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PremierBank’s Bilingual Initiatives Committee helps bank serve Hispanic community

By Kathleen Rolfs

Between 2000 and 2015, the Hispanic population in Wisconsin doubled in size with an increase of 95%, according to a demographic summary conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. This was the most rapid population increase of any of Wisconsin’s various racial groups (White, Black/African American, American Indian, and Hispanic).

During this span of time, Wisconsin’s overall population increased by roughly 400,000 residents, with Hispanics making up 46% of this increase. With Hispanics being the fastest growing minority population in Wisconsin, it is important that community banks thoughtfully consider how they are best meeting the financial needs of this influential consumer base.

Although individual desires and product requirements are as diverse for the Hispanic community as any other demographic, one way that PremierBank is successfully serving our Hispanic friends and neighbors is through our unique Bilingual Initiatives Committee. This group is comprised of several bilingual bankers along with marketing and retail banking officers. The goals of the committee include identifying opportunities that exist within our communities for strategic community partnerships, and collaborative education within our organization to ensure all our bankers are equipped to understand and anticipate the needs of the rapidly growing, ethnically diverse Hispanic community.

Bilingual Bankers Share Their Heritage

At a minimum, having bankers on staff who speak the same native language of those who live and work in our communities is one of the most obvious ways that we can reduce or eliminate language barriers with our Hispanic customers and successfully deliver the most appropriate financial solutions to them.

Guided by our Bilingual Initiatives Committee, our bilingual bankers help provide education within our organization about the Hispanic community. Peer-to-peer learning is a powerful tool that helps break through biases and promulgates understanding. As such, we have found that giving our bilingual bankers many opportunities throughout the year to share their heritage with their colleagues encourages a much deeper understanding of our local Hispanic population, while simultaneously building community within our own organization.

During last year’s Hispanic Heritage month, PremierBank treated all employees to traditional pan dulce or “sweet bread” served fresh from a local Mexican baker. These were personally delivered by members who serve on the Bilingual Initiative Committee, some of whom were dressed in traditional Mexican apparel, with an explanation of the history of these tasty treats! Inexpensive activities encourage understanding and respect among a diverse workforce, while providing education about this important segment of banking prospects and customers.

Bilingual Banking Community Outreach

Whether through financial contributions, sponsoring a resource fair that targets the Hispanic community, or creating our own event that caters to the Hispanic community, PremierBank’s Bilingual Initiative Committee is intentional in the quest to find new events to support within our footprint area.

In September 2022, a “Hispanic Heritage Celebration” is being planned at one of our banking locations complete with food trucks, traditional Central and South American dancers, and a lively mariachi band. After working with the local convention and visitor’s bureau and receiving advice from the city parks and recreation department, our Bilingual Initiatives Committee has found enthusiastic community support in our efforts to plan this upcoming community event that will celebrate Hispanic customs, cuisine, and heritage.

Building Long-Term Relationships

As marketers, we know that the Hispanic segment is an incredibly valuable consumer group. With an annual purchasing power of over $1.5 trillion, this powerhouse community is more likely to start a new business than any other demographic and it accounts for a larger percentage of home purchases than ever before, according to an article published by Forbes. However, we cannot simply make token efforts to attract their business.

To reach this audience, cater to their actual needs, and stand out from our competitors, banks need to establish an authentic connection in an honest and respectful way. Our Bilingual Initiatives Committee is making a difference at PremierBank by helping us to build authentic, meaningful relationships both inside and outside of our bank. Because of this, the business relationships we have formed with our Hispanic customers and community partners are based on understanding and respect and will endure long into the future.

Rolfs, vice president – director of marketing at PremierBank in Fort Atkinson, is a member of the 2022–2023 WBA Marketing Committee.

By Hannah Flanders

It has been two years since March 11, 2020, yet its transformation is still felt far and wide. A time marked by swift transition and angst among all — bankers will recall the call to action by their community members to be there through this time of uncertainty.

2020 and 2021 were marked by Wisconsin bankers’ quick action in providing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to local businesses, increased digitalized services, and defense from COVID-related fraud. Bankers continually step up to the challenge of providing critical support and the sense of stability to communities throughout Wisconsin, a tradition as old as the industry itself, and the events of the last several years have only highlighted the dedication they have for one another.

At the onset of the pandemic, many bank branches in Wisconsin closed their lobbies and non-client facing employees were sent home to work. As restrictions have eased throughout the last two years, bankers not only have returned to the office with a greater sense of commitment to their communities, but a new perspective on their role within the bank.

“Even as the pandemic seems to be winding down, our bank’s focus continues to be protecting the health and safety of our associates, clients, and communities,” says Paul Hoffmann, president and CEO of Monona Bank. In an effort to provide this for the Monona Bank team, Hoffmann explains the bank’s effort in establishing a ‘COVID team’ responsible for keeping fellow employees updated regarding recent trends.

From IT departments and marketing officers to the frontline staff, many experienced a major shift in the way their position impacted the bank.

One of the immediate changes Loni Meiborg, senior vice president of organizational development at Fortifi Bank, Berlin, noticed as the pandemic wore on is the need to do more with less. “[Fortifi was] already running with lean branch staff, and we had to prepare for the worst — the potential of a total sweep of our team,” said Meiborg. “This led us to cross-train more aggressively, ask the team for schedule flexibility, and deploy support staff to front-line environments to remain open in some circumstances. We felt our integrity and reputation rested on the clients’ access to their money. Even when lobbies closed, we found a way to reassure clients that we’re here and open through this.”

