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How your bank can best engage with pro-banking candidates

By Lorenzo Cruz

This year, turnout for the August primary in Wisconsin hit over 25% — the best performance in 40 years. As over 690,000 voters cast their ballots in the hotly contested GOP gubernatorial primary and over 500,000 voters cast theirs in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary, Wisconsinites can expect lots of activity as we near this November’s primary election.

Gubernatorial Primary

In the GOP primary for governor, construction business magnate Tim Michels (R-WI) defeated former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R-WI) to advance to the general election. The Trafalgar Group had the race at a statistical dead heat in their August statewide survey before the primary, however Michels won by a sizable number of votes and garnered 47% to Kleefisch’s 42% — a margin of victory exceeding 35,000 votes.

Michels won 62 of the 72 counties while Kleefisch significantly underperformed in southeastern Wisconsin, a key area where she needed to do well. Michels’ Trump endorsement, a $12M self-funded war chest, and an effective business outsider message proved too much to overcome for Kleefisch, endorsed by Pence and Walker. Michels will face incumbent Governor Tony Evers.

Kleefisch urged her supporters in the concession speech to get in the fight against Evers. Evers has portrayed Michels as part of the radical right, a divisive extremist, and a Trump fanatic on abortion, voting rights, gun safety, and public education.

Joining the governor’s ticket for lieutenant governor are state Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton) and state Rep. Sara Rodriguez (D-Milwaukee). Roth won 30% of the vote with state Sen. Patrick Testin being his closest challenger in a large primary. On the Democratic side, Rodriguez defeated Peng Her, Hmong Institute CEO, with 76% of the vote. Both candidates outspent their opponents and won by double-digit margins.

Gubernatorial Primary

In the GOP primary for governor, construction business magnate Tim Michels (R-WI) defeated former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R-WI) to advance to the general election. The Trafalgar Group had the race at a statistical dead heat in their August statewide survey before the primary, however Michels won by a sizable number of votes and garnered 47% to Kleefisch’s 42% — a margin of victory exceeding 35,000 votes.

Michels won 62 of the 72 counties while Kleefisch significantly underperformed in southeastern Wisconsin, a key area where she needed to do well. Michels’ Trump endorsement, a $12M self-funded war chest, and an effective business outsider message proved too much to overcome for Kleefisch, endorsed by Pence and Walker. Michels will face incumbent Governor Tony Evers.

Kleefisch urged her supporters in the concession speech to get in the fight against Evers. Evers has portrayed Michels as part of the radical right, a divisive extremist, and a Trump fanatic on abortion, voting rights, gun safety, and public education.

Joining the governor’s ticket for lieutenant governor are state Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton) and state Rep. Sara Rodriguez (D-Milwaukee). Roth won 30% of the vote with state Sen. Patrick Testin being his closest challenger in a large primary. On the Democratic side, Rodriguez defeated Peng Her, Hmong Institute CEO, with 76% of the vote. Both candidates outspent their opponents and won by double-digit margins.

U.S. Senate Race

In the U.S. Senate race, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D-WI) secured the Democratic nomination with 78% of the vote after his top rivals bowed out of the race in an unprecedent move to align the Democratic voters behind him more than a week out from the primary.

Barnes will face incumbent U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) in a race that could determine majority control in the U.S. Senate. Johnson’s campaign looks to tie Barnes to some struggling national issues such as inflation, economy, crime, and education. On the other hand, Barnes will aim to link Johnson to extreme positions on education, abortion, taxes, and guns.

Notable Primary Race Results

  • Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) defeated Trump-endorsed challenger Adam Steen (51% to 49%).
  • Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) captured 74% of the vote.
  • State Sen. Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska) will face off against GOP military veteran Derrick Van Orden in the Third Congressional District.
  • Incumbent Attorney General Josh Kaul (D-WI) will take on GOP primary winner Eric Toney.
  • Republican nominee Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) will battle long-time Secretary of State Doug LaFollette (D-WI).
  • Retired bank executive Jerry O’Connor (R-Fond du Lac) won in the 52nd Assembly district.
  • In three key contested GOP state Senate primaries, Rachel Cabral-Guevara (R-19), Jesse James (R-23), and Cory Tomczyk (R-29) came through victorious.

