Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

This time of year, perhaps more than others, causes us to pause and think about all that we are thankful for. As a member-driven trade association, I am always grateful for your membership and support. I want to highlight today a few notable accomplishments that WBA achieved this calendar year with your input and partnership.

The communications team has been working since spring of this year to develop a brand-new website for WBA members, which was recently launched in October. The process leading up to its launch involved feedback from members of various banker committees sharing how they used the site and what they wanted to see in a new site. Traffic to the site has increased since the launch, and thanks to the improved layout and navigation, the number of searches conducted on the site has dropped by over 80%. We are extremely proud to have made our resources more navigable for you and to continue to provide reliable information to you each day.

At the request of members and with support from the Board, WBA also ran a public awareness campaign this spring and summer, building off of the goodwill that was generated by banks throughout Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) lending during the pandemic. The campaign included billboards, digital ads, and media relations to highlight the ways Wisconsin banks serve their communities.

Many of our events and schools returned in person in 2021 while we also continued to offer virtual options for members. The flexibility developed by our education team has allowed thousands of bankers to attend conferences around the state, visit WBA’s engagement center in Madison, and view webinars at their convenience. WBA staff continue to receive feedback from members as to how they want training delivered to them, and we continually work to accommodate everyone’s needs.

As always, our government relations team spent time with legislators on our key issues and were crucial in passing helpful legislation but preventing what would hurt our industry the most. The number one priority this year was getting COVID-19 premises liability protection passed and enacted, and our team was instrumental in doing so. The WBA government relations team, along with voices from our membership, also helped prevent the advancement of legislation that would have expanded the authorized powers and abilities of credit unions (AB 478) as well as the advancement of legislation that would disrupt the electronic payment system (AB 587/SB 572).

Last, but not least, the legal team has stayed busy staffing the legal call program to promptly respond to member questions, creating new compliance toolkits and resources for members, and writing comment letters and amicus briefs on regulatory and judicial issues important to the banking industry.

WBA is your association, and we would not exist without your involvement and support of our many programs and services. Our staff is proud to work with you and support the great work you do in your banks and in your communities. Thank you for your membership and engagement — looking back over this year’s accomplishments makes it clear that we have accomplished many things together that no one institution could have done alone. I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

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North Shore Bank has announced Rick Woldt as the new mortgage loan originator. In this new role, Woldt will be responsible for assisting customers in the lending, purchasing, and refinancing of their homes.

“We’re thrilled to have Rick and his extensive expertise on our team,” said Chris Boland, vice president, consumer lending manager at North Shore Bank. “I know our customers will appreciate Rick’s vast knowledge within the space and personable nature as they enter into the home buying experience.”

Woldt has more than 25 years of experience in residential mortgage lending and will be working out of the Germantown branch, servicing all of Southeastern Wisconsin. He currently resides in Thiensville, Wis. with his family.

Bank of Wisconsin Dells would like to congratulate senior vice president and chief credit officer, Kevin Bernander, on 40 years with the bank. Bernander began his career with Bank of Wisconsin Dells in 1981 as a consumer lender, eventually transitioning to the Lake Delton branch manager where he directed all branch operations and later served as the chief lending officer for a period of 13 years. In 2017, Bernander was promoted to senior VP/chief credit officer where he oversees and leads the credit department on behalf of Bank of Wisconsin Dells.

“It’s been a blast,” says Bernander. “Watching our customers and staff grow and become successful has been one of the many things I like most about working here. I am happy to be a part of it all.”

We are beyond grateful for Bernander’s dedication and service to our team and this community throughout his 40 years. Congratulations and thank you, Kevin!

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Community State Bank kicked off their 4th season of #Gift2Giving with a donation to Cops N’ Kids Reading Center in Racine. Left to Right: Carrie Hall (CSB), Julia Witherspoon (Founder of Cops N’ Kids), Shanandoor Kanter (CSB), Josh Audenby (CSB), Neil Buchanan (CSB), Also pictured are students and staff of Cops N’ Kids.

Community State Bank (CSB) recently began the 4th season of their employee driven donation campaign #Gift2Giving. In October each CSB employee was presented with $100 to donate back into the communities of Racine, Kenosha, and Walworth counties.