Additionally, Meiborg’s role as senior vice president of marketing transitioned to its current title of senior vice president of organizational development during the pandemic to allow Fortifi Bank to further understand the functionalities of the bank in addition to prioritizing the strong relationship between employee and client. This trend was hardly exclusive to Wisconsin community banks, as bankers throughout the industry took on greater responsibility in ensuring the bank continued to operate smoothly and that it was also meeting the needs of both the customers and its employees.

The roles of bankers were also dependent on the physical location. Front-line staff faced the challenge of assisting customers in ways they never previously had and became responsible for
making bank offices and lobbies COVID-friendly. Those working partially or fully remote grappled with PPP-related coverage, assisting in departments apart from their own, and engaging with customers from a distance. However, though these challenges proved difficult, bankers were able to adapt to their circumstances, grow as team members, and gain valuable work experience in other aspects of the bank. These involuntary exercises in team building have given bankers a greater perspective on the operations of their bank and have helped prepare staff for the potential of future interruptions.

“Each spring, Westbury Bank holds a celebration for its staff and their hard work over the past year,” told Lisa Dixon, senior vice president of retail banking. “The final stages of planning were brought to a screeching halt in March 2020. Between remote workers, alternating branch staff, and limited in-person meetings, our staff quickly began to feel a sense of isolation. It was important for our bank to find new ways to engage team members safely and meaningfully.”

These activities included Friday bingo, weekly trivia, designing masks, and pumpkin carving shared via the intranet. Dixon explains that it continues to be important for banks to foster an environment of unity for the betterment of employee culture — even as bankers return to their offices and COVID-related restrictions subside.

Recently, the media has shown strives to rebound to the “way things were” before March 2020. Individuals and businesses alike have seen a dramatic shift in their day-today operations, but efforts to embrace the realities of the future in every opportunity and challenge it provides should not be forgotten.

In addition to the ways the roles of bankers have changed, the tools bankers now use to perform daily functions have adapted to the digital world. Technology streamlined through remote  work — Teams, Zoom, digital signatures, and many others — continue to be resources bankers rely on to perform their tasks and meet the needs of customers.

The digital evolution of banks and their bankers were critical in limiting exposure during the virus’s peak and continue to be important in talent retention and attracting new customers. During the pandemic, it was critical that banks invest in the technology that would keep their staff and customers connected. In the aftermath, these advancements have been important in keeping the banking industry relevant among constant development.

“Increased usage of our mobile app for banking, along with the desire to move toward an ‘appointment’ approach for our bankers, had been on our agenda for quite some time,” says Dixon. “The pandemic gave us the opportunity to further promote those services we knew our customers would love. They’ve [since] embraced them whole heartedly as it gives them the ability to bank on their schedule.”

Over the course of the pandemic, bankers throughout Wisconsin expanded their reach, reinforced their bonds with community members, and established loyal customers who understand the importance of banking local. “Clients have come to rely on us for guidance in the market, business economics, and planning for their future,” says Meiborg. “We proved that we were reliable when the world wasn’t.”

“[Monona Bank] has never had so many unsolicited recommendations and referrals as the past several years, which I attribute to being there when they needed us when others were not,” says Hoffmann. “We helped many clients keep their businesses open and their employees working. This helped us build loyalty and trust with our clients and community.”

Bankers have truly stepped up and into their communities over the last two years. In reassuring Wisconsinites that their community banks were the safest place not only to keep their money, but to obtain trusted guidance and comradery, the industry has proven itself to be a reliable asset to every community. As the banking industry continues to evolve and grow, bankers prove themselves as dedicated and adaptable for not only the benefit of their communities, but for their team as well.

Navigating, planning, and embracing change through a global pandemic

By Stefanie Bonesteel

To say the last two years have been a wild ride at Citizens Bank is an understatement. We had both our president and our CEO retire following lengthy careers at the bank. Then we completed a full core conversion, which included several projects and implementations before and after conversion. Next came an upgrade to our online banking and mobile app. As if a change in leadership and a complete system overhaul weren’t enough, like everyone else we were navigating through a global pandemic that brought lobby closures and staffing shortages, among other challenges.

With so many changes in a short period of time, we knew our internal communications would be paramount. Not only did our team members need to know what was coming and how it impacted them, we wanted our team to understand the “why” behind decisions as they were made, in order to gain their buy-in. Through our changes, some of the tactics we employed included:

A solid communication plan:

Just like communications to customers need to be planned out, messages to employees should be mapped out, as well. Thinking ahead helps you ensure all relevant parties are consulted and included, plus it allows you to group points together to cut down on the frequency of messages — which may mitigate the feeling of information overload. Prior to sharing, all communications were reviewed for accuracy and completeness to avoid the need to correct points or share missed details.

One source of information:

At Citizens, our intranet is the hub of what is happening at our bank. At the start of our core conversion, we created a special and separate area on the intranet to be The Spot where everything about the project was posted. Instead of searching through emails for relevant information, our team members knew they could find what they needed on the intranet. Email notifications would alert everyone when new content was added.

Separating the responsibility:

At any given time surrounding our conversion, we had two to four implementations going at once. We quickly realized that because the implementation managers were so focused on the minutia of their projects, we needed someone else who was involved but not quite as deep in the weeds to think about what needed to be shared and with whom. A communications point person for each project helped to keep the big picture in view.

Do your best to stay connected:

Fostering a sense of team is crucial during periods of intense change. While COVID prevented us from meeting in person during much of our transition, we made the most of meeting virtually. We also tasked a group who wasn’t directly involved with the conversion to be our sunshine committee. This got everyone involved while showing extra appreciation to those doing the heavy lifting. Because our team was accomplishing great things in the face of adversity, we adopted a superhero theme for the treats and care packages we assembled and sent out.


