The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Waldo State Bank President Tom Reil.
Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?
Tom: After graduating from University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1983 with a degree in finance, I started my career in banking at First Wisconsin in Fond du Lac. It was a great starting point, but corporate banking was not for me. I then moved on to F&M Bancorp as a lender in their New London office for 12 years. Another great learning opportunity, but when the Bancorp was sold, it was time for a change.
An opportunity to move closer to home and run a true “community bank” became available at Waldo State Bank, and I have been here for past 22 years.
What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?
There are lots of things that I enjoy about working at the bank. For one, every day is different and the wide variety of things I get to be a part of is challenging — there is never a dull moment.
My favorite part is working with customers; helping them come up with an answer to their financial questions or putting a loan package together for them is incredibly rewarding.
I also love it when people ask, “Where’s Waldo?” I kindly smile and tell them, “It’s where you want to bank!” That line never gets old and will usually generate a smile, and that’s what I like to do.
I have also enjoyed being involved in the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) — it is the best way for bankers to be engaged in actively promoting community banking as well as building lifelong friendships with peers. I think it is a privilege to serve in any capacity that fits one’s career and personality — from serving on the WBA Board, to being on the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) House Finance committee, or just attending WBA events — the benefit of being active cannot be overstated. You can also have a heck of a lot of fun doing it!
What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?
There is a significant difference between community banks and all other financial institutions — the communities we serve are the reason why we (community bankers) are here. We take the time to sit and listen to our customers and understand their needs, we consider their unique situation and offer products and services that fit their needs, and we have the ability to tailor our services to our customers — not fit them into a one-size-fits-all solution.
In addition, the majority of our business comes from existing customer referrals. I wish the general public understood how our existing customers felt and that everyone has the opportunity to develop a relationship with a bank that they can bank on.
Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges are in the next three to five years?
There will always be challenges, and being able to adapt is what make community banks unique. I think changes in technology will the biggest challenges that community banks face. Keeping up with cybersecurity, changes in AI, and improvements in process are just a few that banks are considering.
Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences (e.g., a time you had to go above and beyond to help a customer, a memorable customer interaction, stepping in to help the local community after a disaster, etc.).
As president of the bank, and with the experience I’ve had in the banking industry, I have been blessed with the opportunity to get to know a lot of extraordinary people. I enjoy being able to use those connections to bring people together to help one another. To see customers that you have helped over the years prosper is very gratifying.
When I took my first job at First Wisconsin, the president of the bank at the time told me not to get into banking for the money. If I would be satisfied with a job where I could provide for my family, be a respected member of my community, and make a difference — a career in banking would be for me. Those words of wisdom have guided me well and are advice that I continue to share with new leaders at the bank.