Meet Andrew Harmening: New Associated Bank President and CEO Talks Business Strategy, WBA, and Cheese Curds

Harmening_AndrewAndrew Harmening, who now splits his time between Green Bay and Milwaukee as the newly appointed president and CEO of Associated Bank, was born in Chicago and grew up in Indiana, and most recently lived in Ohio in his previous role as senior executive vice president of Huntington Bank. Harmening is no stranger to Wisconsin — he has been coming to the state for family reunions and events for over 30 years. His wife has family in Stratford and his daughter is attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, so he comes to the state with a familiarity of local communities both small and large.

Associated Bank has been the official bank of the Green Bay Packers since 1919, and the prospect of coming to Titletown was one of the draws for Harmening. He enjoys the energy of the area and getting to know the people who make it a vibrant place. Harmening’s first day at Associated was April 28, and he has spent much of his time since then talking with colleagues across the organization — more than 300 and counting, mostly face to face.

“We’re in a people business,” said Harmening. “Our colleagues have pride in Associated Bank and are active in their communities.” He emphasized that the personal relationships built between employees and customers are an important way the bank differentiates itself from Fintech competitors. He noted that the bank earns trust from customers in a way that can’t be achieved by Fintechs. 

As Harmening maps out a strategic plan, he is intent on listening to colleagues and customers. He says he has been given license by fellow colleagues to “be bold” and wants to grow in ways that makes sense specifically for the organization and its customers. With regard to digital banking and technology, Harmening stresses that the objective is to “build stuff for your customers — don’t just build tech for the sake of it.” In addition to digital banking solutions, he mentioned small business and commercial banking as potential areas for growth, all while keeping community involvement at the forefront.

When asked where Associated Bank is headed over the next several years, Harmening stressed that they first need to get through the next 6–12 months. “This is the first pandemic we’ve experienced in our lifetimes,” he noted. “The pandemic, isolation, and returning to the office are all people-centered things.” He said the team worked hard on supporting small business owners hurt by the pandemic through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and their spirit of human interaction still matters. He said flexibility for employees returning to the office in the building will also matter — success coming out of the pandemic will depend on keeping colleagues, customers, and the company in mind.  

“I really would emphasize first things first,” said Harmening. “Not ‘how did it make you bigger?’ but ‘how did it make you better?’” He said there’s no avoiding the scale question, it’s just a matter of getting it right. Harmening credited his predecessor Phil Flynn with having a risk management foundation in place, so there were no surprises, and there is a strong foundation on which to build.

Harmening emphasized that Associated Bank employees and board members alike are passionate about remaining independent. Associated Bank is the largest bank holding company headquartered in Wisconsin, with its history tracing back to 1861. With approximately 4,000 colleagues, serving over one million customers, more than 220 banking locations serving more than 120 communities throughout Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota, and commercial financial services in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Texas, Associated Bank is the largest Wisconsin-based member of the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA).

Harmening looks forward to working with WBA and appreciates that the organization offers an open line of communication. He said a major benefit of a trade association is learning from peers and being able to find out if other banks are going through similar things. He also values the opportunity to have a voice alongside other WBA members and the collective advocacy for Wisconsin’s banking industry. After 12 years of experience with the Consumer Bankers Association, including service on the board, Harmening has a strong familiarity with trade associations and looks to continue Associated Bank’s longstanding tradition of being an active WBA member.

Harmening likes to stay active and healthy, as evidenced by his occasional laps throughout the office while on conference calls. Outside of work, he enjoys playing tennis, walking, and hiking outdoors. One of his proudest feats is climbing Mt. Ventoux in France, a mountain over 6,200 feet high, made famous by its bike trail in the Tour de France. Harmening and his wife are empty nesters, who are eagerly exploring the local restaurant scenes of Wisconsin. They have already discovered some favorite spots around Green Bay and Milwaukee. As any Wisconsinite can appreciate, Harmening raved about his newfound affinity for cheese curds — squeaky, fried, yellow, or orange — he loves them all.

By, Cassie Krause