Bonesteel is senior vice president – marketing at Citizens Bank, Mukwonago and vice chair of the 2021–2022 WBA Marketing Committee.

This column is published bi-monthly in Wisconsin Banker and is written by members of the WBA Marketing Committee.

A recent survey published by the FDIC highlights the changes in how Americans use banks. The changes in this report range from banking methods to the frequency of visits to a teller. Below is a summary of how bank usage varies among banked households. 

Banking Methods 

Regarding the primary method that banked households have used in the past 12 months to access their accounts, mobile banking has increased the most. Accessing banks via mobile devices rose notably over the course of five years, from 9.5% in 2015, 15.6% in 2017, and 34.0% in 2019.  Part of this shift is due to the growth of younger banked households where mobile banking as a primary means of access has almost doubled between 2017 and 2019. 

The increase in mobile banking has overthrown online banking as the most prevalent method of accessing accounts. In fact, online banking decreased substantially while the use of bank tellers, ATMs, and telephone banking declined only modestly. Despite these recent declines, online banking, kiosks, and tellers are still prominent methods of access for banked households. For more on this, WBA freelance writer Paul Gores has written an article detailing the switch from in-person to virtual banking. 

Branch Visits 

The FDIC notes that 83% of banked households visited a branch within the last 12 months, a number which is down by 3% from 2017. Nine in ten rural households visited a branch at some point throughout the year. Among the surveyed population that visited a branch ten or more times include approximately four in ten rural households and nearly 60% of banked households that used bank tellers as their primary method. 

Customer Satisfaction 

Also addressed in the survey is customer satisfaction with their primary bank and their beliefs of how clearly their bank communicates account fees. 

In 2019, three in four banked households claimed to be satisfied with their bank, while less than 3% were either not very satisfied, not satisfied, or did not know. Two in three customers thought their banks communicated fees clearly. Overall, the large majority of banked households were satisfied with the way their banks operated and communicated.  

The full report breaks down these changes further based on factors such as family income, education, and age group.  

View the full report. 

By, Ally Bates

You’ve heard it before, and chances are you’ll hear it again: the branch is dying. If that’s true, why are so many financial institutions investing in their branch networks, either through remodeling or new construction? 

The answer: the branch is more than a building—and it always has been. Community banks connect with their customers and neighbors through their branch networks. Those networks are evolving to meet the needs and preferences of a new generation of customers, but branches are still an essential channel for delivering banking services. 

At a virtual session held during Fiserv’s Forward Forum in July, Connected Experiences: Branch Transformation Trailblazers Blend Talent and Technology, Fiserv Senior Product Manager David Johnson, who leads product management for self-service banking automation, explained that existing branch optimization challenges have evolved further in 2020 due to the pandemic, but that transforming their branches is a successful strategy banks can use to adapt. “Finding the next normal of service delivery falls squarely in the realm of branch transformation,” he said. “The changing nature of our interactions changes how we deliver products and services to customers.” 

Branches are designed to provide the best customer experience possible, but what constitutes the “best experience” has changed over time. According to new research from Fiserv (July 2020), since the pandemic began 33% of survey respondents had increased use of mobile payment apps, 27% increased use of mobile check deposits, and 46% do not plan to visit a branch within 30 days. Many of these trends started before anyone had heard of COVID-19, but the pandemic has accelerated and magnified their impact. 

To get a close-up look at what tomorrow's branches are designed to do, WBA spoke with five member banks that recently opened a new or renovated branch. 

State Bank of Cross Plains 

New branch location: Middleton 
Opened: May 30, 2019 

Peoples State Bank, Wausau 

New branch location: West Allis 
Opened: March 11, 2020 

Denmark State Bank 

New branch location: Sheboygan 
Opened: Feb. 17, 2020 

Bank First, Manitowoc 

New branch location: Oshkosh 
Opened: Jan. 6, 2020 

Bay Bank, Green Bay 

New branch location: Keshena, Menominee Reservation/County 
Opened: December 2020 (anticipated) 

While diverse in how they accomplish it, each of these banks’ branch investments exemplifies how the industry can build a new recipe for branch success. Some key ingredients: 

1: Strategic Growth 

New branches follow growth, not the other way around. Many new offices open because the bank’s strategic plan calls for organic growth and senior leadership has identified the community as an opportunity. For example, Peoples State Bank President/CEO Scott Cattanach said the bank made a strategic decision to pursue new market growth, and because they had already achieved significant market share in their home footprint of northern Wisconsin, they began looking to other areas of the state for opportunities. “From a broad perspective, we were looking to break into a higher-growth area of Wisconsin,” he explained. “Though we started it as a loan office, we always intended for it to become a full-service branch, because that’s when we, as a community bank, are most effective.” 

Sometimes that location is specified in the plan itself, as is the case with Bay Bank’s newest branch in Menominee County. “This branch is executing on our strategic plan,” said Bay Bank President Jeff Bowman. “It’s in writing in our plan that we will assist other tribal communities of Wisconsin.” In doing so, Bay Bank is bringing the first full-service bank branch to Menominee County, which was the only one of Wisconsin’s 72 counties that did not have a bank branch. 

