The Wisconsin Bankers Association Advocacy Officer list just crested 100, and we are looking for 25 additional banks to designate an Advocacy Officer by the end of the year. The Advocacy Officer program is a leadership opportunity to coordinate regulatory, legislative, and community advocacy efforts for the bank by working with WBA. Advocacy Officers work with other bankers, WBA staff, state, local, and federal levels of government, and other state or national trade groups.

A major event for Advocacy Officers will be the upcoming WBA Capitol Day in Madison on January 18, 2022. Participants will receive training and support to meet with their elected officials in the State Capitol and share their stories about how legislative issues impact their professions and their communities. While this is an important opportunity for Advocacy Officers, you do not need to be an Advocacy Officer to participate in WBA Capitol Day.

If your bank has not yet designated an Advocacy Officer, consider someone who has an interest in public policy, a strong understanding of the banking industry (compliance, credit, external relations, etc.), the ability to speak for the bank on matters of regulatory or public policy, and a fairly flexible schedule that is at their own discretion.

More advocacy officer voices speaking together as one to advance WBA’s legislative agenda can make a meaningful impact on very important issues like credit union expansion of powers and interchange fee prohibition.

Thank you to the banks that have already signed up to participate in the Advocacy Officer program:

American Bank of Beaver Dam
American National Bank – Fox Cities
Associated Bank
Badger Bank
Bank Five Nine
Bank of Lake Mills
Bank of Luxemburg
Bank of Mauston
Bank of Milton
Bank of Prairie du Sac
Bank of Sun Prairie
Bank of Wisconsin Dells
Bankers’ Bank
Baraboo State Bank
BLC Community Bank
Bluff View Bank
BMO Harris Central National Association
Bristol Morgan Bank
Capitol Bank
Charter Bank
Citizens Bank
Citizens First Bank
Citizens State Bank
Citizens State Bank of La Crosse
Citizens State Bank of Loyal
Commerce State Bank
Community Bank of Cameron
Community First Bank
Community State Bank
Cornerstone Community Bank
Dairy State Bank
Denmark State Bank
East Wisconsin Savings Bank
Farmers & Merchants Bank of Kendall
Farmers & Merchants State Bank
First Business Bank
First Citizens State Bank
First Community Bank Milton
First Federal Bank of Wisconsin
First Midwest Bank
First National Community Bank
First State Bank
Flagstar Bank, FSB
Fortifi Bank
Forward Bank
GreenLeaf Bank
Greenwoods State Bank
Horicon Bank
Hustisford State Bank
Independence State Bank
Intercity State Bank
Investors Community Bank
Ixonia Bank
John Deere Financial, F.S.B.
Johnson Bank
JPMorgan Chase Bank
Ladysmith Federal Savings and Loan Association
Laona State Bank
MidWestOne Bank
Monona Bank
Mound City Bank
National Exchange Bank and Trust
Nicolet National Bank
North Shore Bank
Northwestern Bank
Oak Bank
Old National Bank
Oostburg State Bank
Park Bank
Partners Bank of Wisconsin
Peoples State Bank
PNC Bank
Premier Community Bank
PyraMax Bank, FSB
Quad City Bank and Trust
River Falls State Bank
Royal Bank
Settlers Bank
Spring Bank
State Bank Financial
State Bank of Chilton
State Bank of Cross Plains
The Bank of Brodhead
The Bank of New Glarus
The Equitable Bank, S.S.B.
The Farmers State Bank of Waupaca
The Huntington National Bank
The International Bank of Amherst
The Park Bank
The Peoples Community Bank
The Pineries Bank
The Port Washington State Bank
The Stephenson National Bank and Trust
Tomahawk Community Bank
Town Bank
U.S. Bank National Association
Unity Bank
Waldo State Bank
Waukesha State Bank
Wells Fargo Bank
Westbury Bank
Wolf River Community Bank
WoodTrust Bank

Mound City Bank Take Your Legislator to Work Day

On Thursday, WBA VP of Government Relations Lorenzo Cruz and WBA Director of Government Relations John Cronin updated the Mound City Bank board of directors on state and federal legislative topics and banking industry advocacy. Cruz, Cronin, and bank President and CEO Donna Hoppenjan then hosted a presentation to the board by Representatives Todd Novak (R – Dodgeville) and Travis Tranel (R – Cuba City) as part of a Take Your Legislator to Work day.  

