Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

Since 1986, bankers across the state of Wisconsin have been recognized for their outstanding efforts as leaders in our communities. This tradition, now celebrated annually at the WBA Bank Executives Conference in February, is equally as exciting as it is inspiring and encouraging to each of us in the room and throughout the industry.

Last year’s Banker of the Year, Steve Burgess of National Bank of Commerce in Superior, exemplifies not only the commitment bankers demonstrate to the community, but an incredible dedication to the industry as a whole. His career, spanning nearly 40 years, has accounted for remarkable growth throughout Wisconsin’s banking industry and in every community he has served.

Steve, and all previous Bankers of the Year recipients, are just a few of the many devoted individuals throughout Wisconsin demonstrating an outstanding commitment to their banks, communities, and the profession. It is humbling to recognize these exceptional leaders each year.

As such, the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) will now be accepting nominations for the 2022 Banker of the Year through Friday, December 9, 2022. In addition to demonstrating remarkable service efforts over their career to both their bank and community, qualifying individuals must be an employee of a Wisconsin bank and WBA member as well as a current (or recent past) president/CEO.

Those nominating themselves or another qualified banker for the prestigious Banker of the Year recognition may submit the nomination form at any time before December 9, 2022. As our Association receives many qualified applications each year, those who have previously nominated a banker who was not selected are also encouraged to do so again this year.

Thank you for the continued work each of you do for Wisconsinites each and every day. I can say without a doubt that the devotion Wisconsin bankers show to our industry has left a lasting impression on many communities and fellow bankers. I look forward to hearing new stories about the outstanding service Wisconsin bankers do each day as well as celebrating these achievements in the new year.

Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

Each year, bankers throughout Wisconsin go above and beyond in their mission to provide for their communities. As we near the end of Wisconsin Bankers Association’s (WBA) fiscal year on May 31, we want to be sure to recognize the efforts our member banks accomplish in pursuit of bettering the financial education and responsibility of their communities.

Alongside the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation (WBF) in its mission to empower financial decisions through education and research, I highly encourage all WBA-member bankers to track and submit their data to help WBA and WBF better understand the financial education-related activities Wisconsin banks and their bankers are involved with each year.

New this year, bankers are able to submit their presentation summaries online at

The two summary forms aim at highlighting the achievements of both individuals as well as the bank for their financial education presentations and activities from June 1, 2021 through May 31, 2022. These activities often include volunteer hours with Junior Achievement, Teach Children to Save presentations, and bank tours — events that many bankers take part in during the month of April as part of Power of Community Week.

The individual summary is intended to capture one event or presentation. Therefore, bankers who have or expect to engage in multiple financial education-related activities from June 1, 2021 to May 31, 2022 should expect to also submit multiple summaries. Because each summary reflects a single event, all co-presenters should be listed on the same form.

Exceptional individual efforts are recognized by WBF with either a Certificate of Recognition or Certificate of Excellence based on the number of presentations given. These awards, along with the top two banker awards, are presented each year at WBA’s LEAD360 Conference in the fall.

The bank summary form is intended to capture information related to the bank’s entire financial education initiatives. Based on the level of a bank’s total activity, member banks may earn the Excellence in Financial Education Award. This award is also presented each year to the winning banks at WBA’s LEAD360 Conference.

In addition to the Excellence in Financial Education Award, banks are strongly encouraged to apply for the prestigious Financial Education Innovation Award. This award is given to one bank each year that has financial education initiatives or programs that are very creative, reaching a wide audience. The 2021 Financial Education Innovation Award was presented to Bank Five Nine at WBA’s Bank Executives Conference in February for their efforts in creating an innovative approach to financial education. Banks may apply for this award by completing the final portion of the bank-wide presentation summary form application online.

You all do great work in the financial education space in your communities so take the time to get recognized for your outstanding work! Completing the forms this year is even easier now that they are online. You may submit forms at any time but the final deadline is July 31, 2022. I look forward to learning more about your efforts this past year and recognizing the incredible work Wisconsin bankers do each day. Please reach out to Hannah Flanders at or me if you have questions regarding the completion of the two summary forms.

Individual Financial Education Summary FY 21–22

Bank-wide Financial Education Summary FY 21–22

Ken Thompson HeadshotBy Kenneth D. Thompson

As bankers, our unique position both in our economy and in our community shows us a widened perspective of our daily lives. Jack Uldrich, leading global futurist and author, shared with Wisconsin’s banking leaders during his keynote session at WBA’s annual Bank Executive Conference in Wisconsin Dells that today is the slowest rate of change that we will ever experience again.

