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 an interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Cumberland Federal Bank President Shay Horton​.

Shay Horton

Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?
Shay: I like to say I am an accountant by trade, banker by chance. I had been working as an accountant for a technical college when I was approached on a perfect sunny summer day in 2013 while sitting on a dock in beautiful Beaver Dam Lake by a now happily retired Vice President. She asked me if I had a degree in accounting and I said I did. Once she had confirmed, she turned on the sales pitch. She started telling me about the bank and its mission. I was intrigued, so I left my job and took a chance at a new opportunity in the banking world. 

I hit the ground running and getting settled in the financial area of the bank, I soon took over the human resources area as the President oversaw that and was retiring. Things were going well, but I remember the day the senior teller said, “You are probably good at accounting, but you don't know anything about banking.” First, I was a bit offended, but then I thought more about the comment and thought, there is some truth to that statement. So, I asked my supervisor (she was then President), how do I learn more about banking as a whole. The next summer I was attending the Graduate School of Banking in Madison. After graduating and the President's retirement, I was named CEO in 2017.

What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?
My favorite aspect of my role is being able to see the teamwork and leadership that occurs in our bank. No one is afraid to pitch in and help to make sure our bank is the best it can be and our customers are served. During this pandemic, it has been more evident than ever. We have been running short-staffed on the front line to keep employees separated appropriately, are having the biggest refinance boom in years, and navigating SBA PPP loans, but our staff stepped up to the plate and have been able to put in the time and make sure our customers were served and other staff members had the support they needed. It is so rewarding to work with such a great team.

What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?
The banking industry, and community banking in particular, does amazing things for customers and communities. Bankers are here to help you live a great life: save for the future, keep your money safe, buy your first car, buy your first home, and most importantly provide advice. I would also like people to know that banking has changed; it is not as stuffy as it once was. An experience at a bank should not be intimidating or uncomfortable. Our motto is "Friends Serving Friends" and it is true. In a community bank you are serving your friends and neighbors. You may be working with customers in the bank, in their home, in your home, in the grocery store or at the boat landing. 

Community banks also give back to their communities, not just in dollars, but in participation as well. Our business plan states that we will give a minimum of 5% of our net income to charitable causes. We also have our own Foundation that provides endowments to large community projects. Most of our employees have commitments with one, if not multiple nonprofit organizations and are putting in time with those organizations. We want our community to be the best it can and we are willing to put in the time.

Where do you believe the industry's greatest challenges are in the next three to five years?
I believe one of the biggest challenges in the next five years for a community bank is being able to keep pace with rising customer expectations in technology and product offerings while maintaining low or no fees and providing the exceptional service customers are used to. Large banks, credit unions, and non-banks are constantly advertising how they can do things faster, for free and/or provide better interest rates on savings. What the customer is not seeing is that some of these places do not have the same regulatory burden or tax situation as a traditional bank. 

Another challenge, especially being in a rural setting, is attracting new talent as retirements occur. I count my lucky stars to have the staff that we do, but replacements could be hard to come by.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your work as a banker?
My current role at Cumberland Federal Bank is President and CEO. This is hard question to answer. It is hard to pinpoint a standout when there are so many positive impacts I have been able to be a part of since starting my banking career. One of the first times I knew how special it was to be on the Cumberland Federal Bank team was the grand opening of the oncology wing at our local hospital, in which we were able to give an endowment from our Foundation. Cancer affects so many in our community and to know that we were a small part in being the difference between people traveling and not traveling to get cancer treatment is really special.


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