Take Your Legislator to Work days are win-wins for everyone involved. It is extremely beneficial for legislators to hear directly from their constituency about the issues concerning them the most while back home in their districts. Banks benefits by being able to convey valuable community and economic information to elected officials and provide real-world perspective on issues facing the banking industry. We also get the opportunity share our positions on bills before the Legislature and keep their attention on key items like credit unions.  

Legislators are always looking for ways to meet with key members of their communities (read: banks). If you would like to bring a legislator to your institution, please let Lorenzo or John know. 

Senior holding credit card

By Paul Gores

An elderly bank customer says she needs to send $10,000 to her grandson, who called from Mexico frantically claiming that’s how much money he needs to get out of jail.

A man suddenly has started appearing with his father-in-law on visits to the bank, assisting the senior, who sometimes seems nervous or confused, with making larger-than-normal withdrawals.

A man in his late 70s states he was notified he just won a lottery, but  needs to send money to cover the taxes before he can receive his prize.

Scenarios like these are among red flags bankers watch for as they try to prevent their customers from falling victim to the growing crime of financial exploitation of older adults.

According to the FBI, each year millions of elderly Americans are victimized by some type of financial fraud or confidence scheme,  draining seniors’ bank accounts of more than $3 billion.

In Wisconsin, a survey last year for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services indicated that more than $31 million was lost through financial exploitation of the elderly, said April DeValkenaere, a white collar crime paralegal for the Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office.

The problem is even worse than the available numbers indicate, she said. It’s estimated that only one in 44 cases of elder financial exploitation is ever reported, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA).

That means almost every bank has customers who are in jeopardy of being duped by a scam or being exploited by a family member or caregiver.

“I do not have statistics for how large the problem is in Wisconsin, however we have eight locations, from Waunakee to Green Bay, and we have seen cases of elder abuse in all of our communities,” said Theresa Weckwerth, vice president and enterprise risk manager for Berlin-based Fortifi Bank. “No community is too large or too small to be free from elder abuse. I believe it is everywhere. The more we can educate our elders, the stronger we will be in fighting elder abuse as a whole.”

The list of online, email, and phone scams that target senior citizens is long, but they don’t account for most of the money lost through financial crimes that exploit the elderly, said DeValkenaere.

“In the overall scheme of things, scams of older adults are only 10% of the actual theft from older adults,” DeValkenaere said. “The other 90% of theft from older adults are actually from a trusted individual — someone they know and trust. Their family members, caregivers, powers of attorney, guardians, neighbors, or loved ones, all of those people essentially account for 90% of elder financial exploitation.”

Many banks train their employees to be on the lookout for changes in customer patterns and routines that might indicate someone has gained undue influence over them and their financial decisions. But it’s not always easy to detect.

“Sometimes if you have that overly helpful family member,” said Debby Bartolerio, chief operating officer at First Citizens State Bank in Whitewater. “Sometimes that’s good because they are actually assisting the elder. But sometimes, that is a family member who’s taking advantage of them. And that’s kind of a hard thing to determine, which side of the fence are they on.”

Weckwerth said caregivers — family members or a non-relatives hired to care for them — sometimes take advantage of the elderly.

“The victim is sometimes made to feel guilty if they try to confront the situation, or afraid that their needs will not be met if they say something,” said Weckwerth, who is a member of the Wisconsin Bankers Association’s Financial Crimes Committee. “Many times, the caregiver will make them feel like they ‘owe’ them for all they do, or threaten to not provide the basic things that are needed such as groceries or healthcare.”