Whether we realize it or not, the COVID-19 pandemic has launched us into the future. As our world continues to evolve and community banks lead efforts in digital and technological expansion, the next ten years are becoming increasingly difficult to predict. What once was an “unconventional” practice, is quickly becoming the new normal.

It is clear to me that community bankers are resilient no matter the circumstance. Wisconsin bankers are quite familiar with conducting business in the unfamiliar. Our ability to stay relevant has only strengthened among widespread technological advancement and bank mergers as well as our efforts in approaching PPP loans and growth in liquidity. We have quickly become a source of comfort for our communities during times of uncertainty — something I know each of us significantly values — and our ability to act fast in times of need is critical.

Uldrich advises that we continue to explore the unknown, take time to think further than today or tomorrow, and to always ask questions. Business as unusual means change, and I am thrilled to see how each of us rises to the occasion for the betterment of our communities time and time again.

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National Bank of Commerce President and CEO Steve Burgess

The Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) is pleased to announce the 2021 Banker of the Year award winner: Steve Burgess, president and CEO of National Bank of Commerce.  

National Bank of Commerce is a community bank headquartered in Superior, Wis. with ten locations in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin. Burgess has nearly 40 years of banking experience and has been president and CEO of National Bank of Commerce for almost 10 years. 

“I would like to congratulate Steve on being selected as the 2021 Banker of the Year,” said Rose Oswald Poels, WBA president and CEO. “Steve is known for creating a strong bank culture through respect for others, integrity, and professional excellence.” 

Burgess has made many contributions to the banking industry and the economy in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He served on the WBA Board and chaired the WBA Government Relations Committee. He has served as chairman of APEX, on the La Crosse Area Economic Development Committee, as president of the Neillsville Economic Development Association, president of the Neillsville Chamber of Commerce, and as chairman of the Marshfield Economic Development Association. 

Burgess also serves on the College of St. Scholastica and Essentia Health Duluth Clinic Foundation boards. He is an active member of Duluth Rotary Club 25. His past service includes his roles as vice chairman of the St. Joseph Hospital (Marshfield, Wis.), Board member of the Washburn Academy (Neillsville, Wis.), and chair of Neillsville Assisted Living, Inc. 

During Burgess’ nearly decade-long tenure at National Bank of Commerce, the bank has performed at the top of the performance metrics, achieving the top quartile for annual ROA and ROE for all but two of those years. Burgess has led the bank’s growth in assets from $400 million to $1.2 billion. He initiated a residential real estate origination department, including servicing. Under Burgess’ leadership, the bank converted software operating systems to new and more efficient processing. He instituted an enterprise risk management department and led a successful re-branding of the bank’s image. 

Burgess’ professional experience includes serving as president and CEO of State Bank Financial (La Crosse, Wis.) for 11 years, president and CEO of M&I Central Bank and Trust (Marshfield, Wis.) for seven years, and president and CEO of the First National Bank of Neillsville for 12 years. 

Burgess and his wife of 40 years, Kathy Burgess, reside at their “sugarhouse” in Duluth, Minn., where the family runs a syrup-producing business. The couple has five adult children.  

The Wisconsin Bankers Association’s Banker of the Year award is presented to one Wisconsin banker each year. The recipient must be a Wisconsin bank CEO or president who has demonstrated outstanding service to their bank, to the continued vitality of their community, and to the banking profession. Burgess was honored at WBA’s Bank Executives Conference in Wisconsin Dells, the largest banking event in Wisconsin, on February 10, 2022. 

Oswald Poels and Burgess

Rose Oswald Poels, Wisconsin Bankers Association president and CEO, presents the 2021 Banker of the Year award to Steve Burgess, president and CEO of National Bank of Commerce, on February 10, 2022 at the WBA Bank Executives Conference in Wisconsin Dells.

This year’s event centers around the theme “Rise”

The Wisconsin Banker’s Association is thrilled to announce that the annual Bank Executives Conference will be back in person February 9–11, 2022 at the Kalahari Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells. This is the premiere event for bank leaders in the state. The theme of this year’s event will be “Rise.” Wisconsin bankers have risen to the occasion over the course of the pandemic, and this conference will address what it will take to be resilient and relevant in 2022.