 

 

Make Your Voice Heard

With the primaries in the rear-view mirror, the winners turn their attention and resources to the fall general elections in November. The Cook Political Report considers Wisconsin one of four toss up states for the gubernatorial race. Democrats and Republicans are vying for the governor’s veto power and gaining or blocking super majorities in the legislature. Candidates, political parties, and outside groups are expected to spend hundreds of millions to win control of Congress, the governor’s office, attorney general, and the state legislature. It is critical that bankers continue to engage in the political process to support pro-banking and pro-business legislators.

The Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) urges the membership to continue to give to the PAC, conduit, or the issue advocacy fund. WBA has set an ambitious PAC/conduit fundraising goal of $300,000 by the end of the year. As of August, WBA members have contributed $151,000 to WBA’s advocacy efforts. Additionally, WBA staff donated over $12,000 during a two-week campaign.

We thank you for your continued generosity and eagerness to assist WBA in reaching its goal. If your bank has not already contributed, please consider doing so before the November general election. To learn more about WBA’s political funds, please visit wisbank.com/give or contact me.

Membership engagement remains an important advocacy priority as we continue through WBA’s fiscal year. By becoming involved with WBA’s Gold Triangle Club or naming an Advocacy Officer at your bank, you are one step closer to achieving WBA’s highest recognition for overall advocacy effort — Bankers Involved in Grassroots and Government (BIGG) Award. Membership-driven political activism is the most effective and vital tool to the success of our Association. Help WBA provide bankers a seat at the table and influence policy decisions impacting the banking industry in Wisconsin by raising our participation this year!

Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

At the heart of the Wisconsin Bankers Association’s (WBA) mission is advocating on behalf of the Wisconsin’s banking industry. In the last year alone, WBA has taken action in combating credit card fees, increasing instances of elder fraud in our communities, legislation that would expand credit union powers, a looming recession, and so much more.

It’s no secret that WBA-member banks play a significant role in the support of our Association. Between political contributions that help further engage our legislators or by participating in Capitol Day, organizing a “Take Your Legislator to Work Day”, or testifying on a bill — the engagement shown by our membership has been paramount in advancing WBA’s efforts over the last 130 years.

I am also lucky to say that, in addition to the thousands of bankers throughout the state who engage with WBA, our Association is also made up of nearly 50 individuals who, like you, are sincerely dedicated to our state’s banking industry.

Earlier this month, WBA hosted its annual staff fundraiser in support of Wisbankpac and Alliance of Bankers for Wisconsin (ABW) — two critical methods of promoting advocacy for the Wisconsin banking industry. This timely event, in which the funds raised are used to help support pro-banking political candidates, welcomed staff donations (though participation was not required) by way of a specified contribution from payroll, a check made out to one of the funds, or the purchase of one or more Jeans Day stickers for a casual dress day at the office. All money raised directly aids in WBA’s advocacy efforts.

For their generosity, and to celebrate Wisconsin’s beloved county fair season, WBA hosted a fair-themed week of events. Ranging from a blue ribbon bake off to games and a cornhole competition, every staff person was able to participate in activities and win prizes.

I am proud to announce that our small but mighty staff was collectively able to crush our goal of $7,000 and raise over $12,350 this year. This amazing feat by our team highlights the commitment each WBA staff member has to the industry and our membership.

As we look ahead to the remainder of this calendar year, it is critical that all WBA-member banks continue to engage with our Government Relations team and take part in supporting our industry. In addition to making political contributions, banks should take a moment to ensure they remain on track to receive WBA’s Gold Triangle or Bankers Involved in Grassroots and Government (BIGG) Award.