CSB is pleased to announce that all 87 employees are participating in this year’s program. Now, until the end of the year, CSB team members will be delivering their donations to non-profit organizations throughout Southeast Wisconsin.

“The #Gift2Giving campaign has had a remarkable impact on our staff and communities,” said CSB president and CEO, Scott Huedepohl. “It’s become a part of our culture and we look forward to it every year. We’re honored to be bringing it back for it’s fourth season.”

CSB employees were encouraged to work together and combine their #Gift2Giving funds to create a larger impact with their donations. In addition, employees were also given the opportunity to make a personal donation, which were also matched by CSB dollar for dollar. Over $10,000 in campaign funds are being distributed among 12 nonprofit organizations.

“Southeast Wisconsin is filled with unique non-profit organizations that make a tremendous difference to our community,” explained marketing communications coordinator, Eloissa Heigl. “#Gift2Giving provides our staff with the opportunity to thank these great organizations for what they do, while also providing a platform to share their story and hopefully inspire others to give back too.”

Community State Bank will be documenting a majority of the donations through videos, podcasts, photos and journal entries. The first donation to Cops N’ Kids Reading Center in Racine has already been posted to the #Gift2Giving blog.

For more information about #Gift2Giving or to read the #Gift2Giving blog visit CSB.bank/Gift2Giving or follow along on social media using #Gift2Giving.

Laura Deuso, Medford branch manager of Prevail Bank (left), presents Rachel Stilwell, prevention services director (right) of Indianhead Community Action Agency, a check for $500 to support the operations of a new refrigerated mobile food pantry truck.

A donation of $500 was provided to the Indianhead Community Action Agency as part of Prevail Bank’s Charitable Contribution program. The donation will purchase boxes and bags for a new refrigerated mobile food pantry truck that will deliver food to those who live in smaller, rural communities throughout three Wisconsin counties to increase access to nutritious food, in addition to providing referrals to other services that will help increase equity for these individuals and families.

“We and our clients really appreciate Prevail Bank’s generosity,” said Rachel Stilwell, prevention services director. “Our mobile food pantry is a service that is especially appreciated by those individuals and families who lack transportation and would otherwise go hungry.”

Laura Deuso, Prevail Bank branch manager – Medford, shared, “Prevail Bank is proud to support the mobile food pantry that will deliver food to people in Taylor, Rusk, and Washburn counties. We’re committed to supporting those who are less fortunate, especially when it comes to finances and hunger.”

Indianhead Community Action Agency’s mission is to assist individuals in achieving self-sufficiency by providing the resources, education, and services necessary to develop healthy families, sustainable communities, and strong local businesses.

Prevail Bank’s goal is to pursue what’s possible within its local communities. Passionate about the advancement of community based projects and supporting local organization growth, Prevail Bank is a community bank that is continuously working to support the communities it serves.

Prevail Bank’s Charitable Contributions program is available for local non-profit organizations that help local people in need, especially those with low-to-moderate incomes; stimulate communities financially; and/or enhances the standard of living of those less fortunate. If your organization is interested in applying for funds for a major initiative in your community, go to: Prevail.bank/resources/community

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Rose Oswald Poels (left) awards Dena Hineline (center) and Sue Krause (right) with prestigious awards.

On Wednesday morning, fourteen Wisconsin bankers and ten banks were honored by the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation (WBF) for their efforts in promoting financial literacy to Wisconsin’s consumers. WBF is the nonprofit arm of the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) whose mission is to assist bankers in promoting financial literacy and financial responsibility to the public and to broaden consumer empowerment in the financial services industry through research, education, grants, and scholarships.

Sue Krause, Fox Valley Savings Bank, was awarded the prestigious Financial Literacy Banker of the Year Award and Dena Hineline, Bank of Sun Prairie, was honored with the Financial Literacy Banker Award. Both Krause and Hineline also were honored with the Certificate of Excellence for exceeding twenty financial education presentations in their local communities during the Foundation’s 2020–2021 fiscal year.