2: The Right People 

“A lot of this centers around the people we hired,” said Denmark State Bank President and CEO Scot Thompson. “Without the right people, it’s difficult to grow.” The same pattern emerged, in most cases, for the launch of a new branch location. After determining which market was the best fit to target, the bank built relationships with key individuals in that market who then built up a portfolio of accounts, and eventually the community expressed demand for a full-service branch. “It’s part of our strategy and it all starts with people,” said Bank First CEO Mike Molepske. “Assemble a team, build some accounts, then open a branch.” 

By building the new branch’s team from within the community, the bank not only leverages existing client connections, but also demonstrates its commitment to bolstering the local economy, which can be a considerable component of success. “We’ve made the commitment to hire and train members of the Menominee community to work at the bank,” said Bowman. “We will create some new local jobs and launch some new careers in banking.” 

3: Community Engagement 

Investment in a new branch demonstrates the bank’s strength and ability to serve the community. “When you build a significant building on a significant corner—100,000 cars drove by daily, before COVID—it's a sign of the bank’s success and strength,” said State Bank of Cross Plains President & CEO Jim Tubbs. “Beyond it demonstrating an investment in the community, it shows that things are going well.” 

The physical presence of a branch is also how banks forge a connection with a new community. “People bank with people,” Thompson explained. “It’s a relationship you build over time. There is a benefit to still having face-to-face communication along with automation and technology. That’s where community banking has its niche.” The hallmark of community banking is relationships, and branches facilitate that advantage. “If we can’t deliver a personal touch we can’t deliver our best value,” said Cattanach. “We’re only successful if our customers are successful.” 

Also, each bank highlighted the goal of community engagement and support in talking about the motivation for the new branch. “Over the long haul, we will be able to increase home ownership, play a role in developing new housing, and providing access to capital in the form of small dollar consumer loans and small business loans,” explained Bowman. “We have 25 years of experience making mortgage loans on Tribal land. We’re transferring that unique skillset to a new community.” 

4: Brand with the Building 

Tubbs said the new State Bank of Cross Plains building was designed to communicate the bank’s tremendous commitment to the city of Middleton. “I believe, especially in the community bank space, the branch network is much more than a channel to do business with your customers,” he explained. “It’s a recognition of your brand and a huge part of your marketing for your organization.” 

Bank First’s newly opened branch in Oshkosh was designed with lots of natural light, built with recycled materials, and decorated with artwork from local artists, just like Bank First’s other branches, which means customers know what to expect when they walk in. “Whether it’s new or retrofitted, it needs to fit our brand,” Molepske explained. “When you walk into the building, you feel comfortable. It feels strong and professional. It’s a great place for customers to visit and our employees to work in.” 

With less foot traffic in branches, every interaction counts more. “You have to provide what consumers are looking for,” said Cattanach. “That requires your staff to be more multifunctional.” Universal bankers and ITMs are part of that transformation and are (or will be) featured at many of the new branches highlighted in this article. The ITM is a good example of the dichotomy of current customer demand; they want high-tech digital solutions and the ability to meet face-to-face with a trusted advisor. “Especially in the Midwest, a significant part of our customer-base still wants to come to the bank,” said Tubbs. “Without a doubt technology has changed people’s habits, but there’s still that desire.” 

A recent global survey by Deloitte showed consumers prefer to visit a bank branch for more complex banking services, such as opening an account, and this preference is fairly similar across generations: 64% of Baby Boomers, 54% of Gen Xers, 48% of Millennials, and 56% of Gen Z consumers surveyed said they prefer to visit branches when opening a new checking account. Despite branch traffic trending down, this shows the value of a branch—and its ability to deepen customer relationships—grows over time. “A new location is an investment,” said Thompson. “It doesn’t turn around Day One or even Year One. It's an investment in future growth and income.” 

So, while bank clients of all ages may visit branches less often—as few as five times per year according to some surveys—most don’t want branches to go away. “The branch will be with us forever,” said Molepske. “It’s the heart of community banking.” 

Seitz is WBA operations manager and senior writer.

By, Amber Seitz

While banking as a business has evolved over the decades (albeit gradually), the branch itself has not changed much from the earliest days of banking. Most brick-and-mortar locations still feature long teller lines separating staff from customers, hidden back offices for more complex financial needs, and large but separated spaces for consumers to navigate in their search for solutions. With the advent of digital banking, that model is changing. Banks in the future—and sooner than you think—will look very different from the marble halls of the past. 

New Purpose

The very purpose of the bank branch is changing. Once the central purpose for the branch, the number of in-branch transactions continues to fall as online and mobile transactions become the norm. "Our entire culture is being digitized, and the trend of integrating the physical world with the digital will have a tremendous impact on how we do branching in the future," said Andy Grinstead, vice president of strategic insights at Fiserv. "It's already happening today, and the pace will accelerate." As a result, bank branches must adapt to a new purpose: customer engagement. "People are going to look for expertise on financial services rather than just coming in to conduct a transaction," explained Dan Peterson, president & CEO of the Stephenson National Bank & Trust, Marinette. 

This new customer motivation provides banks an opportunity to become a destination rather than a chore, according to Jennie Sobecki, founder & CEO, Focused Results, LLC. "Be the financial services experts in your community, because you are," she added. "Many bankers don't like to stand out, but they'll need to." As a result of this change, tomorrow's branches will be designed to foster relationships. "Successful bank branches will acquire and develop customer relationships by providing personalized interactions in an easy-to-use multi-channel environment that offers customers the choice of full-, assisted-, or self-service based on their personal preference," said Susan Doyle, senior vice president of retail banking at North Shore Bank, Brookfield. Millennials in particular, Doyle notes, value advice and solutions from bank specialists they trust in addition to digital access to transactions. 


