that every banker can tell.
Any banker who has worked with a customer can speak to the value banks bring to their communities, so Meloy urges his peers to join him in telling that story, and inspire other bankers to do so, as well. "We want emerging leaders to speak up for our industry," Meloy said. One way to encourage them to do so is by naming up-and-coming leaders to the role of Advocacy Officer for their bank. This recently developed role is a volunteer position which involves coordinating regulatory, legislative, and community advocacy efforts for the bank by working directly with the WBA and other bankers, as well as local, state, and federal levels of government and trade groups. "It's a development opportunity for young bankers," Meloy explained.
Email WBA's Jon Turke to name an Advocacy Officer for your bank!
Speaking up about and for the banking industry is critical for successful advocacy, but also for talent development and attracting future banking leaders. After all, many—if not most—bankers have a story similar to Meloy's; he only entered banking as a career because a friend told him about the job. Today's students and young professionals need to hear about banking before they can consider it as a career. "We must continue to develop bankers of the future and leaders of the future," said Meloy. "The education and training work the association does through BOLT is critically important. We can't take any of that for granted."
During Meloy's term as WBA Chair, the association and the industry will work together to tell the story of Wisconsin's banks: how they support and sustain their communities, provide rewarding careers for their employees, and help to grow the state's economy.