Twelve individuals received a Certificate of Recognition completing at least five financial education presentations. This year’s recipients are Pam Blattner, Jimmy Kauffman, and Rob Stelzer, Bank of Sun Prairie; Kelley Jensen and Amy Shorougian, Citizens Bank in Mukwonago; Joshua Pauling, Farmers State Bank of Waupaca; Rachael Danielson, Ryma Lindquist, and Erik Thompson, First Bank of Baldwin; Craig Much, Horicon Bank; and Beth Durow and Julie Matthews, The Stephenson National Bank & Trust.

Rose Oswald Poels (left) recognizes several award recipients at WBA’s LEAD360 on November 17.

The WBF Excellence in Financial Education Award was presented to 10 WBA-member banks for their bank-wide dedication to financial education during the 2020–2021 fiscal year which encouraged over 270 bankers to get involved for the wellbeing of their communities. The banks awarded include Bank of Sun Prairie, Citizens Bank in Mukwonago, Farmers State Bank of Waupaca, First Bank of Baldwin, Fox Valley Savings Bank, Horicon Bank, National Exchange Bank and Trust, Peoples State Bank – Prairie du Chien, PremierBank – Fort Atkinson, and The Stephenson National Bank & Trust.

The outstanding efforts of all honorees were celebrated at the recent WBA LEAD360 Conference held in Wisconsin Dells. During the 2020–2021 fiscal year, these fourteen individuals and 10 banks helped WBF expand its financial education reach to nearly 6,000 people throughout the state. As a result of the pandemic, many bankers have come up with creative ways to advocate for the importance of financial literacy to consumers of all ages.

“These individuals have truly gone above and beyond in the last year to ensure that Wisconsin communities continue to have access to invaluable financial education,” said Chair of the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation Rose Oswald Poels. “We thank everyone that participated for their commitment to their communities and their overall dedication in leading the strive towards a more financially responsible state!”

Josh Ghena, senior vice president, equity business funding at Cinnaire.

Cinnaire has announced the promotion of Josh Ghena to senior vice president, equity business funding. Mike Witt has been promoted to senior vice president of asset management. In these leadership positions, Ghena and Witt will play a key role in supporting Cinnaire’s strategic plan and providing executive oversight for the organization’s $4.9 billion asset portfolio.

Ghena joined Cinnaire in 2014 and has held positions of increasing responsibility including vice president of asset management, asset stabilization expert, director of special assets and, asset manager. As senior vice president, equity business funding, Ghena manages Cinnaire’s investment strategies and provides oversight of the organization’s equity funds, investor due diligence, and fund modeling. He brings more than 10 years of experience to the position.

Prior to joining Cinnaire, Ghena provided technical assistance to distressed HUD Grantees. His work as a technical assistance provider specialized in CDBG, HOME, and NSP. Ghena earned his Bachelor of Science from Calvin College and his Master of Science from the University of Wisconsin.

Mike Witt, senior vice president, asset management at Cinnaire.

An affordable housing industry veteran, Witt joined Cinnaire in 2020. As senior vice president, asset management, he is charged with overseeing the growth and development of Cinnaire’s Asset Management team and overseeing investments made by Cinnaire in numerous multifamily developments across multiple business lines.

Witt previously served as acting chief of housing at the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), where he was responsible for oversight of all multifamily rental programs and community development decisions. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Finance from Michigan State University. Witt serves on the board of directors for the Midwest Affordable Housing Management Association (MAHMA) and treasurer of his local homeowner’s association board.

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. 

Susan Hauke, CPA, celebrated 30 years of service to National Exchange Bank & Trust on October 28, 2021.

Hauke is the chief financial officer and works out of the Waukesha office. In her role, she directs and oversees all financial activities of the bank including strategic planning, budgeting and forecasting. Additionally, she provides management and the Board of Directors with financial information needed for their decision-making process.

Hauke grew up in Greenfield and graduated from St. Mary’s Academy in Milwaukee. She went on to earn her Accounting degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Additionally, Hauke has completed the Graduate School of Banking at UW-Madison.

Hauke now resides in Muskego with her husband, Mike. She has served on the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin audit committee and on her church’s endowment committee.

National Exchange Bank & Trust is an independent bank with convenient locations throughout Southeastern Wisconsin. For more information, visit the bank’s website at nebat.com.

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 AARP.org detailed how elderly customers of the online dating service Match.com 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.