The Gold Triangle Club, the highest level of fundraising recognition for banks, is awarded annually through contributions to ABW political conduit, Wisbankpac, or WBA’s issue advocacy fund. Corporate contributions as well as contributions from bank employees and directors count toward Gold Triangle status, and the amount to qualify ranges from $500 to $4,500 based on the size of the bank.

WBA’s BIGG Award expands beyond Gold Triangle fundraising to encompass grassroots advocacy engagement and serves as the Association’s highest level of recognition for overall advocacy. To learn more about how your bank can earn these prestigious awards, please contact Lorenzo Cruz, vice president – government relations, or me.

As I’ve stated in previous publications, the support and involvement of every member bank is critical to the continued success of our advocacy efforts. With the goal of raising $300,000 by the end of this year, it truly requires a team effort to keep our Association on target to continue surpassing our goals for the industry!

By Lorenzo Cruz

The credit card swipe fee debate could reignite as interest rates rise and inflationary pressures persist into 2023. If the sparks fly and catch fire, retailers could reunite to advocate for interchange fee reform, which has severe negative financial consequences for banks, the electronic payments ecosystem, and consumers alike.

The Importance of Interchange Fee

During the last legislative session, a retail coalition led efforts to introduce legislation that would have prevented banks from applying interchange fees on the tax portion of a credit card transaction and would impose a $200 fine per transaction for any entity that violates the law. Similar legislation has been offered across the nation more than forty times over the last 16 years. To date, no state has enacted the legislation, nor has this model legislation made it out of any committee.

Retailers contend this change would provide some relief for tax collection and would lower their second highest expense — credit card swipe fees. Members of the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) empathize with retailers’ concerns, but there are other ways retailers could receive vendor compensation as payment for that work.

Interchange fees remain a critical revenue stream for banks of all sizes in rural and urban markets. The fees allow banks to recover the cost for fraud protection and for cybersecurity that card issuing banks provide to their customers. Retailers and consumers enjoy the credit card fee benefits of a seamless globally accepted transaction and a guaranteed payment that is secure, convenient, and affordable. Retailers also see higher volume and sales from credit card use, faster transactions, lower costs than those associated with handling checks and cash, and more sales channels.

Negative Impacts on Wisconsin

Passage of interchange fee legislation would have negative and impractical implications for the electronic payment system and consumers. Consumers would have to undergo a split tender transaction, being forced to use the credit card for the total sum of goods or services purchased in the first transaction but then would pay in cash or check for the remaining tax portion in a separate transaction. Retailers could see an increase in customer confusion and frustration as the speedy checkout line becomes a distant memory.

Currently, the electronic payment system has no way of separating out the tax piece of the transaction. Financial institutions and card networks only see the full transaction sum when approving, routing, and settling electronic payments. This design protects consumers’ privacy and allows for lightning speed transactions.

Visa’s network alone processes over $12 trillion in transactions annually. Visa has the capacity to handle over 65,000 transactions a second, however, the proposed special tax treatment change would require a major, costly overhaul of the system. The chip conversion for credit cards took over 25 years to research, test, and implement, which goes to show there is nothing simple about making changes to these networks. Wisconsin could easily become an island in the electronic payment space if the legislation passes.

With prices of gas and food increasing and talks of recession afoot, the last thing consumers would want is a legislative change that makes it potentially more difficult to use their card during these challenging times. WBA urges our retail partners and customers to pursue vendor compensation alternatives rather than tinker with the interchange fee in a harmful manner. Additionally, WBA members are encouraged to continue to educate customers and policymakers on the importance of interchange fees to banks and the communities they serve.

Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

Since the Wisconsin Bankers Association’s (WBA) inception 130 years ago, advocating on behalf of Wisconsin bankers has been one of our top priorities. WBA reaches across aisles, supporting pro-banking legislators and candidates, with the goal of advocating for and supporting the banking industry.

With Wisconsin’s general election quickly approaching in November and the primary just next week on August 9, I wish to remind all Wisconsin bankers of the importance of not only participating in these two elections, but ultimately making your voice heard on behalf of our industry.