Being back in person opens the door for the kind of networking opportunities that bank leaders have been craving for nearly two years. The conference will kick off with a networking reception on Wednesday evening, but bankers are invited and encouraged to arrive earlier for optional afternoon “banker-only” peer group discussions starting at 2:30 p.m. Peer group discussions are geared toward the roles of CEOs, CFOs, credit and lending, operations, and organizational development. Opportunities to connect with fellow bankers, WBA Associate Members, and WBA staff will be plentiful throughout the conference, with an exhibitor Marketplace providing a dedicated space for making connections.

Executive-Level Education

The WBA Bank Executives Conference brings national experts to Wisconsin, while providing tailored programming specific to the needs of banking leaders in our state. Among the trending topics that will be covered at the conference are:

  • Changes that emerged during the pandemic that are now here to stay
  • Talent recruitment and retention
  • Technology, fintech, and digital transformation
  • Cryptocurrency
  • And more!

New Hybrid Option for 2022 A livestream will allow attendees at the bank to view the keynote sessions on February 10 and 11.

The opening keynote session is titled, “Business as Unusual: How to Future-Proof Your Business in Transformational Times.” In this engaging, provocative, and insightful keynote session, acclaimed global futurist and best-selling author Jack Uldrich will not only discuss how the Coronavirus is transforming the world of tomorrow, he will explain why it is accelerating many of the trends that were already at work prior to the epidemic. History reminds us that great crises produce great change — as well as great opportunities. To take advantage of these extraordinary opportunities, businesses must position themselves now to operate in a world where “business as unusual” is the new “usual.” This session will help leaders at every level of an organization leverage ten “unconventional” techniques to succeed in today’s — and tomorrow’s — transformational times.

Dr. Chris Kuehl, managing director of Armada Corporate Intelligence, will present a keynote session, “2022 – The Real Recovery Year?” That honor was supposed to go to 2021, but we all know what happened over the last several months — inflation, labor shortage, supply chain breakdowns, and the repeated resurgence of the virus. Now we have these lingering issues along with the reactions — higher interest rates, efforts to restore, continued engagement by the government. The bankers have been placed squarely in the middle of all this and expected to do most of the heavy lifting. Does that continue and what can we really expect as far as growth and recovery?

For more details on programming and to view the full agenda, please visit

Banking leaders are eager to rise to the challenges ahead of them, and the conference will provide actionable tools and knowledge attendees can bring back to their banks and communities.


The 2021 Banker of the Year will be announced at the conference, recognizing a bank CEO or president (or an individual who has recently retired from these positions) who has made an outstanding effort throughout their career in service to their bank, to their community, and to the banking profession.

The Wisconsin Bankers Foundation Financial Education Innovation Award will be presented at a special luncheon on February 10. This prestigious award recognizes a bank’s unique efforts to enhance the financial capability of consumers in their community, whether it’s a new kind of educational game for students, curriculum developed for adult seminars, or some other new or innovative approach to financial education.

The 50- and 60-Year Clubs recognize bankers who have served in the banking industry for 50 and 60 years, respectively. These awards will be presented during the special luncheon at the conference to honor professionals who have dedicated their careers to the banking industry.


Ope! Charlie Berens, best known to Wisconsinites for his viral video series, “The Manitowoc Minute,” will perform at the Chairman’s Dinner Program on Thursday, February 10.

Comedian, Emmy award-winning journalist, and Wisconsin native Charlie Berens — who rose to fame from his video series, “The Manitowoc Minute” — will provide the entertainment for the Chairman’s Dinner Program on February 10. Attendees can expect lots of laughs from the author of the recently released book, “The Midwest Survival Guide: How We Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat. . . Everything With Ranch.” Berens has been featured on Fox, CBS, Funny or Die, TBS Digital, Variety, MTV News, and more. In 2013, he won an Emmy for “The Cost of Water” while reporting for Texas news station KDAF. “The Manitowoc Minute” series has garnered millions of views and paved the way for a sold-out standup comedy tour. Geez, Louise, this is sure to be a hilarious show you won’t want to miss!


To register for the conference, please visit We look forward to seeing you Wednesday, February 9–Friday, February 11 at the Kalahari Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells!

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Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

Last month I highlighted the financial literacy awards that our non-profit arm, the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation (WBF), distributed to several bankers in recognition of their extensive financial education efforts during our last fiscal year. Today, I’d like to share a review of several different initiatives that WBF engaged in this last fiscal year, as well as ask for your continued support so we are well-positioned for 2022.