Bartolerio, who also is a member of WBA’s Financial Crimes Committee, said a community bank like hers, where there are many longtime customers whom tellers have gotten to know, might be in a better position than some to identify trouble.

Tom Mews, president of FNC Bank in New Richmond, also said a community bank may have an edge in scouting out trouble because of the relationships the bank has with customers.

“We know our customers,” he said. “We’re not simply relying on a computer database to kick up red flags. We know what normal transactions are because we see them on a regular basis. We can spot these things just because we know who our customers are.”

According to the FBI, seniors become targets of financial crooks because they tend to be trusting and polite. In addition, they often have financial savings and good credit.

The FBI also says seniors may be less inclined to report fraud because they don’t know how, or they may be too ashamed at having been scammed.

An elderly victim of a romance scam, for instance, might be too embarrassed about being taken in by a scammer via an online dating service.

“We also see romance/companion scams where the elderly are lonely and seeking companionship,” Weckwerth said. “This is generally someone conning the elderly into sending them money for travel, or expenses to keep them out of trouble.”

A recent article by Katherine Skiba of detailed how elderly customers of the online dating service lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fake suitors.

DeValkenaere said many seniors are lonely, but sometimes too trusting. She cited “social isolation” as the source of their involvement in romance scams.

DeValkenaere said she believes banks generally have been doing a good job at keeping their eyes open for financial exploitation of the elderly.

“I think a lot of the financial institutions are training their people very well in regards to what to watch out for and some of these red flags,” she said.

Mews listed circumstances that should raise eyebrows for bankers who handle accounts for the elderly:

  • Sudden changes in bank account or banking practice
  • Unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money by a person accompanying the elder
  • Sudden non-sufficient fund activity
  • The inclusion of additional names on an elder’s bank signature card
  • Unexplained changes in power of attorney, will, or other legal documents
  • Missing checks or money
  • Debit transactions that are inconsistent for the older adult
  • Unauthorized withdrawal of the elder’s funds using the elder’s ATM card
  • Abrupt changes in financial documents
  • Unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions
  • Unpaid bills despite the availability of adequate financial resources
  • Discovery of an elder’s signature being forged for financial transactions or for the title of possessions
  • Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to an elder’s affairs and possessions.

DeValkenaere said some scams against seniors are seasonal.

“Like the imposter scam. We’ve seen a lot of those lately because this is the enrollment period for Medicare. Fraudsters are calling saying they’re from Medicare or they’re from Social Security and you have to pay this money up front so that we can register you for your insurance. Victims are convinced they need to give money to these people to keep or acquire Medicare coverage,” DeValkenaere said. “Right now, Medicare scams are huge. Come the spring, it’s going to be IRS imposter scams. They’re huge in the spring because it’s tax time.”

In the hopes of tricking the elderly into turning over personal financial information or sending them money, crooks also pretend to be from a government agency.

“Now they are impersonating law enforcement, saying you missed jury duty and if you don’t pay up, we’re going to arrest you or send you to jail, that kind of thing,” DeValkenaere said. “People don’t realize that they’re scams. They are trying to abide by the authorities. It’s just the generation they grew up in. But if our younger tellers have no idea that these scams are even out there, or what they mean, or the timeframe of year they should be watching for them, they can’t educate their customers on it.”

Mews, chair of WBA’s Government Relations Committee, is among bankers hoping state legislation that would let a bank delay a transaction when fraud is suspected will advance and become law.

The bills, AB 45 and AB 46, would allow qualified individuals to temporarily pause transactions where they suspect elder fraud is taking place, refuse power of attorney in certain situations, and allow seniors to name a trusted contact as an extra layer of protection.

“I think community representatives have a really good handle on what should be paused and what shouldn’t be,” Mews said.

The bills also provide legal protection to bankers acting in good faith to prevent elder financial fraud. Both bills passed on voice votes in the full Assembly in May, but since have stalled.

“This would help us by allowing banks to refuse or delay any transaction when we suspect exploitation or abuse,” said Weckwerth.

DeValkenaere, who was a member of the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Task Force on Elder Abuse in 2018, said the legislation is needed.