This year, the American Bankers Association (ABA) is once again promoting their “Get Out the Vote” initiative which assists in educating voters on banking issues. I encourage you to visit the ABA’s site to make sure you are registered to vote, know the candidates on your ballot, and where your polling locations are. ABA has also created a toolkit for banks to share with employees to promote voter participation.

As we know, Wisconsin’s election battleground regularly takes the national spotlight and with candidates looking to flip the ballot for several major state offices — Governor, U.S. Senate, and some state Assembly seats, to name a few — little is expected to change this year. In addition to making your voice heard through casting your vote next week (and in November), I encourage bankers to actively participate in our advocacy initiatives in two additional ways.

Take Your Legislator to Work

As WBA’s over 100 Advocacy Officers can attest, the most effective way of advocating for our industry is to meet with legislators in person. Taking this one step further, “Take Your Legislator to Work Day” visits not only allow decision makers to hear about the great work bankers do each day in their communities but see it for themselves.

Your direct involvement in hosting legislators not only assists our elected government officials in further understanding the community banking industry and the impact legislation has on our operations, but also offers an in-depth perspective into Wisconsin’s economy as well as the successes and challenges many of our communities face.

The WBA Government Relations team stands ready to assist your bank in engaging in advocacy-related events, including working with you to schedule a “Take Your Legislator to Work Day” at your bank. If you would like to host, or learn more about hosting a visit, please contact Lorenzo Cruz, vice president – government relations, or me.

Political Contributions

WBA is not concerned with “D” or “R”, but rather “B” as in the “Banking” party. Donating to WBA’s political action funds in support of pro-banking candidates is an easy and significant way to further promote WBA’s legislative agenda and bankers throughout the state.

Wisbankpac is WBA’s registered political action committee. Wisbankpac supports pro-banking candidates throughout Wisconsin by pooling individual banker contributions in order to maximize the overall impact. The Alliance of Bankers for Wisconsin (ABW) — WBA’s state conduit — allows individuals to direct contributions to the candidate(s) of their choosing.

I greatly appreciate your past support and active involvement in WBA’s various advocacy initiatives; however, as with everything else, we need your engagement to continue at an even higher level. It would be ideal if an additional six to eight “Take Your Legislator to Work Day” visits were scheduled between now and December. Furthermore, WBA has a goal of raising $300,000 in our political accounts this calendar year, which will require greater participation than what has occurred in the past. If you are interested in contributing to WBA’s political action funds — be it Wisbankpac or ABW — or learning more about how to contribute, please visit wisbank.com/Give or contact me. Together we will continue to achieve successes for our industry!

Make the most of your WBA membership

By Daryll Lund

For 130 years, the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) has strived to offer member banks expansive opportunities to grow and thrive within our industry. In being a member-led organization, the WBA highly encourages bankers of all levels to engage with educational and advocacy-related events, programs, and groups.

As part of its mission to support every member, WBA annually offers hundreds of educational opportunities — from one-hour webinars to five-day schools. While the main objective of all WBA programming is of course professional development, one significant benefit many of us have sincerely missed over the last several years is our ability to connect with one another.

The team at WBA regularly expresses to me how special it is to witness our member bankers — there are over 35,000 of them — meet and foster connections through WBA conferences, outings, and groups. As events continually return in person, I am excited to serve witness once again to the all the new ideas created and connections formed as many Wisconsin bankers reconvene for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.

Since WBA’s inception, the development — both professionally and personally — of bankers has been a focal point in our mission to support Wisconsin’s banking industry.

In addition to the training and educational programs WBA offers throughout the year, there are many other volunteer opportunities that individual bankers of all levels may engage in.

These opportunities not only allow for bankers to gain further insight into a specific area of the bank from their peers but encourage them to ask questions and assist WBA staff members in creating meaningful and relevant programs, resources, and content for other bankers throughout the state. Volunteering as a WBA Advocacy Officer, attending the Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT) Summit, or engaging with one of WBA’s Connect Peer Groups — to name just a few of the opportunities WBA offers to members — allows bankers the ability to make their voices heard throughout the industry.