With the help of your generous donations, WBF was able to raise $49,000 last fiscal year, which allowed for countless opportunities to further invest in the financial future of people across our state. One of WBF’s long-standing initiatives is providing scholarships to high school seniors and college students. This past year, WBF awarded a total of six scholarships valued at $10,000 to high school seniors and college students interested in banking and finance. WBF provided financial education resources to bankers across the state who reached nearly 6,000 students and adults through financial literacy-focused presentations. Finally, the research component of WBF allowed us to share with bankers and the public comprehensive and comparative data on the industry through

As I look forward to the exciting work ahead of us including a silent auction to be held in conjunction with WBA’s Bank Executive Conference in February, Teach Children to Save Day in April, as well as establishing grant programming for non-profits, I encourage you to consider donating items for the auction and/or supporting us financially to keep these programs and resources accessible for many years to come!

Since WBF is a public charity not only are your contributions 100% tax deductible, but they also support an important mission of the industry’s which is empowering financial decisions through scholarship, education, and research. I encourage you to consider making a contribution in the form of a donated item for our February silent auction or a financial contribution. The WBF Board would like to raise over $70,000 this year.

The long-held tradition of promoting financial responsibility to individuals throughout the state is a point of pride to our member bankers. In acknowledging this need for resources and education in our communities, along with the scholarships, grants, and research WBF provides, I thank you in advance for considering a gift to WBF that will keep the holiday spirit going long past the current season.

Ken Thompson HeadshotBy Kenneth D. Thompson

I would like to formally invite all WBA-member banking executives and leaders in Wisconsin to join me at WBA’s Bank Executive Conference. This annual, premiere banking event allows for nearly endless opportunities to network among peers as well as develop and learn skills from nationally recognized speakers and leaders in the banking industry.

The Bank Executive Conference will be held February 9–11 at the Kalahari Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells. Featuring both general and breakout sessions, opportunities for networking, and recognition of several prestigious awards, there will no doubt be something of interest for every leader in your bank.

I am also excited to announce that this annual conference will return in -person for the first time since 2020. I look forward to not only celebrating a return to togetherness while also honoring the wide range of successes banking leaders in our state have achieved during such a treacherous time.

The unifying theme of this year’s conference will be “Rise”. I encourage you and your executive team to begin thinking about how your bank has risen to the occasion over the course of the past two years and how resiliency and action have allowed Wisconsin banks and their communities to strengthen along the way. Which of the changes that emerged during the pandemic are here to stay? How will you approach changes in talent recruitment and retention, technology and cybersecurity, and merger and acquisition trends? What will it mean to be relevant in this new environment? The conference will address these questions and prepare you to take action on the work that lies ahead of you. Join us to discover how you will rise to the new leadership challenges of 2022.


The 2023 WBA Bank Executives Conference will be held Wednesday, February 8 through Friday, February 10 at the Kalahari Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells. The conference will kick off with a networking reception on Wednesday evening, but bankers are invited and encouraged to arrive earlier for optional afternoon “banker only” peer group discussions starting at 2:30 p.m. The conference will adjourn at Noon on Friday.

This conference is ideal for community banking executives to come together for networking and education. Attendees will enjoy two days of networking, several national keynote speakers, and a total of 8 breakout sessions to choose from. Members of your bank’s executive team can each customize their agendas by attending and learning from different breakout sessions.

View the Speakers and Agenda pages on the conference registration website for more details!


Bank Member Registration Information

EARLY BIRD PRICING! Register your team by January 9, 2023 to receive the registration fee of $475/attendee, including all meals and conference sessions. After January 9, the registration fee will increase to $525/attendee.

Spouses/guests (non-bankers) can be registered to join for all meals at the rate of $275/guest. This includes Wednesday reception; Thursday breakfast, lunch, reception, dinner and dessert reception; and Friday breakfast. Spouses/guests (non-bankers) can also register to only attend the Thursday evening receptions and dinner at the rate of $125/guest.

Associate Member & Exhibitor Registration Information

WBA Associate Members can register to attend, exhibit, and/or sponsor at the conference.

Associate Member individual conference registration is $695/attendee, including all meals and conference sessions. Visit the Information for Exhibitors/Sponsors page for more details on exhibit and sponsor opportunities! Please contact WBA’s Nick Loppnow for more information on exhibiting. Interested in upgrading your presence? Register to be a conference sponsor to receive additional benefits and conference recognition! Please contact WBA’s Nick Loppnow for more details on available sponsorships.