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 River Falls State Bank President and CEO Todd Schultz.

Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?

Todd: I started with River Falls State Bank (RFSB) shortly after graduating from college. Landing the job happened more by chance than by design, as I didn’t have a specific career path in mind. I knew I liked working with numbers  and I wanted to be in the River Falls area. During my last semester of school, I took an internship with a local car dealership to handle their financing while one of their employees was on maternity leave. The dealership’s owner was also on the RFSB Board of Directors and knew of an upcoming retirement of a long-time bank officer. I was able to get my foot in the door that way, and after someone with more experience passed on the job, bank management offered it to me. I’ve been here for 16 years now and was able to transition to the role of president and CEO in 2018. 

What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?

My favorite aspect of working for a community bank is getting to be an active participant in the community where  I live. I enjoy all of the community events and organizations we get to be a part of — whether it’s as a volunteer or through assisting community members and organizations with their banking needs. River Falls is my home, and I grew up in a family that was very involved in many aspects of the community. To have an opportunity to have that same involvement in my personal and professional life is something I really cherish. Although the past year has been difficult, I have found an even deeper sense of community throughout the pandemic. From being involved in PPP loans, working with customers to provide flexible solutions, or finding ways to help support our teachers and healthcare workers, it’s really driven home the aspects of my role that I enjoy...even if it did present some challenges along the way. 

What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?

There is a difference between community banks and the largest institutions. Many of the differences might not be apparent with a basic deposit account, but there is a tremendous value to having a “banking relationship” versus being a customer of a bank. Having a banker you can rely on in a time of need is a valuable asset, and one that can’t always be replicated with technology. I also wish people understood that many of the protocols and procedures that exist are in place to help protect them. They can often seem cumbersome, but are generally in place to help ensure consumer protection. 

Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges are in the next three to five years?

Implementing and maintaining new technology will always be a challenge, especially for smaller institutions that don’t have the same economies of scale to absorb the costs. Customers expect these services to exist at their bank, often times with no additional cost to them, so it will be something we have to continue to manage. Along with that is the increased competition that will come from the Fintech industry and some of the alternative models being offered. 

Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.

We have enjoyed participating in WBA’s Power of Community Week and have worked to partner with the City of River Falls to come up with projects for our employees throughout the entire week. Interacting outside of the traditional bank setting and helping the community has been a great experience. We have also had 100% employee participation throughout the week, so it’s something all of our employees get to be a part of as well.

The other memorable experience was one that happened right after my transition to president in 2018. The local gymnastics club had been looking to build their own facility for a number of years, and had finally reached a point where they felt it was possible. They approached me about having the bank partner with them on a significant sponsorship that would kick-start their fundraising. After cautiously approaching our Board to discuss the sponsorship and financing requests, we received approval. The club then raised additional funds and broke ground on their new home. The facility is an asset to the community and the program has continued to grow since it opened. Their board and volunteers deserve the majority of the credit for the success of the organization, but it was memorable for our bank to be part of the process. 

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