As your bank looks ahead to all the programs, classes, and events that WBA will be hosting for the remainder of the year, we look forward to welcoming many of you back in person as well as assisting you and your teams in enhancing your connections to your industry and peers across the state.

By Lorenzo Cruz

When it comes to elections — Wisconsin is largely known to be a battleground state, and it’s no surprise that the upcoming 2022 election looks no different. WBA predicts Wisconsin to yet again take the national stage as Republicans and Democrats fight for control of the state legislature, the East Wing, and U.S. Congress.

What to Expect

The GOP anticipates a possible red wave which could lead to veto-proof super majorities and a recapturing of the governor’s office. Democrats, on the other hand, look to keep Governor Tony Evers in office and block super majorities in both state houses. There are currently 29 seats in the legislature up for grabs due to retirements or legislators pursuing other offices. Twenty-two seats are in the state Assembly and seven seats are in the state Senate.

With the state’s congressional and legislative district maps set after state and U.S. Supreme Court intervention, elected officials now shift their focus into full election mode. Nomination papers were submitted on June 1 by all candidates. Over a dozen incumbents drew challengers for the August 9 primary.

Whom to Watch

The only Democrat incumbent to draw a primary opponent is Secretary of State Doug La Follette who faces Alexia Sabor, chair of the Democratic Party of Dane County.

Nine total GOP members of the state Senate and state Assembly are confronting primary challenges which include Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg). Other state GOP incumbents contending with primary challengers include Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), Rep. Joel Kitchens (RSturgeon Bay), Rep. Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva), Rep. Robert Brooks (R-Saukville), Rep. James Edming (R-Glen Flora), Rep. Treig Pronschinske (R-Mondovi), and Rep. Loren Oldenburg (R-Viroqua).

GOP challengers are campaigning on a variety of issues including, but not limited to: election integrity/reform, COVID-19 vaccine mandates, masking in schools, and incumbent leadership change.

On the federal side, U.S. GOP incumbents facing challenges in the August primary are Senator Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh), Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Glenbeulah), Rep. Tom Tiffany (RMinocqua), and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay). There is only one open seat without a primary or general election — Democrat Rep. John Brosthoff’s (D-Milwaukee).

Campaign strategists expect extraordinary amounts of political spending on state and federal races in Wisconsin. At a recent WisPolitics luncheon, GOP Party Chair Paul Farrow and Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler agreed that Wisconsin could see record-breaking spending for campaigns from outside groups, campaigns, and both parties in the area of $700 million. The incredible volume of television, radio, print, and social media advertisements for state and federal campaigns will increase exponentially at a blistering pace over the next several months.

How to Participate

As always, the WBA Advocacy Team urges the members to be engaged in the political process. Our state and federal elected officials shape public policy by passing legislation or administrative rules which greatly impact the banking industry.

There are two ways bankers can help make a difference on the advocacy front. The first is become an Advocacy Officer. Currently, over 100 banks across the state have already designated Advocacy Officers, representing more than 50% of all WBA-member banks. These officers serve as another powerful and relevant voice that helps amplify WBA’s message and raise the visible presence of the banking industry back home in the legislative district or in Madison on Capitol Day. This fiscal year, WBA hopes to continue to grow our ranks upwards until we have 100% participation.

The second way is to contribute to Wisbankpac — WBA’s state political action committee — or to the Alliance of Bankers for Wisconsin (ABW) — WBA’s state conduit. As you very well know, campaigns are extremely expensive. These political contributions help defray campaign-related expenses and support pro-banking and pro-business candidates.

Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

As I’ve discussed in past issues of the Executive Letter (view here, here, and here), several Wisconsin financial institutions are fighting class action lawsuits on the issue of represented items and fees. These lawsuits are occurring across the country against banks and credit unions and appear to be generated from a few class action law firms.