With a new focus on customer relationships rather than conducting transactions, tomorrow's branches will be more open, with most utilizing the Universal Banker model that is already gaining popularity. "We'll have more open layouts," said Sobecki. "The Universal Banker model is more user-friendly and focused on relationship-building." Peterson also predicts most successful branches will feature teller pods rather than traditional lines. According to Doyle, branch design will promote customer access to bank staff, space for customers to discover and learn about the bank's products and services, and opportunities for consultative discussions and account fulfillment. This, in turn, will require a higher level of expertise from front-line staff. "The knowledge and skill of branch staff is evolving upward," said Doyle. "Staff must be knowledgeable people who can handle complex transactions, engage in conversations about financial needs, provide counsel and connect customers with experts." 

These new design features will allow branch footprints to shrink, reducing the bank's overhead. "With less space dedicated to teller transaction windows, branches need less square footage to serve customers and fewer staff members dedicated to processing transactions," said Doyle. In some cases, excess space may even be leased out to the bank's business clients, or perhaps converted into space where bank customers (and potential customers) can learn about digital offerings. "Branch design will also include open offices and meeting centers, digital media to tell the bank's story, and also provide easy access to eServices with a genius bar or eService Education Center," said Peterson. For example, Stephenson National Bank & Trust has placed an eLab in their main office. "People can come in and use a variety of devices—different brands of tablets and phones—and we can demonstrate how to use our online services," Peterson explained. "We're training our customers how not to come into our branches to conduct basic transactions, but encouraging them to come in for education and financial advice."

Right-sizing branches and the services they offer will also be a key component in a successful branch strategy by maximizing the impact of each customer touch-point. "Branches should reflect the needs of the consumer and market in terms of size, staff and services offered," said Doyle. The model that North Shore Bank uses includes hub, spoke and kiosk branches, all of which work in combination with the others to create a distribution system that works for the customers and communities they serve. With this system, a large, full-service hub branch supports a regional network of smaller satellite offices (the spokes) and forthcoming video teller/ATM machines that offer customers a direct connection to branch staff (kiosks). 

Integrated Technology

Machines bank customers can use to conduct basic transactions will be central to the branch of the future. Interactive teller machines, depository ATMs and cash recyclers will all help streamline the customer experience. "Technology can do the basic transactions. You need the people to be customer-facing dream-builders," said Sobecki. "The banker's job isn't counting cash well; it's building relationships and finding out what the client wants, then positioning the bank's products and services to help them achieve those dreams." 

Using technology to recognize customers is a perfect example of this partnership between technology and human customer service, and Grinstead predicts its use will continue to grow. For example, a customer books an appointment online and when they arrive at the branch they are identified through geolocation technology (such as a beacon) or a biometric (such as facial recognition), notifying branch staff instantly of who they are and why they're there. "That ability to connect with the person who can answer your question right away will be critical," he said. 

Another common feature will be remote video support, allowing customers to communicate face-to-face with bank staff from anywhere. The concept of "banking from anywhere" will be the primary driver behind many of the changes in branch banking. "Just ten years old, smart phones have and will continue to be a game changer," said Doyle. "They will continue to alter how customers choose to conduct their banking business." However, mobile devices are also a source of competition and drastically transforming customer expectations. "Banks are being matched up against the technology of other industries today, not just the bank up the street," said Grinstead. "You're being compared to Apple and Google."

Implementing Change

The good news is, the transition from the traditional branch model to the future model does not need to be immediate. In fact, bank management should take care not to rush implementation of any new branch strategy. "Embed it into your strategic plan," Sobecki advised. "Technology isn't cheap, so you need to know in advance what your plan is." Both Doyle and Peterson say they sought information from other banks who had installed similar features to learn what went well (and why) as well as how to manage or avoid common challenges. However, discerning the best course of action for your institution also requires dedicated due diligence. "Start with data," Grinstead advised. "Start with intentionality by completing a branch optimization and transformation study." The study will enable bank management to understand the current performance of each branch as well as market opportunities around that branch through customer market research. 

Branches should not be evaluated solely on transaction volume, however. "The number one thing is revenue per square foot," said Sobecki. "You have branches in mature markets and growth markets, so it's also important to look at your year-over-year growth, not just the dollar amounts." At Stephenson National Bank & Trust, Peterson says they have begun evaluating the bank's digital performance, too. "Rather than evaluate the different office locations, we're evaluating our virtual branch," said Peterson. "We've established a general ledger for analyzing how our customers bank with us digitally." Grinstead recommends measuring relative profitability (rather than fixed costs) and analyzing growth based on whether or not the branch is capitalizing on the opportunities present in its market. 

Communication with customers and staff about upcoming changes must also be carefully planned and executed in order for the branch transformation to succeed. "As a high-touch community bank, listening to our customers regarding their preferences is requisite and our most important tool," said Doyle. "The branch needs to provide a platform that takes into account varying rates of change and provide customers with choices on how they want to bank." Staff must also understand their role in any upcoming changes well in advance, not only so they can explain the new features to customers, but to gain their support. "Buy-in from the staff will determine the success of the changes being made," said Peterson. "If not communicated or presented in a positive manner, reputational risk will be an issue."

Envisioning Tomorrow's Branches…. Today!

