The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Black River Country Bank, Black River Falls President and CEO Bob Becker.
Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?
Bob: When I enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, I had plans of becoming an engineer, but like many young adults, I changed my mind and ultimately decided to obtain a degree in business administration. During that time, I became especially interested in the economic classes I was taking, and that helped me start thinking about a career in banking. Fortunately for me, when I graduated, my local bank was looking for a loan officer, and I was lucky enough to be chosen for the job.
What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?
I have two favorite aspects of my role with our bank. The first is the ability to interact within our local community. Starting out as a loan officer, I was able to help people make some of the most important decisions in their lives happen. Helping people with buying a new car, buying a home, starting a business, or expanding the family farm — it is extremely enjoyable to help them reach their goals and dreams. As my career progressed and my leadership role in the bank expanded, it has been a joy to expand that interaction to larger community initiatives. I take great pride in what we have been able to do to help the Jackson County communities thrive and prosper. The second is leading a great group of fellow employees and helping them establish the foundation for a commitment to our bank and our community. These commitments help us establish a true family amongst our employees and customers. I was fortunate to have three great mentors when I started in banking, Winston Zeman, Glen Goeman, and Steve Zeman. Each was a great community banker, and I can only hope that I have been able to pass on some of what they willingly passed on to me.
What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?
I would like the general public to understand what a good, strong community bank can do for a local economy. It is a strong employer for the local economy. It reinvests in the local economy. It supports the local charitable organizations in the local economy. It lends leadership to many of the local organizations. It supports youth organizations and activities with sponsorships. It supports young adults with college scholarships. And it supplies the banking services that you need, in the convenient fashion that you would like, and at the lowest possible cost that is maintainable. In today’s world, we all have more and more options for our needs and services, but if we look at all the good that a local community bank does for its community, why would we ever consider the financial services choices we can make that don’t include a great personal relationship with your local community banker.
Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges are in the next three to five years?
I believe the industry’s greatest challenge in the next 3–5 years is continuing to safeguard the personal information and financial assets of our customers. The ever-expanding desire and need for instant and convenient access to our money and financial information is a huge challenge for the industry. We are committed to delivering as much of this to our customers as possible, but it comes with added challenges. It seems like the financial and cyber exploitation business is growing by leaps and bounds. Trying to stay in front of these organizations is a daunting task.
Every day, bankers serve their local communities by helping their customers achieve their financial dreams. Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.
I have been with the Black River Country Bank for 35 years, and I currently serve as president and chief executive officer, along with being the president of the bank’s holding company, BRAD, Inc.
My most rewarding experience is our Community Good Neighbor Day. This is a day that we as a group choose to participate in and help out our community members who need a helping hand. We have a local organization that we work with that allows us to identify local households that may need help with fall cleanup of their property. Our bank family breaks up into small groups and participates in a day of helping clean yards, some that were planned ahead of time and some that just happen on the spur of the moment. The joy of the day is not only seeing the good you do, but seeing how the employee family works together to accomplish as many things as possible and also the joy that is delivered to the recipients who can have one worry taken off their shoulders.