WBA does not normally get involved in bank litigation until it reaches an appellate level. In these cases, however, it is helpful for WBA to know whether your bank is involved in such litigation, so we can help share what we know about others facing the same class action suit. There is value in similarly situated banks, along with their legal counsel, talking with others so they can help each other respond in these cases. For example, WBA just became aware of a case in Dane County that was successfully dismissed, in favor of the bank, on a motion to dismiss. Due to lookback periods, WBA believes these representment class action suits will continue to be filed against banks for at least the next year and then will start to diminish. The goal, of course, is to force a settlement which is occurring in Wisconsin and around the country.

WBA will collect bank name and contact information, venue, issue at hand, and the name and contact information for bank’s counsel involved in the matter. WBA will share the collected information with member banks requesting the information; this information will not be published. My hope is to help connect banks, and their counsels, with each other to discuss experiences and help find resolutions.

In addition to serving as a central repository of these class action suits against banks, as mentioned above, WBA does get involved as a friend of the court in cases at an appellate level where a bank is involved as a party. WBA may get involved as a friend of the court in cases of widespread importance to Wisconsin banks generally and where the banking industry is in general agreement on the issues. If requested by a member to participate, the facts of the case are defensible, and WBA’s counsel believes a reasonable chance of being persuasive exists, a recommendation is made to the WBA Board of Directors for their approval of involvement. If approved, WBA will collaborate with its outside counsel to get involved as a friend of the court. WBA will not participate in cases involving two or more member banks as opposing parties.

If your bank is facing a suit, please assist WBA in assisting other Wisconsin banks facing similar cases by letting me or WBA’s VP – Legal Heather MacKinnon know.

By Hannah Flanders

Earlier this year, one of the largest credit union acquisitions of a bank nationwide occurred in Wisconsin. As the deal between Commerce State Bank, West Bend and Summit Credit Union, Madison prepares to close in the third quarter of 2022, it is becoming increasingly important that WBA and its membership act in opposition of further credit union expansion and hold these institutions accountable for the implications to Wisconsin’s economy.

First established in the early 1900s, credit unions aimed at providing access to credit and financial services to those of low or modest means. However, since their inception in the U.S., credit unions have largely gone unrestrained and have expanded into entities nearly indistinguishable from banks. As of May 2022, six of the 10 largest financial institutions in the state of Wisconsin were credit unions. Of these credit unions, 14 have equal to or greater than one billion dollars in assets, operating essentially as large commercial banks — aside from their tax-paying status.

Due to their not-for- profit status, credit unions are exempt from federal and state income taxes. As these institutions remain widely unchallenged by regulators, credit unions take advantage of their tax-exempt status for their own asset growth and continue to expand far beyond their employer- or neighborhood-focused origins.

Why Community Banks?

Unfortunately, acquisitions of Wisconsin banks by large, growth-oriented credit unions — such as the case with Commerce State Bank and Summit Credit Union — have become increasingly common over the last several years. In total, six whole-bank acquisitions by credit unions have taken place in Wisconsin since 2014.

Throughout the country, 13 whole-bank acquisitions by credit unions took place in 2021 alone — an alarming trend that is expected to continue through 2022 and beyond.

As member-owned organizations, credit unions have a unique interest in community banks. Due to small banks having close ties to their communities and often offering specialized services — such as digital banking or business lending — credit unions have the ability to expand their portfolios and their assets through the acquisition of a bank all while gaining new members.

Increasing competition for both employees and customers has significant impacts on financial institutions across the country. Growth-oriented credit unions in Wisconsin are increasingly lenient in the addition of new members, often not verifying that these customers align with those they are intended to serve.

“These multi-billion-dollar credit unions around the state are able to gain momentum though tax-subsidized acquisitions,” states WBA Vice President — Government Relations Lorenzo Cruz. “Community banks are often unable to compete with rising investor interest in merger and acquisition activity and premium offers.”