“It gives the financial institution a pause button to start the investigation as to whether or not this specific transaction is fraudulent,” she said. “So if they are trying to wire $20,000 out of country, the financial institution can hit pause and they can do their own investigation. They can involve other people, meaning Adult Protective Services, law enforcement. They can look into some other options.”

Bankers and experts say the desire for companionship and unfamiliarity with technology contribute to the risk of fraud for the elderly. That vulnerability puts banks in a special role for protecting their customers.

“This is why it is so important for banks and other trusted advisers to continue to educate elders on fraud and how to identify it,” Weckwerth said. “It is important that we know our clients and help them feel comfortable talking to us. They should never be afraid to ask questions of their bankers or talk to us. Many times, the fraud is caught in the front line from a conversation or other indicators that lead us to believe there is a problem and ask more questions.”

Paul Gores is a journalist who covered business news for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for 20 years.

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We are happy to report that 38 institutions have now achieved Gold Triangle status for political fundraising so far this year. Gold Triangle is the highest level of fundraising recognition for banks and achieved through bank employee or director contributions to the Alliance of Bankers for Wisconsin (ABW) political conduit or Wisbankpac, or corporate contributions to WBA’s issue advocacy fund. ABW and Wisbankpac funds are utilized as part of our overall effort to support pro-banking candidates, regardless of whether they have an R or D next to their name. Issue advocacy dollars are used to in several capacities to shape public opinion on pro-banking, pro-business issues.

A number of banks have recently joined in the effort, and it’s not too late to contribute. We have numerous banks on the cusp of achieving Gold Triangle, and WBA government relations staff will be reaching out to those institutions to help them get across the finish line.

Demands on our political action funds is as high as it has ever been, and we are battling on numerous fronts in Madison. If you have not already done so, please consider contributing to WBA political action funds. You may contribute via credit card here.

2021 Gold Triangle Club Members

American National Bank – Fox Cities, Associated Bank, Bank Five Nine, Bank of Brodhead, Bank of Wisconsin Dells, Bankers’ Bank, Bluff View Bank, Capitol Bank, Charter Bank, Citizens Bank, Citizens State Bank of Loyal, Coulee Bank, East Wisconsin Savings Bank, The Equitable Bank, First Citizens State Bank, First National Community Bank, Forward Bank, Horicon Bank, IncredibleBank, Investors Community Bank, Mound City Bank, National Bank of Commerce, National Exchange Bank and Trust, Nicolet National Bank, Northshore Bank, Northwestern Bank, Park Bank, Peoples Community Bank, Port Washington State Bank, Premier Community Bank, State Bank Financial, State Bank of Chilton, Stephenson National Bank and Trust, Superior Savings Bank, Town Bank, Waldo State Bank, WBA, and Wolf River Community Bank

Gold Triangle Club Contribution Levels by Bank Asset Size

Bank Assets Total Banker Contributions
$0-25 Million $500
$25-100 M $1,000
$100-250 M $1,500
$250-500 M $2,000
$500-750 M $2,500
$750 M – $1 Billion $3,500
$1 B+ $4,500

THANK YOU to all the banks, Gold Triangle or not, that have contributed to our advocacy efforts.

If you have questions or would like to make a contribution, please contact WBA’s Lorenzo Cruz, vice president – government relations or John Cronin, director – government relations.

MeisserThe following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Glenwood City’s Hiawatha National Bank President and CEO James W. Meisser. Read past interviews here.

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

James: Immediately after college graduation, I joined the FDIC and worked in the regulatory arena for 25 years. Shortly after retirement, my wife and I relocated to Wisconsin to manage and grow a small community bank franchise.

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

There are three aspects I would highlight as part of my role at the bank. The first is meeting and interacting with our clients, the second is mentoring clients and employees, and the third is creating solutions to problems.

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

Regulatory oversight. So often, clients are frustrated by the requests for their financial information citing, “Again, you know me, my business is doing great.” The regulators expect us to trust but verify.

Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges are in the next 3–5 years?

The greatest challenges I foresee are the rise of fintech companies, increased cyber/fraud attacks, and credit unions continuing to utilize their tax-exempt status to acquire community banks.

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

In many of the communities we serve, we are the only bank in town. For example, we have two offices in areas with populations of 120 and 338. We take very seriously our commitment to positively impact these communities with tailored charitable and lending support. For example, over the past year we have made significant donations to the local public libraries, which provide vital services in the communities we serve.

It is extremely rewarding to see our clients grow and prosper as we work together as financial partners. We have a Hudson-based client that we worked with on the formation of the business, multiple cash flow issues, and finally a multi-million-dollar sale. This client has repeatedly told us he would not have succeeded without our support. That is why we do what we do.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we provided more than $110 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Round One and another $30 million in PPP Round Two to assist individuals and businesses impacted by the virus. Additionally, despite numerous COVID-related employee absences, all employees were paid 100% of their salaries plus an additional bonus to assist in the unprecedented times. At Hiawatha National Bank, you are not just an employee, you are family.

We are continuing to implement our nationwide initiative Banking without Barriers (BWB), targeted specifically to the deaf and hard of hearing community of which I am proud to be a life-long member.

Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

Last week for the first time in two years, I was back in Washington D.C. with a small group of nine bankers from Wisconsin for meetings with banking regulators and a few members of Congress. Joining WBA was a delegation of six bankers and two staff from the Illinois Bankers Association. While our meetings with regulators were still virtual, all meetings were productive affording the smaller group of bankers ample time to ask questions and hear directly from senior officials about a wide variety of issues.

We began the first day in the afternoon with briefings from the FDIC and OCC. FDIC Board Director Martin Gruenberg led the conversation highlighting the fact that while the FDIC anticipated stress in the banking system heading into the pandemic that did not materialize and notably, there have not been any bank failures in 2021. Areas of focus for the FDIC remain on commercial real estate, tailoring climate change risk concerns based on the impact to different markets and/or the size of the institution, and on the impact of non-bank companies to the financial system. OCC Acting Director Michael Hsu led the discussion with bankers emphasizing his support for community banks, his understanding of the need to tailor regulation to the size and complexity of each institution, and robust discussions around both FinTechs and climate change.

The next day featured conversations with FinCEN and CFPB. Naturally, the discussion with FinCEN was largely around the status of their development of a beneficial ownership registry which remains in process. Until one is finally launched, banks will still have to follow the current beneficial ownership rules. A representative from FinCEN’s Financial Intelligence Division indicated that they have seen an increase in all types of crime notably COVID-19 fraud, work at home scams, cyberthreats of all types (e.g. ransomware and account takeovers), and illicit use of cryptocurrency. The primary focus of our conversation and questions with the CFPB was around the upcoming Section 1071, small business data collection proposal. The bankers took turns stressing the hardships of the current proposal and asking for an extension of the comment period deadline so that the industry had adequate time to respond to the many issues raised in the over 900-page document. CFPB staff indicated that they have been in meetings with the core providers on this proposal already to help prep them ahead of time so that data collection would be easier once the proposal is finalized.

These meetings are impactful largely due to the proactive engagement of the bankers in the room. I encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities as they arise and be involved because each regulator we met with unequivocally stated they want to hear directly from bankers about the impact proposals have on their operations. While WBA certainly represents the industry’s concerns, bankers truly make the best advocates in sharing specific examples about the impact on the operations of individual banks.

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Dan Peterson

By Daniel J. Peterson, president and CEO of The Stephenson National Bank & Trust

We typically do not raise issues occurring in Washington with the public, but because the people in our community are important to us, we want to inform our neighbors of proposed legislation that could significantly impact millions of families and small businesses.

There is currently proposed legislation that, if enacted, would require all financial institutions to report to the IRS the gross financial inflows and outflows of every business and personal customer account above $10,000. The proposal would use banks as a third-party information source to find and report taxpayers’ income.