Left: A view looking from the Knowledge Desk to business partner offices in the branch, which include mortgage, investment and business banking. Center: Jenni Dolata, deposit operations officer, training Stephenson National Bank & Trust employees on the eTeller. Right: View from North Shore Bank's new teller pod in their Green Bay branch. The branch features an interactive kiosk, a fulfilment desk, and a connection area with a personal banker and video conferencing.
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By, Amber Seitz

Strategies to align branches with customer needs

Banking is an industry built on trust, and the majority of consumers still seek that human interaction through visits to brick-and-mortar branches. A recent Accenture survey found that branches are still the second-most preferred channel for banking (behind online) and that 25 percent of consumers still visit a branch at least weekly. In-branch banking isn't going away, but it is changing. The challenge for banks is to ensure their customers receive the same fluid, convenient experience however they choose to do their banking, whether that's online, via mobile, or in a branch. 

"What's required is to shift the thinking about branches from transactions to engagement," said David Peterson, CSO and founder of i7Strategies. "Think about what you want people to do in the branch, and then the physical transition follows." In order to effectively transform their branches into customer engagement centers, banks must first establish clear strategic goals and ensure those objectives are aligned with the target customer base. "Building a bank culture is key," explained DeAnna Tittel, senior vice president of retail, Bank of Luxemburg. "Set expectations of what the customer experience should look like and sound like." While a bank's exact goals for the customer experience will vary depending on the institution's own strategic plan, in general customers want education or advice delivered in a convenient, efficient format during their branch experience. 

Begin by Educating

"The biggest strength of a community bank is the trust the local community places in them," said Barry Thompson, managing partner, Thompson Consulting Group, LLC. "By becoming their financial advisor, banks will find that their marketplace will expand." Bank customers establish that trust through their interactions with frontline staff, often the first in-person interaction they have with the bank. "We find that our customers appreciate the knowledge they can get from a frontline employee," said Tittel. 

However, the traditional branch layout (long teller lines with counters that divide customer from banker) doesn't foster engagement; it's designed to be transactional. To transition from transaction to engagement, banks should consider training frontline employees to teach customers about the various technology channels the bank makes available to them. "Have education sessions for your customers to come and learn how to use your tools, or make an appointment if they're having a problem," Peterson recommended. "Over time, you'll change the minds of the customers in your service area of what a branch experience is." In addition, Thompson advises banks to consider devoting time and resources to community education. "We're seeing more programs on elder fraud, on basic fraud, and school programs where bankers go into the schools and discuss things like social engineering and the problems that can occur over the internet," he said.

This knowledge-delivery strategy not only allows the bank to gain maximum returns on its investments in technology channels such as online and mobile banking through increased adoption rates, it also positions the bank to be a resource for customers and encourages engagement. By providing technology like tablets in the branch for customers to try out with staff assistance, the bank encourages adoption of its digital products and reduces customer hesitancy, especially among those who are not digitally savvy, while also delivering on the efficiency that many customers expect from their banking experience. "Our customers lead busy lives," said Tittel. "Empowering them to perform so many functions at a time that fits their schedules is key. Ensuring they feel comfortable and confident using all of those tools is a great benefit to them."

Create Convenience

Technology can also enable staff to deliver efficient service within the branch. "Today's technology of online banking, mobile deposit, et cetera, not only assists the customer in getting things done quickly and at their fingertips, but internal software programs that allow accesses for frontline employees to obtain information quickly for the customer is key," said Tittel. "Giving those permissions to the right employee to fulfill that customer request creates a very positive impact when the customer can leave with an answer in hand."

Reimagining the physical space of the branch can also aid in creating the efficient, convenient experience most bank customers want from their branch visits. Peterson advocates envisioning the bank branch in a similar way to how Apple envisions its retail stores: as a place for customers to engage with staff and learn about the products they're interested in buying. "There's no register, no place to check out, because they want you to do everything on the devices, either theirs or yours, so you learn how to use it or you're encouraged to buy it," he explained. Peterson also recommends taking some of the space gained by removing excess teller/CSR space and converting it into something more community-facing. "Create a thinking lab that people from the community can reserve and use, or maybe install a 3D printer," he suggested. "Use that space for innovative community value-add to show you're both innovative-thinking and invested in the community." It can be as simple and low-budget as a meeting room with a whiteboard that the bank's customers can use as brainstorming space. 

Designing a branch with teller pods and/or interactive teller machines allows staff to interact with customers in new ways and creates operational efficiencies for the bank. "Having a universal banker that can cover multiple functions and perform multiple customer requests can help reduce staffing and payroll budgets while keeping efficiency ratios in line," Tittel explained. However, Thompson strongly cautions against understaffing to the point where it becomes a safety or security hazard. "A branch should not operate with fewer than three people," he stressed, recommending interactive teller machines for banks that want to downsize their smaller locations, combined with service from a call center. "For rural community banks, the interactive teller machines are a giant leap forward," Thompson said. 

Recent survey results from Accenture.

Ultimately, any significant branch transformation must begin with staff training; no amount of remodeling will impact the customer experience as much as their interactions with bankers. "You have to have transformation not just of your physical space, but of your people first," Peterson explained. "It's not just customer service, but engagement – asking the right questions, listening, and being able to make recommendations based on the customers' responses. That 'consultative selling,' along with education and problem solving, are all high-engagement activities." By shifting the focus from transactions to customer engagement, banks can transform their branches into a place their customers—and potential customers— want to visit, rather than someplace they have to. 