 

In addition to their tax-exempt status, credit unions — despite having been founded to provide greater access to financial services — have no requirement to participate in providing Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) investments, or similar programs, to low- and moderate-income (LMI) neighborhoods. These excess funds that are not allotted into community efforts or back into their membership can be used as leverage for purchasing banks.

As many Midwestern banks continue to be the target of credit union expansion, it is likely — according to a report published by Wilary Winn LLC — that a buying credit union will bid entirely in cash. This type of offer, already difficult for shareholders to refuse, has reportedly been upwards of three times higher than other bids in some cases.

An Unfair Advantage

In statement released by WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels shortly after the Commerce State Bank acquisition was announced in March, Oswald Poels highlighted the need for fair and healthy competition within the financial service industry. As credit unions continue to expand their geographic footprint and offerings to members, these institutions have quickly become increasingly indistinguishable from tax-paying banks.

Membership to a credit union often costs as little as $5 — but with thousands of members across the country and no requirement to pay income taxes in many states — these profits continue to rise. Credit unions are often able to offer extremely low rates on services. If credit unions abided by their intended mission to only serve specific communities, these low rates would only affect a small percentage of population — however — in 2021, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) reported that membership had risen to above 130 million Americans.

Community banks do not have the same flexibility with their rates and therefore, are often unable to compete with the rates of credit unions. As highly regulated organizations, the cost of some banking services may be intentionally or unintentionally affected by agencies, including the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (FRB), or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

Of course, the greatest damage to Wisconsin’s economy comes from the loss of tax revenue each time a bank is acquired by a credit union. Annually, the U.S. Treasury loses $2.6 billion in income tax revenue across the country as many of the largest financial institutions remain tax exempt, according to information provided by the American Bankers Association (ABA). As more and more banks are acquired by tax-exempt credit unions, this number will continue rise — forcing the burden onto individuals and tax-paying businesses and ultimately limiting consumer choice.

Taking Action

With the number of banks headquartered in the state decreasing each year — and the number of credit unions throughout the country continuing to rise — WBA has placed even greater emphasis than ever on advocating in opposition of all credit union expansion.

Over the last 10 years, credit unions around the country have acquired $11 billion in bank assets, according to the ABA. While Wisconsin law continues to allow banks to sell all or a substantial portion of their assets to other companies, given that several criteria are met, many states have made considerable moves in legislation against whole-bank acquisitions in their state by credit unions. So far, Colorado and Iowa have barred state-chartered banks from selling to credit unions.

Last year, WBA advocated in opposition to AB 478/SB 451 which ultimately would have allowed credit unions even further opportunities to expand throughout the state.

In addition to this state legislative effort, WBA regularly joins other state banking associations at the federal level in efforts to keep credit unions in check. These combined efforts not only unite the banking industry throughout the country but also emphasize to legislators the important role bankers play in every community.

“Wisconsin is experiencing a disturbing trend of credit unions buying banks. These acquisitions result in a direct loss of tax revenue to the state and federal government which places more of the burden on individuals and taxpaying businesses to support meaningful government and social services such as law enforcement, health insurance for low-income families and their children, infrastructure, and education,” says Oswald Poels. “WBA repeatedly questions the public policy rationale for allowing these acquisitions to occur with state and federal lawmakers highlighting the detriment to our state every time one is announced.”

Though the future of credit union expansion — both in Wisconsin and around the country — is uncertain, it is clear that so long as they remain untaxed, unchecked, and underregulated, credit unions will continue to extend their reach far beyond their intended purpose. As growth-oriented credit unions continue to be a detriment to the overall health of the state’s economy, WBA encourages bankers to advocate on behalf of the industry. Whether it be volunteering as a WBA Advocacy Officer to speak with elected officials or in day-to-day conversations with community members — bankers play an important role in holding credit unions accountable.

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By Daniel J. Peterson

For 130 years, the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) has led bankers in their efforts to deepen their knowledge and connect with their communities. This intense focus and commitment to Wisconsin bankers has allowed the organization to serve as a pillar for all things banking — such as education and advocacy.