As a bank, The Stephenson National Bank & Trust strongly believes in protecting our customers’ private financial information. We only collect personal, financial data for the purpose of serving consumers and businesses – and we do our utmost to safeguard their money and their privacy. The proposal would require financial institutions to transfer a large amount of personal data to the IRS, significantly more data than has been shared with the IRS before. The IRS is already a common target for cyberattacks (approximately 1.4 billion attacks annually) due to the amount of personal data currently in its control. Therefore, adding a new set of sensitive consumer data puts the privacy and financial data of millions of Americans at greater risk.

We felt it was important to share this information with the public so each individual can determine whether to take action. If a person would like to express their opinion, they may contact their member of Congress.

Finger pressing donate button on keyboard

Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

A focus on community is one of the values the Wisconsin Bankers Association staff shares with our members. Last week, WBA held an annual fundraiser for staff to help raise money for the United Way. As an organization, we strive to be advocates for the wellbeing of our community. This fundraiser provides an opportunity to engage with the social and societal issues such as education, health, poverty, and income that in turn impact the communities our banks and employees are a part of.

The United Way focuses on building stability and establishing diverse communities, a goal that aligns well with the banking industry and its ability to thrive. The vision of the organization involves every aspect of a family, from preparing children for education through decreasing poverty and homelessness to identifying and treating health issues early.

The fundraiser was a three-day event and included an assortment of treats, raffles for staff-favored items, stickers for casual dress days, and the ability to e-pledge. We set an ambitious goal this year to help raise $5,500 for the United Way and our community and welcomed any amount that staff members were willing to donate. Although participation in the event was not required, I am excited and pleased to announce that the staff of 45 people raised over $6,000 in pledges!

Coming together for a common goal was also an opportunity to promote a positive workplace culture. Employees commented that they enjoyed the chance to connect with colleagues they don’t necessarily work with on a day-to-day basis and that they liked having an easy way to get involved in a service activity together.

I am proud of our staff members who donated on behalf of our association and continue to advocate for the communities around us. Like our member banks and Associate Members, we at WBA are eager to empower the communities that we live and work in

By Scott Birrenkott

WBA filed comments this week with FRB, FDIC, and OCC (agencies) on their proposed guidance on managing risks associated with third-party relationships (proposal).

Over the years, the agencies have issued guidance on third-party management for their respective supervised institutions. The agencies have issued the proposal in an effort to promote consistency in their third-party risk management guidance and to clearly articulate risk-based principles on third-party risk management. The proposal is based on the OCC’s existing third-party risk management guidance from 2013.

WBA commented that the proposal presents a welcome opportunity to consolidate and update each agency’s individual existing guidance, and generally supported the effort. In addition to general comments reflecting member experiences in third-party management, WBA did recommend that the agencies consider specific examination procedures in accordance with the guidance, and provide banks with sufficient time to adapt to any final guidance.

Click here to view the letter.

In addition to the Wisconsin Bankers Association’s advocacy in opposition to Assembly Bill 478, WBA Director – Government Relations John Cronin and Capitol Bank SVP/Retail Banking and Chief Compliance Officer Gary Kuter testified in favor of Assembly Bill 596 at Wednesday’s hearing held by the Assembly Committee on Financial Institutions. AB 596 is designed to update several statutes relating to banking practices. WBA is very appreciative of the efforts of Rep. Terry Katsma and Sen. Howard Marklein for bringing this legislation forward.

In many ways, banks are the cornerstones of Wisconsin’s communities, having long provided services to individuals and business customers. Bankers relish the opportunity to build and maintain relationships and offer products that help propel Wisconsin’s diverse and vibrant economy.

Banks are also subject to many rules and regulations and are regularly examined for safety and soundness. Therefore, regulatory compliance, operations, and security are key areas of emphasis for financial institutions both large and small.

AB 596 will help us realize efficiencies in all three of these areas without jeopardizing safety and soundness. The common-sense pieces of regulatory relief in this legislation will allow our members to spend more time focusing on what’s most important: serving their customers.