The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Wolf River Community Bank, Hortonville President and CEO Joe Peikert.
Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?
Joe: I graduated from UW-Platteville with a degree in finance and an accounting minor. I was hired as an internal auditor at a bank holding company that was headquartered in my hometown of Menomonee Falls.
Once I passed the CPA exam and joined KPMG Peat Marwick’s Milwaukee office, I thought I would be out of the banking industry. A few years later, I was back in banking with Fox Cities Bank in Neenah, and then Thrivent Financial Bank. I’ve lived in Hortonville since leaving the Milwaukee area, and 15 years ago, I ended up right in my “backyard” at Wolf River Community Bank.
What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?
Stating it simply — I love helping people. I’m so fortunate to have this role at a community bank where we live, go to church, send our kids to school, shop, etc.
I most enjoy helping each one of our employees grow their skills and careers. I like to teach and share with people the things I’ve learned over many years. That might be helping someone understand the complexities of interest rate risk management or developing the skills of our next generation of leaders at the bank. I also get the opportunity to help our customers navigate their financial needs.
I especially enjoy the variety of what I’m able to do on a daily basis. I might spend my lunch hour at our local library reading books to preschoolers, then in the evening, present our annual results at our stockholder meeting.
What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?
I believe that many people don’t really think all that much about where they bank. However, I wish more people understood that where they choose to bank makes a difference both to them and their community.
I have talked to friends and neighbors about where they bank, and they seem surprised when I share that I’d love for them to bank with us. I’ve seen a light go on when I explain to them that when they bank with a local community bank, not only are they getting remarkable service from people they know, but that banking local also helps our communities. The more support we get from the communities, the more we are able to give back to the communities through volunteerism and donations to schools, clubs, service organizations, and the like.
Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges are in the next three to five years?
As in all industries, our biggest challenge will be in keeping up with all the changes occurring. I read a quote recently that said “the rate of change we experienced in the last year has been the fastest in history. And it will never move this slowly again.” Throughout the banking industry, we need to be sure to keep up with changes in technology. The time gap from one new technology to the next is getting shorter with each iteration. We need to make a commitment to stay current because our customers are going to expect it. While I truly believe that customers will always want to be able to walk into a physical location and meet in person with their banker, they will also expect to handle most of their regular financial transactions without doing so.
With the number of moving parts we face each day, including cybersecurity, cryptocurrency, economic uncertainty, regulatory reach, etc., our industry must keep an eye on each of these challenges so we can keep our customers safe and best serve their financial needs.
Finding and keeping great people will be a challenge as well. I recently spoke to a group of business students at our local high school and asked how many are thinking they’d like to have a career in banking. It is probably not a surprise that there were none. As bankers, we need to do a better job of telling our story on how rewarding a career in banking can be.
Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.
The one that comes to mind is a recent situation where I helped a customer who was the victim of a fraud.
I noticed that this customer, whom I know from church, was coming in the bank regularly over several days — which was unusual for him — and spending time on long transactions at the teller line. When I asked the tellers about the transactions, they said he was depositing a lot of old coins and asking how much was in his account. He told them he needed to get a certain dollar amount in his account. They said he seemed confused and was also a bit evasive with them.
A day or so later, one of our lenders came to me and said this same customer wanted to take out a loan using his car as collateral — which also seemed very unusual for this customer. The lender and I agreed that when the customer came in, we would ask him about this sudden unusual change in his finances.
In that conversation we were eventually able to learn that he had fallen victim to one of the well-known elder scams in which he was to send money in order to secure a large “prize.” We were able to keep him from losing a lot of money and get family members involved to help him.