While the Association only continues to grow, serving 98 percent of the banks in the state — over 35,000 bankers total — the pandemic halted many of the ways in which bankers connected with their peers and community members.

As WBA events, and life in general, more closely resemble the state of normalcy we last knew in early 2020, I encourage WBA-member banks to take this year to further deepen your engagement with the Association and ultimately make the most of your membership.

Whether it be taking part in events such as the Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT) Summits, any of the nearly 900 educational opportunities offered each year, volunteering in WBA’s Advocacy Officer program, or one of the many committees — there is something of interest for every member, at every level of your bank.

WBA also offers several resources for bankers, including the newly remodeled Engagement Center located at the WBA office in Madison. This space includes state-of-the-art technology and ample room for banks to lead planning sessions, hold hybrid or in-person meetings, or designate a quiet area to work. Additionally, the Engagement Center annually hosts hundreds of bankers from around the state for training sessions, seminars, and schools.

WBA’s role in fostering the growth of the banking industry in Wisconsin is critical and unlike many other opportunities offered elsewhere. Your engagement in WBA’s efforts assists the organization in staying relevant and helps provide the highest quality resources and information to every member.

As I look to the year ahead, I am excited to discover all the new ways WBA members will create deeper connections with their peers and the banking industry. Not only do WBA programs provide benefits for banking leaders and their teams, but as trusted advisors and leaders in our communities, we have a unique opportunity to share our financial expertise with public officials and neighbors. Bankers throughout the state serve as the most important spokespeople for our industry.

By increasing engagement, not only do our teams benefit from education and networking opportunities, WBA is able to better understand how to best serve Wisconsin bankers. I am repeatedly reminded that WBA is our association. Now’s the time for bankers around the state to take advantage of the multitude of ways in which to engage for the benefit of shaping professional growth, developing connections, and shaping our industry as a whole.

Peterson is president and CEO of The Stephenson National Bank & Trust, Marinette, and the 2022–2023 WBA Chair.

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Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

Earlier this month, the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) began its 2022–2023 fiscal year. The ceremony, held on June 8, formally installed President and CEO of The Stephenson National Bank and Trust Dan Peterson as WBA’s chair of the Board, welcomed several new Board officers, and thanked several members for their valuable contributions to the association as they ended their terms.

Dan was able to sit down with me for a short conversation to introduce himself to the membership and highlight the goals he has for the organization for the upcoming year.

Dan first started his career in banking as an assistant loan officer at The Stephenson National Bank and Trust in 1988. After gaining experience in all lending areas of the bank, he was promoted to his current role as president and CEO in 2013.

As chair of the WBA Board of Directors, Dan aims to deepen member engagement this fiscal year. Following nearly three years of remote or hybrid events, conferences, and schools, it is no question that bankers throughout the state are looking to reengage with their peers and gain valuable experience outside of the office.

As more education and advocacy-related opportunities at WBA return in person — such as peer groups reconvening at our office in Madison or conferences occurring at venues across the state once again — the membership is encouraged to take advantage of WBA’s selection of options to further develop skills, network among peers, or volunteer time for the benefit of our entire industry.

In addition to taking part in events held by WBA, Dan offers a few other ways bankers may consider deepening their engagement with the association. WBA’s newly renovated office in Madison features a state-of-the-art Engagement Center for members from around the state to use, and the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation (WBF) — WBA’s non-profit arm — offers resources that assist bankers in further engaging and connecting with their communities on the topic of financial literacy.

As Dan, the WBA staff, and I look ahead to another summer and fall filled with opportunities for bankers to deepen their knowledge and expand professional networks — we encourage you and your staff to engage however possible. By joining our CEOnly/CFOnly Network, becoming an Advocacy Officer, or attending any WBA school or event, you assist us in better serving you!

To learn more about WBA Board Chair Dan Peterson and his goals for the upcoming fiscal year, please keep an eye out for WBA’s upcoming July Wisconsin Banker.