By, Amber Seitz

Making More from Less
Five ways banks can enhance the value of their branch network

Between products like mobile and online banking, ATMs, fintech solutions and digital wallets like PayPal, it's no wonder some people are questioning whether brick-and-mortar bank branches are still relevant. However, consumers still crave the trust and assurance that comes with human interaction, especially when it comes to their finances. Bank branches aren't on the brink of extinction; they're evolving. Here are five key actions banks can take to transform their branch networks and enhance their value: 

1. Focus on Customer Needs and Behaviors

Consumer demands will drive nearly every aspect of branch transformation in the future, so identifying exactly what your customers want and need is critical. "Branch transformation is not up to us, it is up to the customers," explained Darren Dewing, senior vice president, director of retail distribution at Associated Bank, Milwaukee. "Their behavior will determine the future of the branch network." Dewing noted that while direct customer feedback is important, it's also essential to measure their actions. With the current upheaval in the financial services industry, bank branches will need to transform in order to survive; it will be the customers, not the banks, who ultimately define what they turn into. "It comes down to what customers demand of us and adapting accordingly," said Jeff McCarthy, vice president – marketing director at First Bank Financial Centre, Oconomowoc and a member of the 2016-2017 WBA Marketing Committee.

2. Re-Think Technology 

Many bank executives still consider technology to be a threat to the banking business model, either because of its potential for security gaps or because it eliminates many traditional customer touchpoints. However, customers who utilize digital banking products typically develop a deeper relationship with the bank, and technology can also greatly reduce a branch's cost per transaction. "Transactions are cheaper without employees handling them," explained Jennie Sobecki, owner of Focused Results, LLC and a speaker at the recent WBA Branch Manager series. "In order to leverage your investment in your branches, you need to also invest in technology to make those branches more efficient." When reconsidering how your branch network leverages technology, keep the customer (and customer service) front-and-center. "We view technology as another way of serving the customer," said McCarthy. "We want them to be able to bank with us when and where they want to." 

However, while technology allows banks to expand their markets well beyond their branches, most institutions will find they cannot bolster one at the expense of the other. "Customers don't want either technology or branches," said Sobecki. "They want both." The best way to ensure that your branch network gets the most value possible out of any technology investments is to constantly encourage customer adoption. "Make sure your customers are using the technology!" said Dewing. "You've spent the money, so make sure you're optimizing your investment by showing the customers the value you've created for them." That can be as simple as training front-line staff to demonstrate online or mobile transactions for customers when they come into the branch, or as complex as remodeling the branch to include tech stations and teller pods. 

3. Leverage the Value of Physical Space

One of the most valuable elements of any branch network is the physical branch buildings. Even with today's real estate market, that is a tangible value that banks can enhance in a variety of ways. Some banks choose to purchase their branch spaces, rather than lease them. "Our philosophy is to find great real estate and own it if we can," said Dewing. "That is not always possible or practical, but it's preferred." Whether you own or lease, many of today's bank branches are larger than they need to be to support current foot traffic. Sobecki suggests "right sizing" existing branches by walling off unused space and either leasing it out or converting it into a community room for the bank's commercial customers to use as meeting space. Make sure your branch buildings do a good job of promoting your brand, as well. Signage and décor both make a difference. "Potential customers don't walk in the front door if they don't know you're there," Dewing pointed out. Seeing the branch also keeps the bank top-of-mind for customers. "There's a real sense of strength and security for customers when they see a physical branch," said McCarthy. "There's still a sense of reassurance when you drive by the branch and know, that's where my money is." 

4. Update your Metrics

Before making any changes to your branch network, it is important for bank management to update the metrics that will be used to measure the success of those changed branches. Some of the traditional measures are not as valuable as they once were. "Sometimes we spend too much time on lagging indicators, like transactions and/or net income, and not enough time on leading indicators of future value," said Dewing, specifying that branches that add or deepen quality household relationships will provide that future value. Sobecki recommends measuring wallet share, product penetration by branch – that is, identifying which branches are the top sellers for the most profitable products – and revenue per square foot. "Retail bankers need to think of themselves as retailers," she said. "Revenue per square foot is how retailers evaluate their space." She also recommended measuring your mobile banking platform as a branch in addition to physical locations.

5. Recognize Each Branch is Unique

When planning changes to your branch network, it is crucial to recognize that every branch is as unique as the community and clientele it serves. "There isn't one silver bullet to make this work," Sobecki said. "Each individual bank needs to find out what works for them and their culture." Market research is an essential tool here, but so is individual involvement. "You have to understand the needs of the community if you're working there every day," said McCarthy. "We encourage our branch staff to be involved in the community, so we make sure that we have the right people in the right place." Ultimately, each branch within the network will operate according to the needs of its community and customers. Some will focus on wealth management and host community events, while another will primarily serve commercial customers and drive online usage. "The most important thing a community bank can do is make sure they have the right type of branch in the right market," Sobecki explained. 

No matter what you may have read on the internet, rumors of the Bank Branch's death have been greatly exaggerated. "When people are going through major life changes, whether it's buying a house, getting married, or retiring, they still want to come in and talk to an expert face-to-face," said McCarthy. "Branches are still alive and well, and still serve a purpose for customers."

By, Amber Seitz


How do you excel at leading while fulfilling your responsibilities as a branch manager? It’s a challenge that this program aims to overcome!

The way managers treat their team is subtly influenced by what they expect of them. What should you expect? How do you treat them? When expectations are high and accompanied by expert guidance, motivation, accountability, and training the branch will perform accordingly. come learn how to build a team that works together for the common good. Hear how to coach and motivate your team.

Action-Packed and Solution-Focused!
The smooth and consistent operation of your branch is critical to maintaining and attracting customers. Increasing competition dictates that you must be experience focused. You must also learn to manage increased demand with as few staff people as possible. Boost your expertise and your enthusiasm in this full speed ahead, highly motivating webinar by a leading presenter.

What You Will Learn

  • Lead the way through coaching
  • Collaborate on a performance plan and setting expectations
  • Customer experience that sizzles
  • Conducting difficult conversations
  • What to do with the underperformer
  • Managing your time, teaching them to manage theirs
  • What is your plan to manage an exceptional branch?
  • Managing resistance
  • Tools to use in implementation after the session

Who Should Attend
Branch managers, assistant branch managers and those that train and/or lead them.

Instructor Bio
Vicki Kraai‘s 25+ years of Community Bank experience started at the family bank in rural Nebraska, serving as a bank teller and eventually becoming CEO. Kraai’s many years of banking include credit card lending experience where she was a member of the management team that launched the Cabela’s credit card program.

She founded her own Community Banking Consulting firm, VK Solutions in 2010 specializing in coaching and assisting financial institutions to improve their bottom line through their people portfolio. She has a passion for developing people for success in the financial services industry.

Attendees of her training and coaching sessions value Vicki’s highly engaging “been there, done that” approach to all facets of her training.

Kraai shares her expertise and experience as a faculty member for State Bank Association Schools and the Graduate School of Banking in Madison, Wis.

Kraai was recently announced as the new CEO of InterAction Training.

Registration Options

Live Access, 30 Days OnDemand Playback, Presenter Materials and Handouts $279

  • Available Upgrades:
    • 12 Months OnDemand Playback + $110
    • 12 Months OnDemand Playback + CD + $140
    • Additional Live Access + $75 per person

May 18 – Stevens Point
9:00am – 3:15pm
601 Michigan Ave N, Stevens Point

May 19 – Madison
9:00am – 3:15pm
DoubleTree by Hilton Madison East
4402 E Washington Ave, Madison

This one-day WBA Directors Summit will discuss key issues regarding leadership and management of community banks from the director’s perspective. The Summit is recommended for bank management teams, beginning or experienced inside and outside directors, bank CEOs, executive officers, and bank general counsel.

Summit Topics:

  • Directors’ Responsibilities in the Investment Portfolio
  • Unlock and Inspire a Team that Spans 4 Generations
  • A Director’s Role in Today’s Changing Banking Environment
  • Path of Interest Rates
  • Excess Liquidity and Liquidity Management
  • Maximizing Earnings vs. Managing Earnings at Risk

Registration Information

Registration Information The registration fee of $195/per attendee includes all Summit materials and meals at the event. During the registration process, you can pay with a credit card or select to be invoiced. Refund Policy: A refund, less a $25 administrative fee, is provided for cancellations requested on or before Friday, May 13, 2022.

Most customers prefer single service providers for all their important needs and challenges. However when it comes to their finance needs, very few banks are effective at presenting themselves as a single service provider and struggle to coordinate wholistic solutions. Banks ideally would like to be a “one stop shop” for their customers but fail to properly engage their staff and their customers. The easiest way to grow your bank is by offering more valuable solutions to your existing customers and improving collaboration between departments.

At the conclusion of this session participants will understand how to explore their customers broader needs, offer more valuable solutions, and create highly effective market teams across the bank.

Target Audience: All employee involved in the customer service areas of the bank

Joe Micallef, Grow Up Sales Consulting

Registration Option
Live presentation $330

Recording available through July 18, 2022

Leadership development and succession planning place a high priority on any company’s ability to develop talent within their organization. We continue to hear stories from managers about the gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials. The Baby Boomers are managing based on performance practices that helped them achieve results. They apply those practices to the next generation of employees. After all, the Boomers produced success with those activities. The challenge is, Gen X and Millennials may not see the benefits of adopting practices the Boomers found helpful. So, how do we build a work environment that is attractive to younger employees and productive for seasoned managers? This presentation focuses attention on three important ingredients to bridge the Boomer-Millennial gap…communication, engagement and rewards. The best solutions for your organization might be the ones you haven’t tried yet. This session, presented by a Baby Boomer and a Millennial, will examine challenges created by generational differences in the workforce.

Target Audience
Senior and middle managers, branch managers, supervisors

Tom Hershberger & Kyle Hershberger, Cross Financial Group

Registration Option

Live presentation $275

Recording available through Jan. 28, 2022

It all starts at account set up. Nonresident alien accounts have special requirements. In addition, the rules became more complex last year with the new requirement for a foreign taxpayer identification number. Open these accounts with ease, beginning with this webinar that will explain how to:

Set up interest- and noninterest-bearing accounts on your signature cards and your system
Determine when the applicant is a nonresident alien
Properly complete the W-8BEN and all its fields
Don’t miss the chance to learn how to document, identify, and report a nonresident alien account.


Distinguish when a consumer is a resident alien or nonresident alien
Properly set up the W-8BEN for interest-bearing accounts
Identify which countries require a foreign taxpayer identification number
Start backup withholding even without proper documentation
Run your customer identification program


Withholding manual
NRA procedures
Employee training log
Interactive quiz

This informative session will benefit staff in new accounts, branch operations, deposit compliance, and training.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER – Deborah Crawford, Gettechnical Inc.
Deborah Crawford is the President of Gettechnical Inc., a Baton Rouge-based firm, specializing in the education of financial institutions across the nation. Her 30+ years of experience began at Hibernia National Bank in New Orleans. She graduated from Louisiana State University with both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Debbie specializes in the education of financial institution employees and officers in the areas of deposit account laws, new account documentation, insurance, complex compliance regulations, and IRAs.


Live – $245
Recorded and Digital Download – $245 plus tax
Live, Recorded and Digital Download – $320 plus tax